Fourth Circuit

The Federal Docket

United States v. Antonio Simmons (4th Cir. August 2021)

The Fourth Circuit reversed convictions for several defendants convicted of RICO, VICAR, and carrying a firearm during crimes of violence. In a complex opinion, the Court held that RICO conspiracy is a divisible offense requiring the modified categorical approach to determine if the offense is a crime of violence. The Court concluded that a RICO conspiracy, even an “aggravated” one, is not a crime of violence under 924(c). The Court also reversed the defendants’ VICAR convictions where the jury instructions referred to the wrong state law. Finally, the Court reversed one of the VICAR and 924(c) counts predicated on attempted murder where the defendants only took a preparatory act, not an overt act, in driving around looking for the victim.

United States v. Precias Freeman (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit vacated a drug defendant’s sentence for two reasons. First, it held that, despite there having been no hearing where sentencing counsel testified, the record was sufficient to establish that defendant received ineffective assistance when her counsel waived meritorious objections to the guidelines that would have resulted in a lower range and where he put his efforts into getting her in a drug program despite not knowing the program’s requirements for admission. The Court also held that the defendant’s 17-year sentence was substantively unreasonable where the sentencing court failed to consider her severe opioid addiction and that her sentence was significantly longer than those of similarly-situated defendants across the country.

United States v. Tremayne Drakeford (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of defendant’s suppression motion. The officers had conducted a stop and frisk of the defendant at a store, and found drugs, after receiving information from an informant, witnessing the defendant during two suspected drug interactions, and seeing the defendant meet another person outside the store and engage in two handshakes, which the officers believed was a hand-to-hand drug deal despite not seeing drugs or money change hands. The Court held this was not enough to establish reasonable suspicion because the information from the informant was generalized, there was little testimony regarding the informant’s reliability, the officers had not seen any drugs or found any drugs relating to the two interactions they previously witnessed the defendant in, and the two handshakes were not suspicious where the defendant was outside a store in broad daylight and otherwise not acting suspiciously. The Court warned that “the Fourth Amendment does not allow the Government to label a person as a drug dealer and then view all of their actions through that lens.”

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.

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