Recent Circuit Cases

The Federal Docket

United States v. Stines (11th Cir. May 2022)

In a matter of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence for illegally exporting firearms. The Court concluded that the lower offense level under USSG 2M5.2(a)(2) did not apply since the defendant’s offense involved more than 2 firearms, where the defendant had exported enough firearm parts to assemble two guns and enough spare parts to service additional firearms.

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. Spirito (4th Cir. May 2022)

The Fourth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for several fraud offenses but reversed his conviction for federal program fraud under 18 USC 666. At issue was whether Section 666 “criminalizes multiple conversions of less than $5,000, if the government must point to conversions that took place over more than one year to reach the $5,000 statutory minimum.” The Court held that Section 666 “requires each transaction used to reach the aggregate $5,000 requirement to occur within the same one-year period.”

United States v. Werle (9th Cir. June 2022)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of an inmate’s motion to vacate under 28 USC 2255. The Court held that the inmate had not pleaded guilty knowingly where he was not informed of the mens rea for unlawful firearm possession under Rehaif, despite evidence that he had previously been sentenced to prison for over a year and had been previously convicted of several felonies.

United States v. Vargas (5th Cir. May 2022)

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence as a career offender based on his prior convictions. The defendant argued that his prior convictions did not count as “controlled substances” under the Guidelines since the Guidelines themselves do not include inchoate drug offenses like attempt and conspiracy–only the commentary to the Guidelines does. The Fifth Circuit deepened a circuit split by holding that the commentary are still binding on courts notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kisor v. Wilkie.

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.

Sanchez v. LADOT (9th Cir. May 2022)

The Ninth Circuit rejected a plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment challenge to the LA Department of Transportation’s permit scheme, wherein LA requires e-scooter companies like Bird and Lyft to collect real-time location data for their scooters and provide it to LADOT. The Court concluded there was no reasonable expectation of privacy under the third-party doctrine.

United States v. Jimenez-Shilon (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit rejected a defendant’s constitutional challenge to his conviction for possession of a firearm by an unlawful alien. The Court held that the Second Amendment did not provide a right for illegal aliens to possess firearms since that right did not exist at the time of the amendment’s ratification.

United States v. Gardner (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s ACCA-enhanced sentence. While the defendant’s three prior convictions under Alabama law were punishable by less than ten years under Alabama’s sentencing guidelines, the Court relied on the statutory maximum of over 10 years for those convictions in holding that they were “serious drug offenses” under the ACCA.

United States v. Hamann (5th Cir. May 2022)

The Fifth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction after finding that the Government violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause when it presented testimonial hearsay from two non-testifying witnesses that alleged the defendant sold drugs. In doing so, the Fifth Circuit recounted its recent cases involving Confrontation Clause challenges and how the government “has repeatedly failed to take the lesson.”

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