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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered National Firearms Act firearm. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from the trailer he occupied. He contends that the warrant was invalid because it lacked probable cause and failed to describe with particularity the items that police intended to seize.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court reasoned that the description of items found in the warrant meets the pragmatic standards imposed by the Fourth Amendment. Further, Defendant has not shown that the officers’ reliance on the warrant was objectively unreasonable. The warrant application affidavit passes muster. It was neither deceptive nor deficient. The district court did not err in admitting evidence found pursuant to the warrant. View "United States v. Philip Maccani" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of possessing materials containing child pornography. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 also required the court to order restitution to the victims of Defendant’s child pornography offense. The government moved for an order directing the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to turn over $2,084 from Defendant’s inmate trust account to pay the remaining balance of his restitution obligation. The district court summarily denied Defendant’s motion requesting a hearing and granted the government’s turnover motion. The court concluded that funds in an inmate’s trust account are not exempt from the payment of restitution. Defendant appealed, raising all these issues. The district court stayed the collection or payment of restitution pending the appeal.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s Order of September 2, 2021. The court held that the district court must determine on remand whether the victim has been fully compensated for the trafficking losses proximately caused by Defendant’s offense. If she has then amended Section 2259(b)(2)(C) states the governing rule: Defendant’s liability to pay the restitution set forth in his February 2014 Amended Judgment in a Criminal Case “shall be terminated.” The court left for the district court’s determination on remand Defendant’s requests for appointment of counsel and discovery. View "United States v. Robert Evans" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed a sentence of 240 months imprisonment imposed by the district court after he was convicted of a drug trafficking offense and two firearms offenses. The district court determined that Defendant was a career offender under the sentencing guidelines and calculated his advisory sentencing range accordingly. On appeal, Defendant challenged the career-offender determination.   The Eighth Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded it for resentencing. The court explained that in light of intervening authority, the court concluded that one of Defendant’s prior felony convictions does not qualify as a crime of violence under the guidelines and that he is not properly classified as a career offender based on that conviction. Specifically, the court concluded that Defendant’s violation of Section 708.6(2) does not have as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force against the person of another. The offense thus does not qualify as a crime of violence under USSG Section 4B1.2(a)(1). View "United States v. Dreshon Frazier" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant challenged a sentence imposed by the district court after revocation of Corn’s term of supervised release. Defendant’s principal argument on appeal is that his revocation sentence exceeds the maximum term authorized by statute and that the district court plainly erred in imposing it.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed holding that Defendant invited any error regarding the statutory maximum sentence, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant within the invited range. In this case, the court concluded that Defendant is not entitled to plain-error review because he invited the alleged error. Under the invited error doctrine, a defendant who invites the district court to make a particular ruling waives his right to claim on appeal that the ruling was erroneous.   Defendant invited the district court to treat Section 922(q) as a Class D felony at the revocation hearing. Defendant agreed that the statutory maximum penalty was two years’ imprisonment, and that custody and supervised release together could not exceed three years. The court further wrote that it sees no principled reason why an invited sentence that allegedly exceeds the statutory maximum should be appealable while other invited errors of equal or greater significance to a defendant are not. View "United States v. Christopher Corn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was charged with federal offenses of cyberstalking and extortion after he sent a series of e-mails to a candidate for the Nebraska legislature. A jury acquitted Defendant of extortion but convicted him of cyberstalking. Defendant appealed the conviction, arguing that the e-mails constituted speech that is protected by the First Amendment, and that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction.   The Eighth Circuit concluded that the evidence was insufficient under a proper interpretation of the cyberstalking statute, and therefore reversed the conviction. The court explained that to qualify as speech integral to criminal conduct, the speech must be integral to conduct that constitutes another offense that does not involve protected speech, such as antitrust conspiracy, extortion, or in-person harassment. In this case, however, the jury acquitted Defendant of extortion, and there is no other identified criminal conduct to which the jury could have found that Defendant’s e-mail communications were integral.   Further, under prevailing law, where an alleged victim of defamation is a public figure, a speaker’s assertions are unprotected speech only if the speaker acted with “actual malice”—that is, with the knowledge that his statements were false or with reckless disregard of their falsity. Here, on this record, the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that Defendant harassed the relevant parties with defamatory speech. Finally, the government did not charge Defendant with the separate offense of transmitting obscene materials via the internet and its belated obscenity theory is insufficient to sustain the cyberstalking conviction. View "United States v. Dennis Sryniawski" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a former state senator, and others were convicted of several offenses related to bribery and kickback schemes involving state funds. Approximately six months after the Eighth Circuit issued an opinion affirming Defendant’s convictions and four months after issuing a mandate, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 alleging that newly discovered evidence demonstrated violations of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).  