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Fourth Circuit becomes Fourth US Court of Appeals to Hold Courts Have Independent Discretion to Reduce Inmates’ Sentences

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals became the fourth appellate circuit to hold that district courts reviewing an inmate’s motion for sentence reduction under 3582(c)(1)(A) have the independent discretion to determine if there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting the requested reduction. The Fourth Circuit joins the Second, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits in recognizing district courts’ broad discretion when reviewing requests for sentence reductions and compassionate release.

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. Jovon Lovelle Medley (4th Cir. August 2020)

Applying the Rehaif analysis to a defendant who was convicted at trial for unlawful possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, the Fourth Circuit reversed the defendant’s conviction as plain error, holding that the failure to properly advise the defendant of, or charge him with, the element of knowledge of his felon status substantially affected his rights and deprived him of a defense at trial, despite the defendant running from the police, his prior 12-year prison term, and his stipulations at trial regarding his prior conviction and civil rights, .

United States v. Lemont Webb (4th Cir. July 2020)

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the defendant’s convictions on several grounds but vacated his life sentence for drug and money laundering offenses, holding that the sentencing court failed to consider several non-frivolous arguments the defendant raised, including arguments regarding lower recidivism for older offenders, sentence disparities with co-defendants, and the defendant’s legitimate work history.

United States v. Billy Curry Jr. (4th Cir. July 2020), EN BANC

Sitting en banc, the Fourth Circuit held that the exigent circumstances and emergency aid exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement did not justify the officers’ suspicion-less stop and frisk of the defendant who was an area where officers had heard gun shots being fired less than a minute before. There were other individuals and there was no particularized evidence that the defendant had been involved in the shooting or posed a danger to others.

United States v. Zavian Munize Jordan (4th Cir. 2020)

The Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions and sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). While the First Step Act was enacted while the defendant’s appeal was pending, the Court held that its provisions on mandatory minimums did apply retroactively to cases pending on direct appeal.

United States v. Ronald Samuel Jackson (4th Cir. March 2020)

The Court affirmed the defendant’s reduced sentence under the First Step Act where the sentencing court sentenced the defendant to time served, and not less time than he had already served, in order to prevent the defendant from “banking” the excess time and applying it in a potential future revocation of his supervise release.

United States v. Martin Johnson (4th Cir. December 2019)

The Court held that a district court does not plainly err by failing to give a limiting instruction when admitting 404(b) evidence in the absence of a defendant’s request for such an instruction. Additionally, the Court held that robbery possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute under Maryland law are predicate “violent felonies” under the ACCA.

United States v. Tyrius Eugene Smith (4th Cir. September 2019)

The Court reversed the defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), holding that the defendant was not a convicted felon under North Carolina law when he possessed firearms after receiving a “conditional discharge” for felony larceny.

United States v. Sergio Murillo (4th Cir. June 2019)

The Court vacated the defendant’s sentence and conviction after finding that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel advised him that his plea would only trigger his possible deportation, where deportation was actually mandatory and the evidence reflected that the defendant would not have pleaded guilty if he knew deportation was mandatory. The Court added that the boilerplate language int he plea agreement indicating that deportation was mandatory was not dispositive.

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