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SAMARITAN NEWSLETTER – 05-20-2024

The Law Office of Tom Norrid

SAMARITAN PROJECTS LLC

P.O. Box 9244

Springfield, MO 65801-9244

417-236-1179

 

The SAMARITAN-PROJECTS prepares post-conviction and compassionate release motions along with appeals under the direction of Attorney Tom Norrid. The Samaritan-Projects’ newsletter reports every winning published district court and court of appeals case for the week in review.  Rusty – 417 901 3000 – Eddie 417 818 1938.

 

APPEAL/FSA/CCE. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded United States v. Terrance James, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11872 (4th Cir. May 16, 2024). James appealed the district court’s order granting in part his motion for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act of 2018. The district court reduced James sentence on his conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine base and cocaine in violation of 21 USC 846 (Count 1), butdeclined to reduce his sentence on his conviction for murder on behalf of a continuing criminal enterprise in violation of 21 USC848(e)(1)(A) (Count 3). James contended the district court could have reduced his sentence on both counts under the sentencing package doctrine. The Fourth Circuit agreed and vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.While this appeal was pending, the appellate court held “that the district court has the discretion to reduce both covered and noncovered offenses under the First Step Act if they function asa package.” United States v. Richardson, 96 F.4th 659, 665 (4th Cir. 2024). And it is the “district judge [who] is best suited to determine in the first instance whether the sentenced defendant’s charges are a package.”

 

CR.RIS/FAMILY CIRCUMSTANCES. The Eastern District of Louisiana granted a CR.RIS motion in United States v. Stephen Scott, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89092 (E.D. La. May 17, 2024).Scott has served roughly 72-months of his 135-month sentence for bank robbery. He moved the Court for compassionate release pursuant to 18 USC 3852(c) because of a family tragedy. Leronisha Williams, defendant's partner and the mother of his son, has a young daughter, C.W. In Nov. 2020, then-seven-year-old C.W. was playing in front of her aunt's house when armed men approached and fired shots at another individual sitting on the porch behind C.W. One of the bullets struck C.W. and damaged her spinal cord leaving her paralyzed from the chest down. The defendant previously moved the Court for compassionate release on these grounds and the Court denied his Motion. Defendant filed a Second Motion for Compassionate Release wherein he argued that his family's need for caregiving assistance has dramatically increased since he filed his first motion. The defendant stated that C.W. has grown, as she is now 10 years old, which makes it difficult for her mother—C.W.'ssole caregiver—to move and otherwise care for her. C.W. continues to experience medical complications and has spent over 300 days in the hospital following spinal surgery in 2023.The defendant also pointed to his continued "perfect post-conviction conduct and extraordinary rehabilitative strides in prison" in support of his motion for compassionate release. The Court found the foregoing unique combination of circumstances "extraordinary and compelling." The defendant’s sentence was reduced to time served.

 

CR.RIS/FSA/404(b)/DISPARITY. The Eastern District of Virginia granted in part an FSA motion in United States v. Kareem Saunders, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88974 (E.D. Va. May 15, 2024). In early 2005, the defendant sold approximately 62 grams of cocaine base to Tyrone Jones for $1,600. The defendant and his co-defendant, Robert Barbour, began selling kilogram quantities of cocaine to brothers Ricky and Tyrone Jones for approximately $24,000 per kilogram. The defendant and Barbour both possessed an M-11 pistol during that transaction. After the initial transaction, Ricky and Tyrone Jones purchased approximately 14 additional kilograms of cocaine on different occasions. Defendant also sold 62-gram quantities of cocaine and cocaine base to Myron Williams on several occasions. On other occasions the defendant sold varying amounts of cocaine and cocaine base to multiple individuals. Additionally, the defendant and others involved in the conspiracy possessed firearms. On May 2, 2007, the defendant was sentenced to: (i) life on Count 1; (ii) 5 years on the first 924(c) charge in Count 3; and (iii) 25 years on the second 924(c) charge in Count 4. The sentence on each count was to run consecutively to one another. Overall, the First Step Act grants broad discretion to the Court to reduce defendant's sentence. The defendant asserted he is obese and suffers from hypertension and sleep apnea and further asserted that USP McCreary is unsafe because of the presence of active cases of COVID-19 at the time his motion was briefed. The defendant has established extraordinary and compelling circumstances warranting a sentence reduction pursuant to the Fourth Circuit's precedent in McCoy, which involved facts substantially similar to those presented here. The Court reduced the defendant's total sentence from Life plus 30 years to 43 years (or 516 months).

