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Federal Judge Declares Mistrial in Trial Against Backpage Founders

A federal judge in Arizona recently declared a mistrial in the jury trial of Backpage founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who were charged with prostitution and money laundering. While the judge had initially ruled that prosecutors and witnesses could mention that the site was used for sex trafficking, they were prohibited from sharing specific details of that abuse. The judge declared a mistrial after the prosecution and witnesses repeatedly mentioned that the site was used for child sex trafficking.

Feds Target Those Making Threats Against Election Officials

The Federal Government is reportedly “ramping up” its investigation into individuals who are making threats against election officials. The FBI and the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section are reaching out to officials who have been receiving credible violent threats from individuals regarding the 2020 election.

DOJ Announces Investigation Into Conditions of Georgia State Prisons

The Department of Justice has announced a civil rights investigation into the conditions facing inmates in Georgia’s prison system. Each of the three U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Georgia, for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts, are involved in the statewide investigation along with the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. They will also be working with the State of Georgia and its Department of Corrections to determine whether inmates’ rights have been violated due to the conditions of their confinement.

Recent Supreme Court Opinions

Lange v. California (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 6-3 opinion with several justices concurring in the judgment, the Supreme Court reversed the denial of a defendant’s suppression motion after an officer entered his garage without a warrant after chasing him for a misdemeanor traffic offense. The Court held that the flight of a person suspected of a misdemeanor does not categorically create exigency sufficient to allow the warrantless entry into a home. Instead, a case-by-case analysis must be performed to see if, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a true emergent need to act before a warrant could be obtained.

Terry v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 9-0 decision (with J. Sotomayor concurring in the judgment), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who had been convicted for a crack-cocaine offense that did not carry a mandatory minimum did not have a conviction for a “covered offense” under the First Step Act and was thus ineligible to move for a sentence reduction. The First Step Act had the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.

Greer v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In an almost unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that defendants in post-conviction proceedings alleging plain error under Rehaif must make a sufficient showing that they could have presented evidence at trial that they did not know they were a felon at the time they possessed the firearm. The Court affirmed the conviction of two defendants, one who pleaded guilty and one who was convicted by a jury, after finding that neither of them had presented any evidence or argument that they were unaware that they were felons and that both had multiple prior convictions.

Recent Circuit Court Opinions

United States v. Hible (7th Cir. September 2021)

The Seventh Circuit held that the deadline for filing a notice of appeal in a criminal case is measured from the date a district court denies a motion for reconsideration, not the date of a district court’s order on the underlying motion.

United States v. Hillie (D.C. Cir. September 2021)

The D.C. Circuit reversed the defendant’s convictions for sexual exploitation of a minor, attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, and possession of an image of a minor engaged in sexual conduct. The defendant had surreptitiously filmed his minor stepdaughters while they were changing in their rooms or in their bathrooms, but this evidence was insufficient to convict him of the charges because there was no evidence that the images depicted the “lascivious exhibition” of the minors because the minors were not exhibiting their nudity in a “lustful manner that connotes the commission of sexual intercourse” or other overtly sexual conduct.

United States v. Icker (3rd Cir. September 2021)

The Third Circuit held that the district court had plainly erred in imposing a condition of supervised release requiring the defendant to register as a sex offender under SORNA where the defendant did not have a conviction for a “sex offense” under SORNA’s definitions. The defendant was convicted of depriving the civil rights of individuals under color of law by using his position as a police officer to coerce women to engage in sexual conduct with him. The Court also held that since he was not notified of SORNA’s requirements prior to his sentencing, his appellate waiver was not entered into knowingly and voluntarily.

The Federal Docket

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.

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