Juries

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. 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. 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.

Edwards v. Vannoy (U.S. Supreme Court. May 2021)

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the unanimous verdict rule announced in Ramos v. Louisiana was not retroactive for inmates convicted on split verdicts. The Court also effectively overruled the “watershed exception” from Teague v. Lane that held that a new rule of criminal procedure can be applied retroactively if it is a “watershed” rule pertaining to “basic due process.”

United States v. Dontiez Pendergrass (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s convictions for armed robbery of five businesses. Among its holdings, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to continue, it did not err in declining to excuse a juror for cause who was a probation officer, admission of geo-location data that was gathered as fruit of an unlawful search was harmless, an agent’s testimony regarding out-of-court statements was not hearsay since it was helpful to describe investigative tactics, and there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant based on a modus operandi and pattern reflected in each of the five robberies.

Ramos v. Louisiana (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2020)

In a patchwork opinion involving a lengthy discussion of stare decisis, a majority of the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict in a criminal prosecution applies to the states through the Fourteenth amendment.

United States v. Bernard Moore, et al. (11th Cir. March 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit rejected a number of challenges in affirming the defendants’ sentences for drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms, holding that the district court did not plainly err in shackling the defendants during trial without stating its reasons in the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interviewing jurors in camera regarding their safety concerns and summarizing those interviews for the parties. The Court also concluded that the indictments failure to allege the defendants’ mens rea as required under Rehaif v. United States did not deprive the court of jurisdiction and the plain error of convicting the defendants of unlawful possession of firearm did not warrant reversal where the government would have been able to prove their knowledge.

United States v. Cesar Antonio Becerra (9th Cir. September 2019)

The Court reversed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the district court’s failure to orally instruct the jury on the elements of the charged offenses was a structural and plain error even where the district court orally confirmed with each juror that they had read the instructions.

Flowers v. Mississippi (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2019)

Curtis Flowers was tried six separate times for the same murder by the same prosecutor. Several of his convictions were vacated by the Mississippi Supreme Court based on findings that the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct and used it peremptory strikes on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. After his sixth trial, in which the State struck five black jurors and allowed one black juror to be seated, Flowers was convicted.

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