 

CR.RIS/STACKING/924(c). The Southern District of New York granted in part a CR.RIS motion in United States v. Earl Pierce, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88643 (S.D. N.Y. May 15, 2024). In Dec. 2012, Pierce was convicted by jury on multiple counts stemming from his participation in the Courtland Avenue Crew, including participating in a RICO enterprise, 21 USC 1962(c) (Count 1); racketeering conspiracy 18 USC 1962(d) (Count 2); conspiracy to murder in aid of racketeering 18 USC 1959(a)(5) (Count 3); assault/attempted murder in aid of racketeering 18 USC 1959(a)(3) & (5) (Count 11); conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute crack and marijuana 21 USC841(b)(1)(A), 841(b)(1)(D) & 846 (Count 15); discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence 18 USC 924(c)(1)(A)(i) & 924(c)(1)(C)(i) (Count 24); and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime 18 USC 924(c)(1)(A)(i) & 924(c)(1)(C)(i) (Count 28). Pierce was sentenced to600 months in 2013. The case was remanded by the Second Circuit for resentencing. In 2017 upon resentencing for his two convictions under section 924(c) (Counts 24 and 28) his sentence was reduced to 540 months. Pierce argued that "Congress has renounced the interpretation of 924(c)" that produced the "extremely long" sentence he received. He arguedthat this "drastic change in the law goes far towards establishing the extraordinary and compelling circumstances necessary to warrant relief." Pierce asserted that "his sentence was exacerbated by the application of the 'stacking rule' for [section] 924(c) convictions, which has since been clarified by the First Step Act." A sentence of 360 months would be imposed if he were sentenced today rather than the sentence of 600 months he initially received or the sentence of 540 months he received upon resentencing in 2017. The Government acknowledged that subsection (b)(6) of the Sentencing Commission's Policy Statement provides grounds for a sentence reduction that may apply to Pierce's case—i.e., where there is an "unusually long sentence" and a "change in law." The difference between the sentence Pierce did receive and the sentence he would receive today is striking and substantial and this presents a circumstance that is both extraordinary and compelling. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 360 months.

 

CR.RIS/MEDICAL. The Southern District of New York granted a CR.RIS motion in United States v. Michael Latimer, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88667 (S.D. N.Y. May 15, 2024). Latimer is a 34-year-old male who was employed as a police officer with theNYPD who committed an armed robbery of a marijuana dealer.The plan for the robbery involved defendant's exploiting his role as an NYPD officer to trick the Victim into thinking that he was being arrested and having his marijuana confiscated when in fact he was being robbed at gunpoint by an off-duty police officer and his co-conspirators. The Court sentenced the defendant to the mandatory minimum sentence of 84 months. The defendant has lost virtually all of his eyesight and is confined to a wheelchair. In the Court's view, based on the proffered medical records the defendant's physical condition constitutes "extraordinary and compelling circumstances warranting release." As confirmed by his medical records, the defendant has MS and has lost his eyesight and his ability to walk. He has "involuntary movements in [his] body[,] . . . . suffer[s] spasticity, memory loss, dizzy spells, migraines and. . . . [has] trouble sleeping." The defendant’s sentence was reduced to time served.

 

CR.RIS/REHABILITATION. The District of Hawaii granted in part a CR.RIS motion in United States v. John Gouveia, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87430 (D. Haw. May 15, 2024). In Jan. 2011, the court sentenced Gouveia to 292 months of imprisonment with respect to three drug felonies. Gouveia’s compassionate release motion argued: 1) that the reduced mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years should justify reducing his sentence; 2) that conditions in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic were tough; and 3) that he has demonstrated his rehabilitation. The current version of USSG 1B1.13(b) contains several provisions applicable to Gouveia's motion. Under 1B1.13(b)(5) in determining whether a defendant has demonstrated extraordinary and compelling circumstances justifying compassionate release the court may consider circumstances or a combination of circumstances that is "similar in gravity" to those in sections (b)(1) to (b)(4) (medical circumstances, age, family circumstances, and victim of abuse). Under 1B1.13(b)(6) and (c) the court may consider changes in law producing a gross disparity between the sentence being served and a sentence likely to be imposed at the time of a motion. Under 1B1.13(d) the court may consider the rehabilitation of a defendant in combination with other circumstances, but rehabilitation alone does not constitute extraordinary and compelling circumstances.The main thrust of defendant’s argument is that, if sentenced today, he would be subject to a 15-year statutory minimum sentence, rather than the 20-year statutory minimum sentence that he faced at the time of his actual sentencing. Gouveia has been disciplined for having had a cellular telephone in prison in 2019 and then again in 2021. His repeated possession of contraband cellular telephones raises questions about Gouveia's respect for authority. The court reducedGouveia's sentence from 240 months to 235 months.