The district court determined that evidence concerning the vetting was neither material nor exculpatory.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that given the evidence actually adduced at trial, the court agrees that disclosure of the vetting by a co-conspirator and further evidence as to her qualifications would not have created a “reasonable probability” of a different outcome at trial. Further, the court also agreed that the evidence in question—notes from an investigator referencing a discussion of the vetting with another co-conspirator—was not exculpatory. On balance, the notes tended to buttress rather than rebut the government’s theory of the case View "United States v. Jonathan Woods" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. He appealed the district court’s application of the career-offender sentencing enhancement and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. At sentencing, the Government agreed with Defendant that assault on a police officer under Iowa Code section 708.3A(3) is indivisible. Now, Defendant and the Government agree that section 708.3A(3) is divisible. Nevertheless, the court concluded that the statute is indivisible. The court explained that here, the crime of assault against a peace officer is not divisible on the ground that assault has alternatives, some of which lack a force element. The assault alternatives in section 708.1(2) are merely different means of satisfying the assault element of section 708.3A(3). Nor is section 708.3A(3) divisible on the ground that it can be committed by causing bodily injury or mental illness.   Thus, because section 708.3A(3) is indivisible, the court applied the categorical approach. The court wrote that Defendant does not identify any Iowa cases or his own case where section 708.3A(3) was applied in a way that did not involve at least the threatened use of physical force. Thus, Defendant’s conviction of assault on a peace officer qualifies as a crime of violence under Section 4B1.2.   Further, Defendant’s sentence is not substantively unreasonable. The advisory guidelines range was 262 to 327 months imprisonment, and Defendant was sentenced to 262 months imprisonment. Therefore, the court presumed that Defendant’s sentence is substantively reasonable View "United States v. Levi Hamilton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A jury convicted Defendant of conspiracy to distribute tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sections 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 846. Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court (1) abused its discretion by denying his motion for a continuance; (2) erred by admitting into evidence portions of recordings of phone calls that Defendant made from jail; (3) permitted trial delays that violated Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, and (4) erred at sentencing by declining to vary downward.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Defendant has not established that the court abused its discretion. The trial occurred nearly a year after Defendant’s arrest and arraignment. Defendant replaced his attorney in August of 2020, but he still had more than five months to prepare for trial with his trial counsel’s assistance. Five months falls within a range found in cases where the court has concluded that there was adequate time.   Further, the court explained the delays, in this case, are not attributable to the government as they resulted from delays requested by codefendants or ordered by the court in which Defendant acquiesced. This means that the relevant period is between October 19, 2020, and January 11, 2021, the date Defendant’s trial began. Thus, the court held that the period of delay does not trigger presumptive prejudice. View "United States v. Muzammil Ali" on Justia Law

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A class of inmates who were juvenile offenders sued the state officials responsible for administering the parole process. The inmates alleged that the policies and practices of the parole officials violated their rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and to due process of law under the federal and Missouri constitutions. The district court determined that the parole review practices were constitutionally deficient, and ordered the State to implement an elaborate remedial plan.   The State appealed, and the Eighth Circuit concluded that there is no constitutional violation. The court explained that the Supreme Court’s juvenile-specific jurisprudence under the Eighth Amendment does not warrant declaring a constitutional violation and imposing on the State the elaborate set of parole procedures endorsed by the district court. A requirement to allow “some meaningful opportunity” for release, even if applicable to these juvenile homicide offenders, is satisfied here. The juvenile homicide offenders in Missouri received more process than offenders under the regular parole process: they presented more documentary evidence than adult offenders, received longer hearings than the average parole hearing, and were entitled to consideration of statutory factors that apply only to juveniles who were formerly sentenced to life without parole. View "Norman Brown v. Anne Precythe" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine base in 1997 and sentenced to 240 months imprisonment followed by 10 years’ supervised release, which, at the time, were minimum terms. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence in 1998. After being released, Defendant violated the terms of his supervised release and was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment.In Many 2020, Defendant sought relief under the First Step Act. The government conceded First Step Act eligibility but opposed a reduction, arguing Defendant did not merit discretionary relief. The district court agreed Defendant was eligible but denied a First Step Act reduction. Defendant appealed. However, during the pendency of the appeal, Defendant was released from custody. Thus, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the matter was moot. View "United States v. Eugene Saunders" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law