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Circuit Court Opinions

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United States v. Matthew Beaudion (5th Cir. November 2020)

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s holding that defendant lacked Fourth Amendment standing to challenge law enforcement’s search for the GPS location of girlfriend’s cell phone while he was with her. While the boyfriend had purchased the phone before giving it to his girlfriend, knew the password, used the phone frequently, and accessed his Facebook account on the phone, the Court held that he did not have a reasonable expectation in the phone because the girlfriend carried it throughout the day, the defendant never used it outside her presence, and her parents paid the bill. The Court further held that Carpenter did not apply here because law enforcement was trying to determine the girlfriend’s location, not the defendant’s.

United States v. John Gayden (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant doctor’s conviction and sentence for operating a “pill mill.” Among other things, the Court held that a physician does not have standing to challenge the search of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program because they do not have a privacy interest in their prescriptions. The Court also held that dismissal of the indictment, obtained five years after the defendant’s clinic shut down, was not warranted because the defendant could prove prejudice but not that the government engaged in any deliberative conduct to gain a tactical advantage over him.

United States v. Tamaran Bontemps (9th Cir. October 2020)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The Court held that there was reasonable suspicion to detain and search the defendant based solely on the officer believing he had a concealed firearm (illegal in California) after noticing a “very large and obvious bulge” under the defendant’s sweatshirt. The Court also discussed other kinds of “suggestive bulges” that can give rise to reasonable suspicion, such as when a defendant is hiding drugs.

United States v. James Innocent & Elijah Jones (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences of two defendants for possession of a firearm by convicted felon, holding that neither met their burden of showing that plain error under Rehaif affected their substantial rights. The Court noted that “most people convicted of a felony know that they are felons” and that the defendant had failed to meet his burden despite showing he had a low IQ and had never served more than a year in jail or prison. The Court distinguished the case from pre-Rehaif cases where a defendant had litigated their felon status or maintained that they were allowed to possess a firearm.

United States v. Lindon Amede (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant in a drug conspiracy case. The Court held that recorded hearsay statements between an unindicted co-conspirator and an undercover agent were admissible against the defendant where the exsitence of a conspiracy was proved by the co-conspirator discussing drug transactions with the undercover, saying he would send “my guy” to the undercover to conduct business,” and the defendant showing up to conduct transactions as discussed. The Court also held that drug offenses under 841(a)(1) do not require willfullness, that the district court did not err in precluding the defendant from presenting a duress defense, and the district court did not err in allowing the defendant to represent himself at sentencing.

United States v. Toddrey Bruce (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress where the defendant had been apprehended by law enforcement after fleeing upon their approach. The Court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant where they were responding to a 911 call at 3AM in a high-crime area and the caller had noted that two men were arguing, one with a gun, and there could be shooting at any time.

United States v. Cory Melvin (3rd Cir. October 2020)

The Third Circuit vacated a district court order denying a defendant early termination of supervised release, holding that the district court applied the wrong legal standard when it found the defendant had not established changed, unforeseen, or exceptional reasons warranting early termination. A district court has broad authority and discretion to terminate a term of supervised release “if it is satisfied that such action is warranted by the conduct of the defendant released and the interest of justice.” 

United States v. Justin Taylor (4th Cir. October 2020)

The Fourth Circuit held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery, like conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, does not constitute a “crime of violence” under 924(c) because under the categorical approach an attempt to commit the offense does not invariably require use of force or threat of force.

United States v. Christian Delgado-Lopez (10th Cir. September 2020)

The Tenth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence, holding that the district court applied the wrong legal standards in denying the defendant a minor role reduction under 3B1.2(b). The judge did not consider the totality of the circumstances or evaluate any particular factors, but rather denied the reduction based on the judge’s own speculation regarding the defendant’s economic motives and his lack of cooperation with the government, rather than evidence in the record.

United States v. Mark Hazelwood, Heather Jones, Scott Wombold (6th Cir. October 2020)

The Sixth Circuit reversed defendants’ convictions of mail fraud and wire fraud conspiracy and remanded for new trial, holding that admission of a video showing one of the defendants using racist and misogynist language at an informal business gathering was not admissible to rebut the defendant’s good business judgment. Moreover, the Court concluded that the video’s admission was not harmless error since the defendants’ conduct and speech was irrelevant, improper character evidence, and violated Rule 403. The Court held the “utterly repulsive language” expressing personal views was not relevant to business judgement; admission of the bad acts had no purpose related to the crimes other than propensity; and so “shocked the conscience” of the jury to pose extraordinary risk for them to reach verdicts based on emotions rather than evidence.

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