Circuit Court Opinions

The Federal Docket

United States v. Lance Cannon & Vincent Holton (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a pair of Hobbs Act robbery convictions, holding that 1) erroneous jury instructions regarding two predicate offenses under 924(c) were harmless where the offenses were inextricably entwined and one was properly instructed as a predicate offense; 2) defendant’s could not show entrapment or outrageous government conduct when the government set up a fake safe house and had an informant suggest to the defendant that they should rob the safe house; and 3) the defendants were not entitled to discovery for selective prosecution based on a showing that a racial group was disproportionately prosecuted unless they could show evidence of prosecution of similarly situated members of another racial group.

United States v. Jose Antonio Morales (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged a search warrant that led to his arrest and conviction for marijuana distribution and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court held that, even if the search warrant was not supported by probable cause based on officers finding small quantities of marijuana in the defendant’s trash, the good faith exception applied. The Court also reiterated that a failure to allege the knowledge element for a 922(g) charge under Rehaif does not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.

Jerome Williams v. United States (11th Cir. January 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s 2255 motion based on Johnson where the defendant argued that the caselaw at the time of his sentencing indicated he was more than likely sentenced under the residual clause of the ACCA. The Court disagreed, holding that the legal landscape was ambiguous and that the defendant failed to meet his burden of proving the sentencing court’s reliance on the residual clause.

United States v. William Wheat, Jr. (11th Cir. February 12, 2021)

The Sixth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to distribute where the defendant had only contacted the leader of a DTO and given him a sample of heroin. The Court held that “the mere transfer of drugs,” including a buyer-seller transaction, was standing alone insufficient to establish an agreement to further distribute drugs.

United States v. Jennifer Riccardi (6th Cir. March 2021)

The Sixth Circuit reversed a defendant’s sentence for possession of unauthorized access devices because the loss amount had been based on Guidelines commentary mandating that a minimum loss amount of $500 had to be added for every unauthorized access device. The Court held that the commentary improperly expanded the text of 2B1.1, not merely interpreting it.

United States v. Israel Lopez, Jr. (5th Cir. February 26, 2021)

The Fifth Circuit held that an inmate was eligible for a sentence reduction under 18 USC 3582(c)(2) because his initial applicable Guidelines range would have been lower based on a subsequent amendment to the Guidelines and the Guidelines played a “relevant part” in his sentencing.

United States v. Gregory Olson (9th Cir. February 2021)

While denying a defendant’s appeal from a 2255 motion, the Ninth Circuit suggested the Sixth Amendment right to counsel can apply in certain cases before there has been an indictment filed. Here, the Court rejected claims by a defendant who alleged his lawyer had not communicated a pre-indictment offer to him after he received a target letter.

United States v. Stillwell, et al. (2d Cir. January 2021)

The Second Circuit remanded a case to give the defendants an opportunity to file post-conviction motions based on the Government’s alleged violation of Brady v. Maryland. The Court vacated a protective order previously obtained ex parte by the DOJ, disclosed the documents to the defense as new evidence, and remanded for the district court to determine if a new trial was warranted.

United States v. Gerald Scott (2d Cir. March 2021, EN BANC)

Sitting en banc, the Second Circuit held that first degree manslaughter under New York law is categorically a “crime of violence” under the ACCA and the Career Offender provision of the Guidelines. Despite the fact that the offense can be committed through omission or inaction, as opposed to only through act of force or threat of force, the Court concluded it fit the bill under the force clauses of the ACCA because it required a victim’s death and a defendant’s intent to cause at least serious bodily injury.

United States v. Keneon Fitzroy Isaac (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction and sentence, holding that the district court did not clearly err in finding that alternatives to impounding the defendant’s car were impractical based on the officer’s need to interview the arrestee and the time he would have to wait for someone else to get the vehicle. The sentencing court properly applied the enhancement for defendants who have custody, supervisory control, or who care for the minor victims where the defendant acted like a temporary guardian for the victim when the mother was at the work, and the defendant helped the family financially.

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