The Federal Docket is a monthly newsletter providing lawyers and the community a summary of recent important decisions in the area of federal criminal law from the United States Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The opinions are compiled, summarized and analyzed by Tom Church, an attorney in our firm’s federal criminal defense practice.


In The News

  • Collection of Compassionate Release Cases

    The outbreak of COVID-19 among the Bureau of Prisons’ facilities has been well-documented by now. The Director of the BOP recently announced that, of the few thousand inmates had been tested by the end of April, 70% tested positive for COVID-19. While Attorney General Barr has issued guidance urging the BOP to “maximize” its use of ...

  • Feds look for fraud in $670-billion small business loan program

    As part of the federal government’s efforts to keep the economy going during the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress created a $670 billion emergency loan program for small businesses called the Paycheck Protection Program. The DOJ is now announcing that it will scrutinize businesses that apply for and receive this aid, especially large businesses and those applying ...

  • DOJ Targets Internet Scams Involving COVID-19 Fraud

    The Department of Justice issued a press release today announcing that it “has disrupted hundreds of internet domains used to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to commit fraud and other crimes.” The presser notes that the FBI has received thousands of tips related to COVID-19 scams from websites advertising fake vaccines and treatments, fake charity drives, or ...

  • Feds bring first prosecution under Defense Production Act

    In an unprecedented move, the federal government has brought its first criminal prosecution under the Defense Production Act, charging Bobby Singh, a business owner in Long Island, with hoarding and price-gouging personal protective equipment. Under the Defense Production Act, the president can issue an executive order recognizing certain products and materials as “scarce materials” and ...

  • Fed’s Effort to Combat Opioid Crisis Hits Walmart, other Pharmacies

    This month saw new signs that the federal government is escalating its war on the opioid epidemic. First, ProPublica reported on new developments in a lawsuit against Walmart and other companies that revealed that Walmart has been hiding that the company was previously under criminal investigation regarding its opioid dispensing practices. The lawyers representing the ...

  • BOP Releasing Few Inmates and Changing Rules as Crisis Worsens

    The Marshall Project has recently reported that few inmates in BOP custody have been released since Attorney General issued a memorandum urging the BOP to maximize the number of inmates it releases to home confinement in order to curb the significant outbreak of COVID-19 among its facilities. The BOP website currently discloses that the BOP has ...

  • Georgia Man Accused of COVID-19 Scam Against VA

    April 10, 2020 An Atlanta man was arrested and charged by federal prosecutors in D.C. with wire fraud charges. The man is accused of attempting to sell millions of non-existent respirator masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs in exchange for upfront payments. According to prosecutors, the defendant had promised the VA and others that he could ...

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Recent Supreme Court Opinions

  • Ramos v. Louisiana (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2020)

    In a patchwork opinion involving a lengthy discussion of stare decisis, a majority of the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict in a criminal prosecution applies to the states through the Fourteenth amendment.

  • Kelly v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, May 2020)

    In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions of the Port Authority officials involved in the infamous "Bridgegate scandal," holding that their convictions for wire fraud on a federally funded program, predicated on their blocking off certain lanes as political retribution against an opposition mayor, were not supported by sufficient evidence because they did not involve a scheme "to obtain money or property."

  • Kansas v. Charles Glover, Jr. (U.S. Supreme Court, April 6, 2020)

    In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court held that an officer has reasonable suspicion justifying a traffic stop when he runs a vehicle's license plate and learns that the registered owner's license has been revoked or suspended. The Court held that it is reasonable for an officer to assume that the vehicle's driver is the registered owner, even where the registered owner's license has been suspended, because the data shows that many individuals who have suspended licenses continue to drive anyway.

  • Kahler v. Kansas (U.S. Supreme Court, March 2020)

    The Supreme Court held that Kansas's insanity defense, which turns on whether the defendant was capable of understanding his conduct as opposed to understanding whether his conduct was morally wrong, did not offend due process. The Court stressed that the insanity defense changes in response to developments in mental health science and that state governments are better equipped to design the defense.

  • Shular v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

    In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held a defendant's prior conviction under state law qualifies as a "serious drug offense" under the ACCA if the defendant's conduct involves "manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance" as spelled out under the statute. In doing so, the Court rejected a categorical approach that would require courts to match the defendant's state offenses to a "generic offense."

  • McKinney v. Arizona (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

    The Supreme Court held that allowing a state appellate court to reweigh the aggravating and mitigating factors in a capital case under Clemons v. Mississippi is a permissible remedy after a finding on collateral review that the sentence court failed to consider mitigating factors in violation of Eddings v. Oklahoma.

  • Holguin-Hernandez v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

    In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that a defendant has preserved his ability to appeal a sentence as substantively unreasonable as long as the sentence ultimately imposed was longer than the sentence he requested.

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Recent Circuit Court Opinions

  • United States v. Dustin McLellan (11th Cir. May 2020)

    Evidence/Expert Testimony – An officer is not testifying as an expert when he testifies that firearms are often involved in drug activity where such lay opinion testimony is based on his professional experiences. Evidence/Rule 403 – Evidence of drug distribution and possession is relevant in unlawful possession of firearm cases where the element of knowledge is ...

  • Gregory Welch v. United States (11th Cir. May 2020)

    The Court affirmed the defendant's sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act, holding that his prior Florida convictions for strong-arm robbery and felony battery were "violent felonies" under the ACCA's elements clause.

  • United States v. Johnny Benjamin, Jr. (11th Cir. May 2020)

    The Court affirmed the conviction of a doctor charged with manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance analogue resulting in a woman's overdose death. The Court affirmed his conviction on the death count based on expert testimony, co-defendant testimony, and circumstantial evidence, and the Court held that the district court had sufficiently instructed the jury on scienter based on the defendant's knowledge of the identity of the substance. Nor did the trial court err in declining to investigate juror misconduct based on finding a list of "Do's and Don'ts of Jury Deliberations" in the deliberation room.

  • United States v. Oniel Russell (11th Cir. May 2020)

    The Court vacated the defendant's conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by an unlawful immigrant. The Court held that the district court's pre-Rehaif order excluding the defendant's immigration applications and evidence that he believed he was legally in the U.S. amounted to plain error given the Supreme Court's opinion in Rehaif. The Court further held that the defendant was prejudiced by not being able to introduce this evidence given his consistent arguments in pre-trial and sentencing proceedings that he believed he was legally in the U.S.

  • United States v. Willie Evans (11th Cir. May 2020)

    The Court affirmed the district court's finding that officers' warrantless search of a home was justified under the "emergency aid exception." The Court held that the officers had a reasonable belief that a dog's whimpering inside the house was a human in need of emergency aid based on their initially responding to a 911 regarding gun shots, the defendant's belligerent behavior prior to his arrest, and the officers' belief that someone else may have been in the house.

  • United States v. Andres Gomez (11th Cir. April 2020)

    The Court upheld the defendant's sentence, which the court ran consecutively to the defendant's state-imposed prison sentence, holding that the proper standard of review is for abuse of discretion and that the sentence was substantively reasonable.

  • United States v. Bernard Moore, et al. (11th Cir. March 2020)

    The Eleventh Circuit rejected a number of challenges in affirming the defendants' sentences for drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms, holding that the district court did not plainly err in shackling the defendants during trial without stating its reasons in the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interviewing jurors in camera regarding their safety concerns and summarizing those interviews for the parties. The Court also concluded that the indictments failure to allege the defendants' mens rea as required under Rehaif v. United States did not deprive the court of jurisdiction and the plain error of convicting the defendants of unlawful possession of firearm did not warrant reversal where the government would have been able to prove their knowledge.

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