Tenth Circuit

The Federal Docket

United States v. Arellanes-Portillo (10th Cir. May 2022)

The Tenth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence after finding that the district court plainly erred in applying a role enhancement. The district court had enhanced the defendant’s guidelines for his money laundering offense based on relevant conduct for his drug offense, which was plainly not allowed under USSG 2S1.1 Application Note 2(C).

United States v. Starks (10th Cir. May 2022)

The Tenth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction where the prosecutor told the jury in closing arguments that the defendant’s right to be presumed innocent was gone after the close of evidence.

United States v. Hartley (10th Cir. May 2022)

The Tenth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of two motions for early termination of probation, which the district judge had denied on the grounds that the defendants had not been sentenced to any prison time. The Tenth Circuit held that nothing in the statute or case law supports an assertion that probation-only sentences must be treated differently for termination, and courts may not make decisions about whether to grant early termination based on a blanket personal policy and must instead consider the statutory factors as they apply to each individual.

United States v. Chavez (10th Cir. March 2022)

The Tenth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of attempted bank robbery charges under 18 USC 2113 where the district court found that the defendant’s attempt to hold up two victims at gunpoint and force them to withdraw money from an ATM did not amount to an attempted “bank robbery” since the defendant would be robbing them, not the bank. Deepening a circuit split between the Fifth Circuit and Seventh Circuit, the Tenth Circuit reversed, concluding that “using force to induce a bank customer to withdraw money from an ATM is federal bank robbery.”

United States v. Cozad (10th Cir. January 2022)

The Tenth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence and remanded for re-sentencing after the district court imposed a higher sentence based on the defendant’s decision to plead guilty without a plea agreement with the Government. The Court concluded that a defendant’s decision whether to enter an “open plea” does not fall under one of the factors listed in 18 USC 3553, and it was therefore procedurally unreasonable for the judge to consider that fact in imposing a higher sentence.

United States v. Gastelum (8th Cir. September 2021)

The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged an officer’s warrantless search of his rental car during a traffic stop. The Court held that the officer did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop where reasonable suspicion existed to extend the stop based on the incongruity between the defendant’s stated travel plans and his rental car agreement, inconsistencies in the defendant’s travel history, the disparity between the cost of flying versus renting a car, and the defendant’s emphasis on his military background in response to questioning. Moreover, despite the officer initially commanding the defendant to open his trunk and let him search his luggage, the Court held the defendant’s consent was voluntary where the officer subsequently confirmed he had permission and the circumstances showed the officer was not acting authoritatively or in a confrontational manner.

United States v. Andasola (10th Cir. September 2021)

The Tenth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction despite finding that the district court violated Rule 605 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which prohibits judges from testifying as witnesses. After the defendant had testified that there had been a second video, not shown to the jury, which would have shown the government’s video was manufactured, the district judge instructed the jury that there was only one video in the case. While this clearly violated Rule 605, the Court concluded that the violation was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.

Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits Join Majority of Circuits Holding that Courts Have Broad Discretion in Granting Sentence Reductions

The Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have issued opinions over the past few weeks holding that district courts have broad, independent discretion in determining whether an inmate has established “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting a sentence reduction under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A). The courts join the Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits in recognizing the broad discretion of district courts, creating a substantial majority of the circuits. The other circuits have not yet addressed this issue.

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. Shane Young (10th Cir. July 2020)

The Tenth Circuit reversed the defendant’s conviction and held that the district court erred in failing to suppress involuntary statements made by the defendant to an FBI agent. The Court held that the agent’s interrogation of the defendant was coercive given his false representations about the sentence the defendant faced and the agent’s ability to get the defendant a reduced sentence based on the agent’s relationship with the judge. The agent’s coercive questioning outweighed the defendant’s waiver of rights and prior experiences with the justice system.

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