Legal News & Updates

United States v. Williams, No. 19-11972 (July 23, 2021)

In United States v. Williams, No. 19-11972 (July 23, 2021) (Martin, Grant, Brasher), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions for sex trafficking and sentence of life imprisonment. Defendant raised three challenges to his convictions: (1) the district court improperly admitted nude images and videos of the victims; (2) there was not enough evidence to show that he had the required mens rea for his crimes against one of the victims; and (3) the district court should have instructed the jury that a victim's consent to perform a sex act is a defense to sex trafficking. As to the first argument, the Court only considered whether the images' probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice because the defendant conceded that the images were relevant.  The Court found the images and videos were probative and not unduly prejudicial.  Though they were graphic in nature, that was unsurprising given the nature of the alleged crimes.  Additionally, the district court properly cautioned potential jurors during voir dire that they would view evidence of a sexually explicit nature, and seated those jurors who confirmed that this would not impact their ability to be fair and impartial. Next, the Court found that the government [...]

July 26th, 2021|

United States v. Dudley, No. 19-10267 (July 22, 2021)

In United States v. Dudley, No. 19-10267 (July 22, 2021) (Newsom, Branch, Ray (N.D. Ga.)), the Court affirmed the defendant's ACCA-enhanced sentence.  Judge Branch delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Ray joined, and Judge Newsom joined in all but Part III.A. On appeal, defendant argued that he was not ACCA because there was insufficient evidence to establish that his prior Alabama felony convictions were for offenses committed on occasions different from one another.  He also argued, for the first time on appeal, that Rehaif necessitated vacatur of his guilty plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The Court noted that the different-occasions inquiry necessarily requires looking at the facts underlying the prior convictions, but that courts are limited to Shepard-approved sources, as only information found in such conclusive judicial records has gone through a validation process that comports with the Sixth Amendment.  The Court also noted that in determining whether a defendant's prior convictions were committed on different occasions from one another, a district court may rely on non-elemental facts contained in the Shepard-approved sources.  Finally, the Court rejected the argument that judicially determining whether prior convictions were committed on different occasions from one another for purposes of the ACCA [...]

July 26th, 2021|

United States v. Moss, 17-10473 (July 22, 2021)

In United States v. Moss, 17-10473 (July 22, 2021) (en banc), the Court vacated its order granting rehearing en banc, and reinstated the panel's opinion in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in Borden v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1817 (2021). The reinstated panel opinion held that Georgia aggravated assault did not satisfy the elements clause of the ACCA because it could be committed recklessly.

July 26th, 2021|

United States v. Carrasquillo, 19-14143 (July 14, 2021)

In United States v. Carrasquillo, 19-14143 (July 14, 2021) (Jordan, Newsom, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed defendant's 60-month sentence for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Defendant first argued that the district court erred by failing to elicit objections after imposing his sentence, thereby committing Jones error.  The Court agreed that the district court erred, but concluded that remand was unnecessary because the record was sufficient to permit appellate review of the sentencing issue raised. Defendant next argued that the district court improperly conflated the standards under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1)--which provides for a two-level increase if a dangerous weapon, including a firearm, "was possessed"--and U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a)(2)--the "safety-valve" provision that permits a district court to impose a sentence without regard to an otherwise-applicable mandatory minimum if certain criteria are satisfied, including if the defendant did not "possess a firearm  . . . in connection with the offense"-- when it denied him safety-valve relief after finding that he was subject to a two-level enhancement for possessing a firearm. The Court agreed that there is "daylight" between the standards under § 2D1.1(b)(1) and § 5C1.2(a)(2).  While a defendant must show that it is "clearly improbable" the gun was connected to [...]

July 15th, 2021|

 United States v. Colston, No. 19-13518 (July 13, 2021)

In United States v. Colston, No. 19-13518 (July 13, 2021) (Grant, Tjoflat, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed defendant's convictions for knowingly possessing with intent to distribute 2 kg of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and conspiring to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Defendant walked into a post office, showed a tracking receipt on her phone, and walked out with a package containing roughly $200,000 worth of cocaine.  Unbeknownst to her, however, law enforcement had already flagged the package, and arrested her as soon as she picked it up. On appeal, defendant first argued that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions because the government failed to prove that she specifically knew the package contained cocaine.  Though the government agreed that proof of knowledge of the specific drug was an element of the offense, the Court disagreed, and held that the government need only prove that a defendant knew she possessed a controlled substance, not knowledge of the specific substance she possessed.  The Court clarified that when the government charges violations of § 841(a)(1) and also seeks enhanced penalties under § 846, it needs to prove a defendant's mens rea only for the substantive violation, not for the [...]

July 14th, 2021|

 United States v. Stancil, 19-12001 (July 13, 2021)

In United States v. Stancil, 19-12001 (July 13, 2021) (Branch, Grant, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant's ACCA-enhanced conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm.   Defendant was pulled over for speeding one night.  When officers approached his car, they saw him reach down several times.  They also smelled marijuana when defendant lowered his window.  They asked the defendant to step out of his vehicle and ran his driver's license, which revealed that he was a convicted felon on probation.  While one officer checked defendant's license, another searched his car and found a firearm under the driver's side floor mat.   Defendant moved to suppress the firearm, which the district court denied.  He then proceeded to a stipulated bench trial, and was found guilty.  At sentencing, the district court determined that his three prior Virginia drug convictions were serious drug offenses under the ACCA, and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.   As to the prior Virginia drug convictions, defendant argued that the least culpable conduct included "giving or possessing with intent to give a controlled substance to another" without intent to profit, and therefore was overbroad.  The Court disagreed, analogizing to similar Alabama statutes analyzed in Hollis v. United States and United [...]

July 14th, 2021|
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