 

CR.RIS/ACCA/AGE/REHABILITATION/1B1.13(b)(6). The Southern District of Florida granted a CR.RIS motion in United States v. Rodney Taylor, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85841 (S.D. Fla. May 13, 2024). On February 4, 2004 a jury found Taylor guilty of unlawfully possessing a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 USC 922(g)(1) and 924(e). Typically, a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years would have applied to these offenses but because of three prior state-court convictions the court found that the Armed Career Criminal Act removed the statutory maximum and sentenced Taylor to life in prison. The Court held a lengthy sentencing hearing and found by a preponderance of the evidence that Taylor used the firearm charged in the indictment to shoot and kill a victim during the course of a robbery, justifying the application of the homicide guideline. After applying the first-degree murder guideline, Taylor's base offense level was 43 with a criminal history category of IV, which increased to VI based on his status as an armed career criminal. Taylor was never charged in state court with the murder used to justify his life sentence. Taylor arguedthat his age at the time of his offense and his rehabilitation while incarcerated weigh in favor of his release under the factors set forth in 18 USC 3553(a). Effective Nov. 1, 2023, extraordinary and compelling reasons may also exist where "a defendant received an unusually long sentence" due to a subsequent change in the law that "would produce a gross disparity between the sentence being served and the sentence likely to be imposed [now,]" and the defendant has served at least 10 years of the term of imprisonment." USSG 1B1.13(b)(6). The Court must also find that the defendant "is not a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community as provided in 18 USC3142(g)." Taylor has worked hard to better himself while in prison, earning his GED in 2006, taking over 25 educational courses, even teaching classes and Bible study groups, and maintaining employment. He has had three disciplinary infractions while in prison, but, significantly, none since 2012.The Court reduced defendant’s sentence to 30-years imprisonment.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Western District of North Carolina granted an 821 motion in United States v. David Creson, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87873 (W.D. N.C. May 15, 2024). Creson participated in a drug-trafficking organization that distributed methamphetamine. Defendant's prior criminal history resulted in an assessment of zero criminal history points resulting in a criminal history category of I. The defendant was sentenced to 70-months. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 57-months.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Western District of North Carolina granted an 821 motion in United States v. Danny Tremble, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87884 (W.D. N.C. May 15, 2024). Tremble executed a scheme to defraud and embezzling at least $1.35 million from Azalea Management and Leasing. The defendant was charged through a Bill of Information with wire fraud in violation of 18 USC 1343, and with filing a false tax return in violation of 26 USC 7206(1). The defendant was sentenced to 41-months with zero criminal history points. The defendant’s sentence reduced to 37-months.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Western District of North Carolina granted an 821 motion in United States v. Roberto Ibarra, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87864 (W.D. N.C. May 15, 2024). The defendant entered into a written plea agreement with the Government and plead guilty to a drug conspiracy offense; in exchange, the possession charge was dismissed. The defendant's prior criminal history resulted in an assessment of two criminal history points. The probation office also assessed the defendant with two additional criminal history points because he committed his offense while he was on probation. The Court sentenced the defendant to 70-months. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 53-months.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Western District of North Carolina granted an 821 motion in United States v. Joe Taylor, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87030 (W.D. N.C. May 14, 2024). A federal grand jury indicted the defendant and charged him with possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The probation office assessed the defendant two criminal-history points because he committed his offense while he was on probation. The Court sentenced the defendant to a downward-variance term of 65-months in prison at the bottom of the guideline range. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 63-months.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Western District of North Carolina granted an 821 motion in United States v. Brooklyn Lackey, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85502 (W.D. N.C. May 14, 2024).Lackey participated in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. The defendant's prior criminal history resulted in an assessment of zero criminal history points. The Court sentenced the defendant to a term of 30 months.  The defendant’s sentence was reduced to time served.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Eastern District of New York granted an 821 motion in United States v. Adalberto Manueles, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86978 (E.D. N.Y. May 14, 2024). Adalberto Manueles moved for a two-point reduction in his sentence based on the "zero-point offender" amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The Court sentenced Manueles to a term of 128-months. Two points were assessed for having committed the offense while under a criminal justice sentence. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 121-months.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Southern District of New York granted an 821 motion in United States v. Luis Castro, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85174 (S.D. N.Y. May 10, 2024). Castro plead guilty to a two-count superseding information charging him with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin in violation of 21 USC 846 and 841(b)(1)(A), and possession of a firearm after a felony conviction, in violation of 18 USC 922(g)(1). Castro was sentenced to 128 months. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 120-months.

