Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine base, and possessing controlled substances with intent to manufacture and distribute at least 280 grams of cocaine base. The court concluded that there was no error in applying the USSG 4B1.1 career offender enhancement because defendant's prior Iowa conviction for attempted murder qualified as a crime of violence and his Iowa drug conviction constituted a qualifying controlled substance offense. The court also concluded that defendant's 240-month sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court had wide latitude to consider the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and did not abuse its discretion. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order of restitution where defendant sexually and financially exploited a high school student who he helped enter the United States on a fraudulent visa. The court concluded that defendant waived his first two arguments claiming that he did not commit an offense against property and that A.S.M. is not a victim, because these arguments are the opposite of what defendant argued before the district court.Although defendant did not waive the issue of whether his specific conduct caused A.S.M.'s losses, defendant's claim failed on the merits. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err by finding that A.S.M.'s losses for future wage loss and medical expenses stemming from the sexual abuse, as well as lost wages, were caused by defendant's specific conduct. Therefore, there was no error in awarding restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. View "United States v. Sukhtipyaroge" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for various child pornography charges. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's request to photograph and show photos of his penis where the proffered evidence had little probative value and the evidence prejudiced the government based on undue delay. Alternatively, the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the photos as a discovery sanction for late disclosure. Even if the district court abused its discretion or otherwise erred, any error was harmless.The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's request to allow his former cellmate to testify about his penis based on lack of probative value and as a discovery sanction for late disclosure. Furthermore, any error was harmless. View "United States v. Copp" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress after he conditionally pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm offense. Under the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded that an officer with forty years experience must be allowed to draw on this experience and training to make inferences from and deductions about whether there was reasonable suspicion that one or both of these suspects may be armed and dangerous. In this case, police suspected that defendant's companion was a suspect in the theft of two firearms stolen three days earlier; a Terry stop of both men was reasonable; and the officer had a reasonable suspicion to conduct a pat down search of defendant based on information related to the companion. Furthermore, the officer asked the men if they were armed and defendant stated that the he was. Therefore, the officer retrieved the firearm from defendant's pocket. View "United States v. Harvey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and 156-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine. The court concluded that the prosecution's argument that there was no evidence to support defendant's theory was a fair response and did not shift the burden of proof. Furthermore, the court’s instruction on the burden of proof, and the prosecution's own reminder to the jury that the burden of proof rested with the government, avoided any potential prejudice. The court rejected defendant's contention that the prosecutor attacked defense counsel by arguing that he was trying to distract the jury. Rather, the prosecution is entitled to comment on its interpretation of the evidence and the government did not exceed its considerable latitude in rebuttal.The court also concluded that there was no error in admitting text messages that were protected by the marital communications privilege where defendant failed to produce evidence showing that she and R.B. were married under the law of any State. Defendant also waived any marital privilege when she consented to the search of her phone. Finally, the court concluded that there was no error in the district court's denial of defendant's request for a two-level decrease in offense level under USSG 2D1.1(b)(18) where she failed to show that she had truthfully provided the government all information and evidence she had concerning the offense. View "United States v. Lagunas Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit concluded that defendant's unconditional guilty plea waived the lawful combatant immunity defense and affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and for providing material support to terrorists. In this case, defendant unconditionally pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists (Count 1), and providing material support to terrorists (Count 3), in violation of 18 U.S.C. 956(a) and 2339A. The district court accepted defendant's plea and subsequently sentenced defendant to 66 months' imprisonment.The court explained that defendant's plea is the equivalent of admitting all material facts alleged in the charge. The court concluded that defendant's assertion that the individual he assisted was involved with the Free Syrian Army and was therefore entitled to lawful combatant immunity directly contradicts the terms of the indictment. Therefore, defendant's unconditional guilty plea failed to preserve his lawful combatant immunity claim for appeal. View "United States v. Harcevic" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiring to deprive a pretrial detainee of his civil rights and depriving the pretrial detainee of his civil rights. The court concluded that the government produced more than sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the jury's finding of a conspiratorial agreement between defendant and three correctional officers to assault the pretrial detainee and then cover up the assault. The court also concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support defendant's conviction for assaulting the pretrial detainee a second time. Finally, the court concluded that defendant's 45-month sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court properly considered the sentencing factors, explaining that defendant's conduct was more egregious, he was more responsible for the detainee's injuries, and he threatened his coconspirators to cover up the assault. View "United States v. Hewitt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was previously convicted of disturbing, injuring, and destroying real property of the United States in 2018, after the jury found that he drained wetlands protected by a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) conservation easement. The Eighth Circuit vacated defendant's first conviction because of an erroneous jury instruction. After a 2019 bench trial, the district court found defendant guilty of the same offense.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing a government witness to testify as a lay witness where her testimony was limited to her firsthand knowledge and personal experience mapping wetlands covered by the FWS easements; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's motion in limine to exclude testimony by the government's expert witness, an FWS wildlife biologist; the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the wetland areas defendant drained were identifiable wetlands covered by the easement; the district court did not err in declining to consult 7 C.F.R. 12.2(a)'s definition of wetlands to determine the scope of the easement or in excluding from trial any reference to the definition of wetlands or the criteria for delineating wetlands as set forth in the USDA regulations; viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict, the verdict was supported by substantial evidence; and the district court did not err by rejecting defendant's request to modify the Wetlands Restoration Plan ordered as restitution. View "United States v. Mast" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's 190-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The court concluded that the district court did not err in imposing an enhancement under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) for possessing a dangerous weapon in connection with defendant's drug trafficking offense. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion for a minor role reduction under USSG 3B1.2(b). Finally, the court concluded that defendant's sentence did not create an unwarranted sentencing disparity and was not unreasonable where the record readily explains why the district court reasonably would impose different sentences on the two conspirators. In this case, defendant possessed a firearm while his coconspirator did not. View "United States v. Bandstra" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motions to suppress and his objection to the application of the career criminal enhancement under USSG 4B1.1(a). Defendant robbed a Sprint Wireless Express store in Davenport, Iowa at gunpoint, making off with cell phones and tablets. Defendant also left with a GPS tracker, which the police used to track him down.The court concluded that police had at least a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle based on the GPS tracker and, considering the tight window of opportunity officers had to locate a fleeing suspect, it was reasonable for police to rely on third-party GPS data. Furthermore, other factors supported the officers' suspicion, including the fact that defendant's vehicle matched the description given by a store employee and the police noticed unusual behavior from the occupants of the vehicle. The court also concluded that any error in the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the use of the show-up lineup was harmless. Finally, the district court did not err in determining defendant had two prior felony convictions for crimes of violence for purposes of sentencing him as a career offender under USSG 4B1.1. View "United States v. Martin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law