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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury; and discharge of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's evidentiary rulings where the district court's admission of the challenged 911 call did not violate defendant's confrontation right because the call was not testimonial in nature; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the call over defendant's Federal Rule of Evidence 403 objection; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding that the probative value of the challenged 911 call was not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. Furthermore, any prejudice stemming from the reference to the victim owing defendant money for marijuana did not substantially outweigh the value of the testimony as part of the res gestae of the crime. The court also held that there was no error in denying defendant's proposed limiting instruction, and there was no error in imposing two of the supervised release conditions. However, the court vacated the district court's condition prohibiting defendant from consuming alcohol or visiting establishments that primarily serve alcohol. In this case, the court failed to explain its basis for the condition, defendant's offense did not involve alcohol, and the record did not show that he was alcohol or drug dependent. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "United States v. Robertson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's revocation of defendant's supervised release and sentence of 36 months in prison for assault of a law enforcement officer. The court held that there was a sufficient basis for finding a grade A violation of assault on a law enforcement officer, because the deputy was indisputably performing his official duties at the time of the assault. In this case, when defendant placed his hand on the deputy's service weapon with intent to remove it, defendant took a substantial step toward committing the offense of assault with at least a threat of violence. Therefore, the district court did not err by finding that defendant violated his conditions of supervised release by assaulting the deputy. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit previously affirmed defendant's 600 month sentence after a jury convicted him of sexual exploitation of a minor, exploiting a minor while being required to register as a sex offender, two counts of distributing and receiving child pornography, and five counts of possessing child pornography. In this case, the court denied the petition for panel rehearing, holding that the crux of its harmless error analysis was not that the highest statutory maximum was 40 years if the maximum on Count One was reduced from 50 to 30 years. Therefore, the district court properly determined that the advisory range under USSG 5G1.2(d) greatly exceeded the 600 month sentence it imposed. The court held that any error was harmless because that remained true even if the statutory maximum for Count One was reduced by eliminating the section 2251(e) enhancement. View "United States v. Hansen" 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 and his request for a hearing under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual exploitation of minors and one count of possession of materials involving sexual exploitation of minors. The court held that the issuing judge had a substantial basis for finding probable cause to search a cell phone for evidence of sexual abuse. In this case, the sheriff's written affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause and any alleged inefficiencies were either non-existent or harmless because the issuing judge nonetheless had a substantial basis for finding probable cause. The court held that the victim was reliable; the fact that the affidavit does not set forth the sheriff's training and qualifications does not detract from a finding of probable cause; the forensic interviewer's identity and qualifications were irrelevant to the probable cause determination; the issuing judge was permitted to rely on the information contained in certain paragraphs of the affidavit when assessing probable cause; and the facts were sufficient to establish the basis for the victim's knowledge that there was a video of her on defendant's phone at the time of his arrest. The court also held that defendant failed to make the requisite substantial preliminary showing to merit a Franks hearing; the failure to discover evidence on the devices seized from the family residence pursuant to the first search warrant did not make it any less probable that such evidence would be found on the cell phone in defendant's possession; the circumstances and motives surrounding the report to the sheriff had no bearing on the probable cause analysis; and defendant's claim that the sheriff omitted certain information about the witness was rejected. View "United States v. Daigle" 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 nearly 2000 grams of heroin found in a rental car defendant was driving. The court held that, even if a strawman eliminated Fourth Amendment standing, the evidence here does not establish a strawman situation and the court's precedent holds that an unauthorized and unlicensed driver may challenge a search of a rental car operated with the renter’s permission. Therefore, defendant had standing to challenge the search of the vehicle. The court also held that, as the encounter with defendant unfolded, officers developed additional evidence indicating deception and criminal conduct. Therefore, the officers had probable cause to seize the vehicle and continue the search. View "United States v. Bettis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography. The district court imposed a sentence at the bottom of the advisory guidelines range, 262 months, but ordered the sentence to run consecutive to the remaining portion of an earlier-imposed, 60-month, revocation-of-supervised-release sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3583(k). After the Supreme Court held that section 3583(k) was unconstitutional in United States v. Haymond, 139 S. Ct. 2369 (2019), the court ordered supplemental briefing. The court held that even if Haymond abrogated the court's double jeopardy precedent, any error in this case was not plain. The court also held that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and sufficiently explained its reasons for imposing a within-guidelines sentence. View "United States v. Watters" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to distribute heroin and aiding and abetting the distribution of heroin. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury verdicts. In this case, ample evidence showed that defendant knowingly and intentionally joined a conspiracy to distribute heroin, and a jury could reasonably infer that defendant knew in advance that he was driving to a drug transaction and intentionally facilitated his associate's transfer of heroin. The court also held that the district court did not err by applying a four-level sentencing increase under USSG 3B1.1(a) for an aggravating role in the offense, and a two-level sentencing increase under USSG 3C1.1 for obstruction of justice. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant a downward variance. View "United States v. Outlaw" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's Rule 29 motion for judgment of acquittal, because the evidence was sufficient to sustain his conviction. In this case, there was sufficient evidence to establish a nexus between defendant and the firearm found on his plane. The court held that defendant knowingly possessed the gun where recorded jail calls showed that he referenced items that needed to be removed from the plane and where he admitted at trial that the gun looked like the firearm he had previously purchased. Furthermore, defendant had dominion over the plane, the gun was found near personal items that belonged to defendant, and defendant had recently absconded from Tennessee while awaiting trial on a state charge for being a felon in possession of a firearm. View "United States v. Parsons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracies to import and possess cocaine and attempted possession of the drug. The court also held that the district court did not err in calculating defendant's offense level based on its finding that the quantity of cocaine exceeded five kilograms, and the district court did not clearly err by imposing a sentencing enhancement under USSG 3B1.1(b), because defendant had acted as a manager or supervisor. View "United States v. Guzman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Green's motion to suppress evidence, and affirmed Defendants Green and Herbert's sentences for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle in which Green was riding, because the vehicle was speeding and there were two possible state violations regarding the license plate. Furthermore, the first patdown of Green was justified by reasonable, articulable suspicion and the second frisk was also reasonable in light of the newly discovered firearm. The court also held that the district court did not procedurally err by implying a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for the use or possession of a firearm or ammunition in connection with another felony offense; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion for a downward variance; the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing a three-level upward departure; and the district court adequately explained the basis for its sentencing decision. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law