 

AMENDMENT 821. The Southern District of Florida granted an 821 motion in United States v. Alexander Escalante Orozco, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88112 (S.D. Fla. May 16, 2024). On Jan.19, 2023, Escalante Orozco was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 60-months after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States in violation of 46 USC 70506(b). The defendant is a zero pointoffender. The defendant’s sentence was reduced to 57-months.

 

APPEAL/RESENTENCE. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing United States v. Erich Storck, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11970 (6th Cir. May 16, 2024). Storck was convicted of possession of marijuana and two counts of felon-in-possession of a firearm. The Guidelines recommended 51–63 months imprisonment, but the district court imposed the statutory maximum of 120 months. Storck challenges his sentence by arguing the district court: (1) did not credit him for acceptance of responsibility, (2) impermissibly relied on his medical records to conclude he continued to pose a danger, and (3) failed to justify the upward variance from the Guidelines range. He also challenged his firearm convictions as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The courtaffirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. The court reversed as to Storck’s challenges to the substantive reasonableness of his sentence and acceptance of responsibility reduction as applied to Count III.

 

APPEAL/RESENTENCE. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing United States v. Dwayne Barrett, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11782 (2d Cir. May 15, 2024). Barrett was convicted on multiple counts of conspiracy and substantive Hobbs Act robbery, the use of firearms during such robberies, and in one robbery the murder of a robbery victim. On appeal, Barrett argued that his initial appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of his convictions. He also argued that his 50-year prison sentence was procedurally unreasonable based on the district court’s application of USSG 2A1.1 in calculating his Sentencing Guidelines range. The Second Circuit rejected all of Barrett’s arguments except for his consecutive sentence challenge, where it identified error by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lora v. United States, 599 U.S. 453 (2023). The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for resentencing consistent with Lora and its opinion.

 

APPEAL/RESENTENCE. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded United States v. Adrian Esteras, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11850 (2d Cir. May 16, 2024). Carlos Esteras and Raphael Frias were convicted of fentanyl trafficking charges and appealed their sentences, arguing that the district court erred in calculating their respective Guidelines ranges. Esteras contended that the district court wrongly calculated his base offense level by applying a two-level increase for maintaining a premise for narcotics trafficking and declining to apply a two-level reduction for being a minor participant in the trafficking scheme. He also argued that the district court wrongly applied a two-point increase to his criminal history score after finding that he was on parole at the time of the offense. Frias argued that the district court erred in applying the two-level premise enhancement and a four-level increase for being an organizer or leader of the scheme and failed to adequately consider his mitigating evidence in declining to vary downwards. The Northern District of New York sentenced Esteras to 84 months and Frias to 135 months. The court had applied several sentencing enhancements, including a two-level enhancement for maintaining a premise for narcotics trafficking and a four-level enhancement for being an organizer or leader of the scheme. The Second Circuit affirmed each of the district court’s sentencing decisions except its application of the organizer or leader enhancement to Frias. The court affirmed Esteras’s sentence and vacated and remanded Frias’s sentence for further proceedings consistent with thisopinion. The court found that Esteras's home qualified for the stash-house enhancement and that he was not a minor participant in the conspiracy. The court also found that Esteras was on parole when he committed his offenses, warranting a two-point increase to his criminal history score. However, the court found that Frias did not qualify as an organizer or leader under the Guidelines which warranted a remand for further proceedings.

