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 conviction for possession of a firearm. The court held that defendant was not denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel during a critical stage of the proceedings, because he clearly and unequivocally asserted his right to self-representation. Furthermore, the district court did not err in allowing defendant to proceed pro se with his public defender as stand-by counsel. Even assuming that defendant was denied his right to counsel, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, defendant was without counsel during the direct examination of one witness at the motion to suppress hearing. The court concluded that defendant failed to point to any deficiencies in counsel's cross-examination of the first witness or her examination of the subsequent witnesses, nor does he argue that his motion to suppress would have been granted had counsel performed the initial cross-examination of the Government's witness. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for nine counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. The court held that the district court did not plainly err by finding that defendant's consent to search the vehicle was voluntary. In this case, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's finding that although defendant was being watched by deputies while on the property, did not have access to a phone, and was told that a warrant would be sought whether or not he consented to a search of his truck, his consent was not mere acquiescence to government authority. The court rejected defendant's contention that the government failed to prove venue was proper in the District of Minnesota where a reasonable jury could find that it was more likely than not that the emails at issue were sent from or received in Minnesota. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant, and his sentence was not substantively unreasonable. The court also held that the $2.1 million personal money judgment forfeiture did not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines. Finally, the court rejected defendant's arguments in two pro se appeals as without merit. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of his vehicle. The court held that the officers lawfully continued their investigation after they determined defendant was not carrying a gun because, during the pat down, defendant admitted that he had threatened to shoot a woman. In this case, the officers' request for defendant's identification was a reasonable and lawful extension of their initial investigatory stop. The court also held that the officers then had probable cause to search defendant's vehicle because one of the officers smelled marijuana when defendant opened the car door. View "United States v. Williams" 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 withdraw his guilty plea. The court held that defendant failed to meet his burden of establishing a fair and just grounds for withdrawal and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion. In this case, the plea hearing transcript belies any contention that defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter his plea, the record contained no evidence that defendant's medication had an effect on his competency, and the timing of defendant's attempted withdrawal was after the presentencing report was prepared. View "United States v. Eller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to distribute and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The court held that the district court did not err, plain or otherwise, in applying a criminal offender enhancement under USSG 4B1.1(a). The court held that when a defendant has more than four prior sentences that could be counted, the plain language of the Guideline gives the district court discretion to choose among them. Because there is no ambiguity here, the court held that the rule of lenity is not applicable. View "United States v. Morris" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, money laundering, and two counts of conspiring to launder money. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions; the court was not convinced that the district court's drug-quantity finding was mistaken; and there was no error in imposing sentencing enhancements for defendant's role in the offense under USSG 3B1.1(a) and for committing the offense as a part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood under USSG 2D1.1(b)(15)(E). View "United States v. Sainz Navarrete" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his sentence on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations before trial. In this case, defendant alleged that his attorney's performance was constitutionally deficient because counsel advised defendant to decline a plea offer based on a sentencing enhancement that any reasonable counsel should have known was inapplicable. The court held that the record did not conclusively refute defendant's claim at this juncture in the proceedings. Furthermore, the question is not developed on the question of prejudice. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mayfield v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The court held that the district court did not violate defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice by denying the motion to continue the trial and to substitute counsel. In this case, there was no evidence of a sudden exigency or unforeseen circumstances which would weigh in favor of continuing the trial. Furthermore, the last-minute nature of defendant's motion, without some compelling justification, undermines the district court's interest in the orderly administration of justice. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions. View "United States v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine. The court held that, even if the district court erroneously admitted evidence, the errors did not affect defendant's substantial rights as required by the plain-error standard because the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict. View "United States v. Loomis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction; the district court's jury instructions did not constructively amend, or vary from, count one of the superseding indictment; the district court did not err in refusing to give buyer-seller and mere-presence instructions; the district court did not abuse its discretion by permitting the government to elicit testimony showing that defendant and his coconspirator knew one another when they were incarcerated in state prison and that the coconspirator helped defendant while the two were in prison; the district court did not err in applying the murder cross-reference under USSG 2D1.1(d)(1); and defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Shavers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law