Evans v. Michigan, 568 U.S. _____ (2013)

After the State of Michigan rested its case at Evans' arson trial, the court granted a directed verdict of acquittal, concluding that the state had failed to prove that the burned building was not a dwelling, a fact the court mistakenly believed was an "element" of the statutory offense. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for retrial. In affirming, the state's highest court held that a directed verdict based on an error of law that did not resolve a factual element of the charged offense was not an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes. The Supreme Court reversed; the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial. An acquittal encompasses any ruling that the prosecution's proof is insufficient to establish criminal liability for an offense. Unlike procedural rulings, which lead to dismissals or mistrials on a basis unrelated to factual guilt or innocence, acquittals are substantive rulings that conclude proceedings absolutely, and raise significant double jeopardy concerns. The trial court clearly evaluated the state's evidence and determined that it was legally insufficient to sustain a conviction. The acquittal was the product of an erroneous interpretation of governing legal principles, but that error affects only the accuracy of the determination to acquit, not its essential character.


Read Opinion here at supremecourt.gov


Chaidez v. United States, 568 U.S. _____ (2013)

Immigration officials initiated removal proceedings against Chaidez in 2009 upon learning that she had pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2004. To avoid removal, she sought to overturn that conviction by filing a petition for a writ of coram nobis, contending that her former attorney's failure to advise her of the guilty plea's immigration consequences constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. While her petition was pending, the Supreme Court held, in Padilla v. Kentucky, that the Sixth Amendment requires defense attorneys to inform non-citizen clients of the deportation risks of guilty pleas. The district court vacated Chaidez's conviction. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Padilla had declared a new rule and should not apply in a challenge to a final conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed. Padilla does not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review. A case does not announce a new rule if it merely applies a principle that governed a prior decision to a different set of facts. Padilla's ruling answered an open question about the Sixth Amendment's reach, in a way that altered the law of most jurisdictions, breaking new ground and imposing a new obligation.


Read Opinion here at supremecourt.gov


United States v. Terrance Mitchell, United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, Docket No. 11-51084

Defendant was found not guilty of second degree murder by reason of insanity and was committed to the Attorney General's custody under 18 U.S.C. 4243(e). Defendant was subsequently found to no longer be a substantial risk to others if he followed a strict treatment regimen and was conditionally released. The district court then later found that defendant failed to comply with the conditions of his release and that he posed a substantial risk of bodily injury to others. Consequently, the district court revoked the release and placed him back into the custody of the Attorney General. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not calling for a competency hearing; defendant failed to raise a valid Sixth Amendment complaint and the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to replace counsel; and the district court committed no error in its finding underlying the conclusion to revoke the conditional release. Accordingly, the court affirmed the order.


Read Opinion here at ca5.uscourts.gov


United States v. John Heard et al., United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, Docket No. 11-20323

Defendants Heard and Lambert were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States by failing to pay and impeding the IRS's collection of employment taxes. Heard was convicted of additional offenses. Both defendants raised a number of challenges to their convictions and sentences. The court held that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to convict Heard of bribery of a public official; the district court did not err in admitting lay testimony of one of Heard's former employees; Heard's sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable; the district court did not err in instructing the jury on Lambert's withdrawal defense based on a six-year statute of limitations; the district court did not err in denying Lambert's motion for judgment of acquittal based on his withdrawal from the conspiracy; any error in finding sufficient notice for Rule 404(b) evidence was harmless; Lambert's Confrontation Clause rights were not violated when the district court refused to allow him to cross-examine an IRS revenue agent; the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding testimony of two witnesses concerning Lambert's history of ensuring that their payroll taxes were paid; and Lambert's sentence was substantively reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed both defendants' convictions and sentences.


Read Opinion here at uscourts.gov


Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. ____ (2013)

Officer Wheetley pulled Harris over for a routine traffic stop. Wheetley sought consent to search Harris's truck, based on Harris's nervousness and seeing an open beer can. When Harris refused, Wheetley executed a sniff test with his trained narcotics dog, Aldo, who alerted at the driver's-side door, leading Wheetley to conclude that he had probable cause to search. The search turned up nothing Aldo was trained to detect, but did reveal ingredients for manufacturing methamphetamine. Harris was charged with illegal possession of those ingredients. In a subsequent stop while Harris was out on bail, Aldo again alerted on Harris's truck but nothing of interest was found. The trial court denied a motion to suppress. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that if an officer failed to keep records of field performance, including how many times a dog falsely alerted, he could never have probable cause to think the dog a reliable indicator of drugs. The Supreme Court reversed. Training and testing records supported Aldo's reliability in detecting drugs and Harris failed to undermine that evidence, so Wheetley had probable cause to search. Whether an officer has probable cause depends on the totality of the circumstances, not rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries. Requiring the state to introduce comprehensive documentation of a dog's prior hits and misses in the field is the antithesis of a totality-of-the-circumstances approach. Field records may sometimes be relevant, but the court should evaluate all the evidence, and should not prescribe an inflexible set of requirements.


