Circuit Court Opinions

The Federal Docket

United States v. Lillian Akwuba (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a nurse practitioner’s convictions for drug conspiracy and healthcare fraud in a “pill mill” case. The Court held there was sufficient evidence to convict her of the drug offenses despite the government’s failure to provide any patient testimony that the prescription medications they received were unnecessary, and it affirmed her conviction for healthcare fraud based on her knowledge and participation in filing claims to government programs for office visits where patients received illegal prescriptions. The Court held that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the parties had stipulated to disputed fact, but held this did not amount to an improper directed verdict or deprive the defendant of her defense because the instruction did not relate to an element of the charged offense or any of the facts necessary to establish one of those elements, and the defendant was still able to present her theory of defense. The Court also rejected the defendant’s evidentiary claims.

United States v. Kelvin Harris and James Archibald (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions for drug and firearm offenses in a case involving a “reverse sting police corruption case.” The defendants were two officers who worked with other corrupt officers to provide armed protection to undercover agents acting as drug dealers. Among other things, the Court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict them notwithstanding their entrapment defenses, the trial court did not plainly err in failing to inform the jury that it was entitled to a “read-back” of one of the defendant’s trial testimony, and the defendants failed to establish a prima facie case of a Batson violation.

United States v. Leon Carter (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit vacated a defendant’s 15-year sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court held that the defendant’s prior conviction for aggravated assault under Georgia law was not a conviction for a “violent felony” under the ACCA’s elements clause because it only requires a mens rea of recklessness.

United States v. Johnson (D.C. Cir. July 13, 2021)

The D.C. Circuit held that a defendant’s right against doubly jeopardy was violated where he was convicted of both unlawful receipt or possession of a firearm or destructive device and unlawful making of a firearm, as these counts were multiplicitous.

United States v. Samira Jabr (D.C. Cir., July 9, 2021)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for unlawfully attempting to enter the White House or its grounds, though the defendant had mistakenly tried to enter the U.S. Treasury building. Upon appeal from the defendant’s bench trial, the Court held that the district court had jurisdiction because the information charged a violation of a federal statute, even if the specific facts alleged did not constitute an actual violation. Additionally, the Court held that the district court did not err in amending the information to find the defendant guilty of attempt despite the information not listing this theory of conviction.

United States v. Jerry Sanchez Carrasquillo (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence. The Court held that the district court had failed to elicit objections before pronouncing sentence, but the record was sufficient on appeal so remand was not necessary. Regarding the merits, the Court held that the district court had properly applied the enhancement for firearm possession under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) and denied safety valve relief under 5C1.2. While a defendant can still qualify for the safety valve even though the firearm enhancement applies, the defendant here did not meet the requirement for safety valve because the district court found his firearm was “definitely connected” to his drug offense.

United States v. Katie Boll (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence and the sentencing court’s application of the enhancement for an offense involving a “large number” of vulnerable victims. The Court held that the defendant’s actions in stealing pain medication from 14 patients warranted the application where the district court found that this was a “large number” relative to similar offenses.

United States v. Alfred Velazquez (9th Cir. July 2021)

The Ninth Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for importing drugs based on the prosecutor’s statements in closing regarding the standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court held that the prosecutor’s comparison of the standard to the confidence a person might need to have in eating a meal without fear of sickness or traveling to court without worrying about a car accident mischaracterized and “trivialized” the standard and caused substantial prejudice.

United States v. Andrew Sarchett (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence for distributing methamphetamine based on the sentencing court improperly calculating the defendant’s drug quantity. The Court held that drugs found in the defendant’s girlfriend’s car should not have been included in the defendant’s total drug quantity where the additional quantity was based solely on a stipulation in the plea agreement that the girlfriend had made certain statements about the drugs. The stipulation did not establish that her statements were true, and there was no additional evidence tying the defendant to the drugs.

United States v. Laneesha Colston (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s drug convictions after she was arrested picking up a package for someone that contained cocaine. The Court held that, notwithstanding the Government’s concession at trial to the contrary, the government only had to prove that the defendant knew the package contained some kind of controlled substance, not the specific type alleged in the indictment. Here, the Court held there was sufficient circumstantial evidence proving the defendant knew there were illegal drugs in the package. The Court also declined to review whether sufficient evidence supported the deliberate ignorance instruction and held the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of the defendant’s unrelated illegal pill sales under Rule 404(b).

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