Major Cases

The Federal Docket

United States v. Precias Freeman (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit vacated a drug defendant’s sentence for two reasons. First, it held that, despite there having been no hearing where sentencing counsel testified, the record was sufficient to establish that defendant received ineffective assistance when her counsel waived meritorious objections to the guidelines that would have resulted in a lower range and where he put his efforts into getting her in a drug program despite not knowing the program’s requirements for admission. The Court also held that the defendant’s 17-year sentence was substantively unreasonable where the sentencing court failed to consider her severe opioid addiction and that her sentence was significantly longer than those of similarly-situated defendants across the country.

United States v. Tremayne Drakeford (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of defendant’s suppression motion. The officers had conducted a stop and frisk of the defendant at a store, and found drugs, after receiving information from an informant, witnessing the defendant during two suspected drug interactions, and seeing the defendant meet another person outside the store and engage in two handshakes, which the officers believed was a hand-to-hand drug deal despite not seeing drugs or money change hands. The Court held this was not enough to establish reasonable suspicion because the information from the informant was generalized, there was little testimony regarding the informant’s reliability, the officers had not seen any drugs or found any drugs relating to the two interactions they previously witnessed the defendant in, and the two handshakes were not suspicious where the defendant was outside a store in broad daylight and otherwise not acting suspiciously. The Court warned that “the Fourth Amendment does not allow the Government to label a person as a drug dealer and then view all of their actions through that lens.”

United States v. James Philip Lucero (9th Cir. March 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction under the Clean Water Act based on the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that the defendant had to have knowledge that he was discharging pollutants “into water.” The error was not harmless because it was unclear whether the defendant knew that the area in question was inundated with water when he discharged the pollutants. The Court also held that waters being “of the United States” is a jurisdictional element, that “waters of the United States” is not unconstitutionally vague, and that revised regulatory definitions of the phrase are not retroactive unless explicitly made so.

United States v. Ruberman Chinchilla (11th Cir. Feb. 2021)

Ruling on a matter of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit held that an order of supervision from ICE can constitute a document “prescribed by statute or regulation for entry into or as evidence of authorized stay or employment in the United States” under 18 USC 1546(a). The defendant had attempted to use a fraudulent order of supervision to get a driver’s license from Florida.

United States v. Mayweather, et al. (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the convictions of four defendant-corrections officers who helped a government informant transport narcotics while wearing their corrections uniforms to deter police officers from pulling them over. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence of government inducement to warrant jury instructions on entrapment where the informant made efforts to persuade some of the defendants to do business with him. The Court also held that the district court erred in failing to define “official act” for Hobbs Act extortion and, while it agreed that the definition of “official act” from SCOTUS’s opinion in McDonnell did not fit the facts of the case, the Court remanded for the trial court to provide an alternative definition and allow the jury to determine if the officers wearing their uniforms was an “official act.”

United States v. Julian Mora-Alcaraz (9th Cir. January 2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s order suppressing a defendant’s statements under Miranda. The officers had interrogated the defendant without advising him of his Miranda rights after they approached him in marked cars and separated him from his seven-year-old son. However, the Court remanded for the district court to determine if the defendant’s subsequent consent to search his vehicle was voluntary.

United States v. Latecia Watkins (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s suppression order, holding that even though the officers had violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights by monitoring a tracking device that was in her home, there was a “reasonable probability” that the agents would have eventually conducted a knock and talk at her residence and been able to discover the tracker anyway.

United States v. Deangelo Johnson (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence, rejecting his Rehaif challenge. The Court held that there was plain error in the indictment failing to allege the element of knowledge and the lack of evidence proving that knowledge, but held that the defendant’s substantial rights were not affected because there was sufficient evidence that he knew of his prohibited status as a domestic violence misdemeanant.

United States v. Malik Nasir (3rd Cir. December 2020), EN BANC

Sitting en banc, the Third Circuit held that inchoate offenses are not included in the definition of “controlled substance offenses” under the career offender guidelines because commentary to the Guidelines is not binding when it is inconsistent with or broader than the text of the Guidelines. The Court also held that a court reviewing a defendant’s Rehaif challenge under plain error review is limited to considering the record presented at trial, not the whole record, and a new trial is warranted where there is no evidence presented to a jury regarding the defendant’s knowledge of his prior felony.

United States v. Tamaran Bontemps (9th Cir. October 2020)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The Court held that there was reasonable suspicion to detain and search the defendant based solely on the officer believing he had a concealed firearm (illegal in California) after noticing a “very large and obvious bulge” under the defendant’s sweatshirt. The Court also discussed other kinds of “suggestive bulges” that can give rise to reasonable suspicion, such as when a defendant is hiding drugs.

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