Recent Circuit Cases

The Federal Docket

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.

United States v. Tony Dewayne Williams (6th Cir. March 2021)

The Sixth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence which was enhanced based on a prior felony conviction under Tennessee law involving marijuana. The Court held that the sentencing court erred in enhancing the defendant’s sentence based on that conviction because the Tennessee law at issue included hemp under the definition of marijuana, while hemp was distinguishable and legal under federal law. Therefore, the Tennessee conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines. However, since the defendant had only objected generally at sentencing and did not articulate grounds for his objection, plain error review applied, and the sentencing court’s error here were not clear or obvious given the complexity of the issue.

United States v. Robert Paul Rundo, et al. (9th Cir. March 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of an indictment charging the defendants with violating the Anti-Riot Act. The Court held that the provisions of the Anti-Riot prohibiting an “overt act” in furtherance of inciting a riot were not overbroad since it satisfied the imminence requirement under Brandenburg. While the Court held that the provisions of the Act prohibiting the “urging,” “organizing,” “promoting,” encouraging,” and “advocating” a riot were overbroad, the language prohibiting the “instigating” of a riot was not, and regardless, the Act was severable.

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. Simha Furaha (9th Cir. March 2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence after the defendant challenged the district court’s application of an enhancement based on the defendant’s prior conviction under 924(c), which the sentencing court considered a “controlled substance offense” warranting an enhancement. The Court held that a sentencing court may apply the modified categorical approach to determine whether a defendant’s underlying “drug trafficking crime” under 924(c) was a “controlled substance offense” under 4B1.2.

United States v. Anthony Jordan (7th Cir. March 2021)

The Seventh Circuit reversed a district court’s revocation of the defendant’s supervised release and 6-month sentence. Reviewing the district court’s decision under the Court’s “supervisory power,” the Court held that the district court did not adequately address the defendant’s explanation for his non-criminal, unintentional violations, and it did not properly explain its sentencing decision in accordance with the 3553(a) factors.

United States v. Arman Abovyan (11th Cir. Feb. 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a doctor-defendant’s conviction for healthcare fraud and dispensing controlled substances unlawfully. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence tying him to the conspiracy based in part on his allowing a medically non-trained co-conspirator to mandate testing requirements, and the Court also found sufficient evidence of unlawful dispensation based on the government expert’s testimony. The Court also held that the district court did not err in using the intended loss amount at sentencing, despite using the lower actual loss amount for the defendant’s co-conspirators, since there was no “unwarranted” disparity given that the co-conspirators had been sentenced according to a plea agreement, and the defendant had not.

United States v. Jhony Contreras Maradiaga (11th Cir. Feb. 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction under 18 USC 1546(a) for using a fraudulent order of supervision from ICE to get a Florida driver’s license. The Court held that the order of supervision was an “other document” under 1546(a) and that the government’s arguments during closing, while misleading, did not constitute plain error.

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.”

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