Major Cases

The Federal Docket

United States v. Nicolescu (6th Cir. October 2021)

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions of two defendants charged with operating a large cyber fraud scheme involving fake car auctions on ebay, stolen identities, and cryptocurrency. The Court vacated their sentences, however, after finding that they erroneously received an enhancement for receiving stolen property and being in the business of receiving and selling stolen property, since the enhancement does not apply to defendants who sell property they themselves stole. The Court held that the enhancement for production or trafficking of unauthorized access devices did apply, however, even though the defendants were already being sentenced for aggravated identity theft.

United States v. Vizcara-Millan (7th Cir. September 2021)

The Seventh Circuit reversed a defendant’s drug conspiracy conviction and substantive conviction for distributing drugs. The Court held that the evidence equally supported a finding that the defendant was in a buyer-seller relationship with a DTO rather than a co-conspirator. The Court also held that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant constructively possessed meth found at his acquaintance’s house.

United States v. Gardner (5th Cir. October 2021)

The Fifth Circuit vacated a district court’s order denying a defendant’s request to withdraw his guilty plea. The defendant had alleged that had wanted to file suppression motions and that he would not have pleaded guilty but for his then-attorney telling him the time for filing motions was after the change of plea hearing. The Court held that the defendant had alleged sufficient facts that, if true, would have established ineffective assistance of counsel.

French v. Merrill (1st Cir. October 2021)

In an appeal from a grant of qualified immunity in a 1983 case, the First Circuit held that police officers violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law when they repeatedly entered the curtilage of a man’s home and knocked on his door and windows despite clear indications that he did not want to come to the door. The Court held this was clearly a violation of the man’s Fourth Amendment rights under Florida v. Jardines.

United States v. Yates (9th Cir. October 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed the convictions of two defendants who had been convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and making false bank entries. The two bank executives had lied to shareholders about the bank’s financial status and had made unauthorized transfers to hide the bank’s poor performance. However, the defendants did not attempt to enrich themselves or deprive the bank of its funds. The Court affirmed the district court’s order of acquittal based on insufficient evidence. The bank did not have a cognizable property interest, under the fraud statute, in the accuracy of its financial interests. Nor was it deprived of its property interest in the defendants’ salaries since the defendants were doing the job they were paid for.

United States v. Hillie (D.C. Cir. September 2021)

The D.C. Circuit reversed the defendant’s convictions for sexual exploitation of a minor, attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, and possession of an image of a minor engaged in sexual conduct. The defendant had surreptitiously filmed his minor stepdaughters while they were changing in their rooms or in their bathrooms, but this evidence was insufficient to convict him of the charges because there was no evidence that the images depicted the “lascivious exhibition” of the minors because the minors were not exhibiting their nudity in a “lustful manner that connotes the commission of sexual intercourse” or other overtly sexual conduct.

United States v. Icker (3rd Cir. September 2021)

The Third Circuit held that the district court had plainly erred in imposing a condition of supervised release requiring the defendant to register as a sex offender under SORNA where the defendant did not have a conviction for a “sex offense” under SORNA’s definitions. The defendant was convicted of depriving the civil rights of individuals under color of law by using his position as a police officer to coerce women to engage in sexual conduct with him. The Court also held that since he was not notified of SORNA’s requirements prior to his sentencing, his appellate waiver was not entered into knowingly and voluntarily.

United States v. Lizarraras-Chacon (9th Cir. September 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of a motion for a sentence reduction under 18 USC 3582(c)(2), which applies when the Guidelines are retroactively amended and would have had the effect of lowering a defendant’s Guidelines range. While the district court recognized the defendant was eligible for a reduction, the Ninth Circuit held that the court had abused its discretion when it “erroneously concluded that it could not consider intervening developments affecting the mandatory minimum in its 3553(a) factor analysis.”

United States v. Wilson (9th Cir. September 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction for child pornography. The district court should have suppressed evidence where the Government engaged in a warrantless search of the defendant’s email attachments, which had been forwarded to the government by Google’s automated system. Since the government was the first to review these files, the private search exception did not apply.

United States v. Pérez-Rodríguez (1st Cir. September 2021)

The First Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for enticing a minor after the defendant arranged with an undercover agent to have sex with a minor. The Court held that the defendant was entitled to an instruction on entrapment where there was evidence of improper inducement based on the agent offering to “bundle” legal sex with an adult with illegal sex with a minor, and where the agent downplayed the potential harm. There was also evidence that the defendant was not predisposed, given the lack of evidence of similar transactions and the defendant’s initial hesitation.

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