 

APPEAL/RESENTENCE. The First Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing United States v. Alejandro Cortez-Lopez, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11462 (1st Cir. May 10, 2024).The case involves Alejandro Cortés-López who was serving a 24-month prison term after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Cortés-López had entered into a plea agreement with the Government admitting to a fraudulent financial scheme that solicited residents in Puerto Rico to invest in short-term high-interest loans in the Dominican Republic. The plea agreement stipulated a total offense level of 18, which, combined with a criminal history category of I suggested a guidelines sentencing range of 27-33 months imprisonment. However, both parties agreed to jointly request a variant sentence of 24 months of probation. The PSR calculated a higher TOL due to the financial fraud scheme resulting in more than $5.4 million in losses to the investors. Cortés-López objected to these enhancements but the probation office maintained that the higher loss amount and additional enhancement were correct. At the sentencing hearing, the Government acknowledged the PSR's calculation but stated it was standing by its plea agreement recommendation of 24 months of probation. The district court, however, imposed a sentence of 24 months' imprisonment, followed by 3 years of supervised release and $5.4 million in restitution. Cortés-López appealed arguing that the Government breached the plea agreement by supporting the higher TOL calculated in the PSR and failing to advocate meaningfully for the agreed-upon 24-month probation sentence. The First Circuit agreed finding that the Government's conduct at the sentencing hearing was a breach of the plea agreement. The court vacated Cortés-López's sentence and remanded the case for further proceedings.

 

APPEAL/RESENTENCE. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing United States v. Patrick Fedak, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11976 (4th Cir. May 17, 2024). Fedak appealed the sentence imposed following his guilty plea to theft of Government property in violation of 18 USC 641. Fedak asserted that the district court reversibly erred when it imposed discretionary conditions of supervised release in the written judgment that it neither announced nor incorporated by reference at sentencing. After reviewing the record the courtconcluded that the district court erred by excluding thediscretionary conditions of supervised release when the sentence was announced. The court noted that the court’s sole reference to “the standard conditions” was insufficient to incorporate the standard conditions adopted by the district court in StandingOrder 21-20-5. The appropriate remedy for this error was to vacate the sentence and remand for a full resentencing.

 

APPEAL/FORFEITURE. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded United States v. Brian Darden-Mosby, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11562 (6th Cir. May 13, 2024). Storing tens of thousands of dollars in a shoebox is seldom a good idea. Dealing drugs illegally never is. Brian Dewayne Darden-Mosby did both, earning himself two federal convictions. Darden-Mosby was convicted of two federal drug-dealing offenses. During the investigation DEA agents executed a search warrant for Darden-Mosby’s house and car, discovering an unregistered firearm, a money counter, drug ledgers, marijuana, and a backpack containing cocaine. They also seized $112,690 in cash found in various locations in his bedroom. After the search, police pulled over one of Darden-Mosby’s cocaine suppliers and found Darden-Mosby in the passenger seat with a bank envelope containing $2,500 in cash and two cashier’s checks totaling nearly $150,000. The United States prosecuted Darden-Mosby for various crimes based on the drugs and guns found in his house. As part of the prosecution the Government initiated criminal-forfeiture proceedings against the cash from Darden-Mosby’s bedroom, the two cashier’s checks, and the $2,500 found in Darden-Mosby’s pocket. Darden-Mosby sought to suppress the cashier’s checks and $2,500, arguing the detective’s search violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the motion. The Government ultimately opted not to introduce that evidence at trial, and it dismissed the criminal forfeiture claims against the two checks. A jury convicted Darden-Mosby of two drug-dealing offenses. The Government declined to prosecute the forfeiture of the $2,500 in cash from the traffic stop any further but continued to pursue criminal forfeiture of the $112,690 from Darden-Mosby’s house. After a hearing and additional briefing, the court concluded the cash was connected to Darden-Mosby’s drug dealing and ordered the criminal forfeiture of the money. Separate from the Government’s criminal-forfeiture actions the DEA commenced administrative-forfeiture proceedings against the two cashier’s checks and the $2,500. These proceedings resulted in the administrative forfeiture of all three assets. On appeal the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court affirmed the district court’s criminal-forfeiture order with respect to the $92,470 found in the safe and shoebox at Darden-Mosby’s house but reversed with respect to the $20,220 found in and on the dresser. The court found that Darden-Mosby offered credible evidence that the $20,220 found on and in the dresser had legal sources and purposes. However, the court found that Darden-Mosby’s evidence was considerably weaker when it came to the $92,470 in the safe and shoebox.