Read Opinion here at supremecourt.gov


Bailey v. United States, 568 U.S. _____ (2013)

While police were preparing to execute a search warrant for a basement apartment, detectives in an unmarked car outside the apartment saw two men, later identified as Bailey and Middleton, leave the gated area above the apartment, get in a car, and drive away. The detectives followed for about a mile, then stopped the car. They found keys during a pat-down search of Bailey, who said that he resided in the apartment. He later denied it when informed of the search. The men were handcuffed and driven to the apartment, where the search team had found a gun and illicit drugs. One of Bailey's keys unlocked the apartment's door. The district court denied Bailey's motion to suppress the key and statement, holding that Bailey's detention was justified under Michigan v. Summers, as a detention incident to execution of a search warrant, and, in the alternative, that the detention was supported by reasonable suspicion under Terry v. Ohio. Bailey was convicted. The Second Circuit affirmed, without ruling on the Terry claim. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for determination of whether Terry applies. The rule in Summers, permitting detention even if there is no particular suspicion that an individual is involved in criminal activity or poses a specific danger to officers, is limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched. None of the law enforcement interests identified in Summers applies with similar force to the detention of recent occupants beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched.


Read Opinion here at supremecourt.gov


United States v. Arnoldo Gonzalez-Garcia, United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, Docket No. 11-41365

Defendant conditionally pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. On appeal, defendant challenged the district court's partial denial of his motion to suppress. The district court found that defendant voluntarily consented to the search of the house containing marijuana. His consent was not automatically involuntary merely because his Miranda rights were violated. And even if government agents violated Edwards v. Arizona when they sought his consent, the Edwards violation would not suffice to justify suppression of the marijuana. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment.


Read Opinion here at ca5.uscourts.gov


United States v. Carlos Hernandez, United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, No. 11-50669

Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine. After the district court denied defendant's motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendant filed a notice of appeal and the district court denied him a certificate of appealability (COA). The court then granted a COA, in relevant part on the issue of whether defendant's Rule 60(b) motion presented a successive habeas petition within the meaning of Gonzalez v. Crosby. The court concluded that it did, and thus the district court was not permitted to consider the motion. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal.


Read Opinion here at ca5.uscourts.gov


United States v. Keith M. Kennedy et al., United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, Docket No. 11-60431

Defendants appealed their convictions stemming from charges related to their scheme to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans. The primary issue on appeal was whether the wire fraud convictions and money laundering convictions merged to result in convictions for two crimes on the same facts, when the facts should support convictions for wire fraud. The court held that the district court correctly found that the wire fraud and money laundering convictions did not merge. The wire fraud crimes were complete before the conduct forming the basis of the money laundering convictions began, and defendants used only profits from the underlying wire fraud to promote further wire fraud crimes. Finally, defendants have failed to identify any reversible error. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.


Read Opinion here at ca5.uscourts.gov


Bobby Smith v. Burl Cain, United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, Docket No. 10-30665

Petitioner sought federal habeas relief raising Batson v. Kentucky claims. The court subsequently granted petitioner a Certificate of Appealability (COA) on the limited issue of comparative juror analysis required by Miller-El v. Dretke. After the COA was granted, the Supreme Court decided Cullen v. Pinholster, which called in question whether the district court could properly grant petitioner an evidentiary hearing on his Batson claim. The court held that Pinholster's restriction did not bar the federal evidentiary hearing conducted in this case because the district court first concluded, solely on the basis of the state court record, that the state courts committed legal error, as required under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1), through the state courts' "unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law." After reviewing the record, the court held that petitioner failed to carry his burden of proving that the prosecutor's race-neutral explanations for striking the two black panelists at issue were a pretext for purposeful discrimination and affirmed the judgment of the district court.


Read Opinion here at ca5.uscourts.gov


Copyright © Stephen D. Hebert, LLC | 700 Camp Street, Suite 216, New Orleans, LA 70130 | Disclaimer