 

APPEAL/SELF-REPRESENTATION. The Eighth Circuit vacated and remanded United States v. Anthony Willis, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11544 (8th Cir. May 13, 2024). The case involves Anthony Willis who was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Willis requested to represent himself in court, a request that was granted by the magistrate judge after a hearing confirmed Willis was competent to do so and had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel. Willis was warned that his right to self-representation could be revoked if he conducted himself in an obstructive or disruptive manner. Throughout the pretrial proceedings Willis repeatedly asserted "sovereign citizen" arguments and defenses. The district court revoked Willis's right to represent himself on the morning of the trial after he ignored a warning and again asserted his sovereign citizen theories and defenses. Willis was then represented by standby counsel and a jury convicted him. Willis appealed his conviction and sentence arguing that the district court erred by revoking his right to represent himself on the morning of the trial. The Eighth Circuit reviewed the district court’s decision to revoke Willis’s right of self-representation de novo. The court concluded that the record at the time the district court revoked Willis’s right to represent himself does not reflect that he had engaged or would engage in the “serious and obstructionist misconduct” that Faretta and controlling precedents require. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded for further proceedings.

 

APPEAL/PLEA. The First Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial United States v.  Ricardo Villa-Guillen, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 12001 (1st Cir. May 17, 2024). The case involves Ricardo Villa-Guillen who was convicted by a jury for conspiring to traffic cocaine from Puerto Rico to the continental United States. Villa appealed alleging errors in the district court proceedings. The court agreed with Villa that two of the district court's evidentiary rulings led to prejudicial error. These rulings involved the admission of a letter discussing Villa's potential interest in a plea deal which the Government claimed was tantamount to a confession and the admission of testimony suggesting that Villa was more likely to have committed this crime because he had supposedly participated in a different drug transaction. The court reversed and ordered a new trial. The district court had admitted a redacted version of a letter Villa had written to the court seeking information about a pending motion. In the letter, Villa stated that he "ha[d] expressed . . . [his] desire to reach an agreement with the Government." The court believed the letter was "relevant because Villa's assertions convey a consciousness of guilt," and the court thought its admission was fair because Villa sent the "incriminating letter to the Court on his own accord." The First Circuit had affirmed its ruling admitting what it considered to be a similar letter in a different case although the earlier case did not involve a Rule 403 objection. The court concluded that the district court's instruction combined with the Government's argument indicated that the "natural and intuitive" inference to draw from the letter was that Villa's interest in a plea agreement meant he was guilty. The court reversed and ordered a new trial.

 

APPEAL/SEARCH. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s suppression order in United States v. Mykel McMillion, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 11545 (8th Cir. May 13, 2024). Mykel Lee McMillion was charged with knowingly possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year. The charge stemmed from an incident where police officers responded to a call from a security guard at an apartment complex who reported that a car was parked in a restricted area and one of the occupants had a gun. The officers arrived and stopped the car noticing a man in the backseat who matched the description given by the security guard. The man, identified as McMillion, was removed from the car, handcuffed, and searched, leading to the discovery of a concealed handgun. The district court granted McMillion's motion to suppress the evidence of the firearm, reasoning that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car. The court argued that the time and location of the incident, as well as the report of a man swinging a gun, were irrelevant to the reasonable suspicion analysis as open carry is legal in Iowa.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the car and conduct a pat-down search for weapons. The court considered the totality of the circumstances, including the high-crime area, the time of night, the report of a man with a gun, and the behavior of the car's occupants when they became aware of the officers' presence. The court concluded that these factors, taken together, provided sufficient grounds for reasonable suspicion, and thus, the district court erred in granting the motion to suppress. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

 

APPEAL/1983/RELIGION. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded Chamma Brandon v. Royce, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11738 (2d Cir. May 15, 2024). Chamma K. Brandon is in custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and he filed a lawsuit against three prison officials. Brandon alleged that the officials violated his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion by denying him a special meal in celebration of Eid al-Adha. He also claimed that one of the officials, Mark Royce, violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by ordering that his housing block be constantly illuminated. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Brandon's First Amendment claim and denied Brandon's request to reopen discovery for a second time to permit expert testimony on his Eighth Amendment claim. Following a trial, a jury found that Royce had not violated Brandon's Eighth Amendment right. On appeal the Second Circuit agreed with Brandon that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants on his First Amendment claim. The court found that there was a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Brandon had an alternative means of exercising his right to the free exercise of religion. The court also found that the penological concerns raised by the defendants did not support granting judgment as a matter of law in their favor. However, the court found no error in the district court's denial of Brandon's motion to reopen discovery. The court vacated in part and affirmed in part the district court's decision.

 

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SAMARITAN NEWSLETTER – 06-24-2024

The Law Office of Tom Norrid SAMARITAN PROJECTS LLC P.O. Box 9244 Springfield, MO 65801-9244 417-236-1179 attorneytnorridnews@gmail.com The SAMARITAN-PROJECTS prepares post-conviction and compassionat

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