Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Objections to facts in the PSR: this is not just a child porn case

Bottom line for child porn offenses:

United States v. Cover, 14-3641 holds that the depiction of an 11- or 12-year-old child penetrated orally by an adult penis is not per se a depiction of sadistic or masochistic conduct. There was no evidence in the record that the image was violent or depicted the infliction of physical or psychological pain. The Sixth ruled this holding was not in conflict with United States v. Groenendal, 557 F.3d 419 (6th Cir. 2009) ("penetration of a pre-pubescent child by an adult male constitutes inherently sadistic conduct") because an 11- or 12-year-old child is not necessarily pre-pubescent. The Court also noted, "As sad as it is, there is no denying that many eighth-graders these days voluntarily engage in oral sex, presumably without experiencing pain."

IMPORTANT discussion for anyone filing Shepard-based objections to Presentence Reports regarding ACCA, Career Offender, 2K2.1, etc. etc. etc.:

Remember, a "district court is allowed to accept as true all factual allegations in a presentence report to which the defendant does not object." United States v. Bondurant, 146 F. App'x 762, 763 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Levy, 250 F.3d 1015, 1018 (6th Cir. 2001). In Cover, the Sixth reminds us the district court can rely on facts in the PSR unless there is a "dispute." "To create a factual dispute, a defendant 'must produce some evidence that calls the reliability or correctness of the alleged facts into question' - a burden of production that requires 'more than bare denial.'" Cover at *2(citing United States v. Lang, 333 F.3d 678, 681 (6th Cir. 2003).

It would be insufficient for prosecution or defense to file an objection that merely stated, "defendant/government objects to the information contained in paragraph 30" or "objects... because it is not true." For instance, in the context of information that might ultimately be used in a Shepard analysis, the objection should contain a discussion about how the probation officer preparing the report is allowed to glean information from non-Shepard sources and those have not been deemed reliable enough for a Shepard analysis, as well as an offense-specific discussion of what the Shepard documents do show about a particular offense.

State restoration of rights does NOT restore federal gun rights

In a lengthy opinion today, the Sixth Circuit ruled that even though a FEDERAL felon had their Tennessee state civil rights fully restored - including specifically his right to have a firearm - his federal right to firearms had not been restored. The majority in Walker v. United States, 14-5703 applied the test set out in United States v. Cassidy, 899 F.2d 543, 550 (6th Cir. 1990): in determining whether a person's civil rights were restored, the court should look at the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, and the right to seek and hold public office.

Mr. Walker's right to seek and hold public office was never lost - even felons can run - so it was never restored. You cannot restore that which you have not lost in the first place.

Mr. Walker's right to sit on a federal jury was assumed for the sake of argument to have been lost and then restored, but one restoration is not enough.

Mr. Walker's right to vote was not restored in any way that directly addressed his personal felony conviction, or the status of all felons, and so does not "count" under this analysis.

So, no restoration and restoration without proper consideration are problematic.

Judge Clay filed a dissent.

The case is very dense and a good read to see just how detailed a statutory interpretation the Sixth is willing to go through.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Evading arrest not a predicate for ACCA

Very quick, unpublished opinion today in United States v. Odell Holder, 14-5666. Case was remanded by the Supreme Court for evaluation under Johnson. Sixth held that evading arrest is not a predicate offense.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Summons Is Not "Intervening Arrest" for Career-Offender Purposes

In United States v. Powell, No. 14-3932 (Aug. 19, 2015), the Sixth Circuit clarified application of the career-offender provision under the Sentencing Guidelines.

Powell argued that the district court erred in classifying him as a career offender because the court mistakenly counted two of his prior convictions separately.

The Guidelines explain that “prior sentences always are counted separately if the sentences were imposed for offenses that were separated by an intervening arrest.” U.S.S.G. § 4A1.2(a)(2). “If there is no intervening arrest, prior sentences are counted separately unless (A) the sentences resulted from offenses contained in the same charging instrument; or (B) the sentences were imposed on the same day. Count any prior sentence covered by (A) or (B) as a single sentence.” Id.

The district court relied on pair of assault convictions t
o sentence Powell as a career offender. But Powell merely received a summons for the first of these charges before being arrested two months later on the second charge, and he was sentenced for both crimes on the same day. The Sixth Circuit sided with an en banc Ninth Circuit decision, and dicta from other circuits, to decide that an intervening summons or citation does not constitute “an intervening arrest” under § 4A1.2(a)(2). The Sixth Circuit declined to follow a contrary decision from the Seventh Circuit.

On another important note, Powell had waived most of his appellate rights as part of his plea agreement, but preserved his ability to challenge the determination of his criminal-history category. This exception, the Sixth Circuit decided, allowed an appellate challenge to the career-offender determination, even though it affected both Powell's criminal history and offense level. Even more interesting, the court's holding ultimately did not change Powell's criminal history category: his score dropped from 20 to 15, leaving him in
 category VI. But the Sixth Circuit nonetheless remanded because of the change in offense level.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Legal Mail" to Correctional Facility Includes Mail From Prospective Attorney

Today's sole published opinion, ACLU Fund of Michigan v. County of Livingston is not a criminal case.  But it seemed appropriate to blog about it here because of the interest it may hold for criminal practitioners in the Sixth Circuit.

Here are the facts:  the Livingston County (MI) jail has a very restrictive mail policy.  Anything that's not legal mail has to be on a postcard.  The jail administrator in charge of determining what constitutes legal mail thinks that only mail from a court and mail from an attorney to a current client constitutes legal mail.  So the ACLU sent several letters to Livingston County inmates offering to help them challenge the county's policy.  The letters were in enveloped marked "legal mail" and were signed by an attorney.  But since Livingston County didn't consider them to be "legal mail," they were never delivered.  The ACLU filed suit, seeking injunctive relief.  The district court granted a preliminary injunction, and the defendants sought interlocutory review.

In its opinion, the court (Judges Moore, Siler, and Stranch comprised the panel, with Judge Moore writing) held that the jail's overly restrictive policy likely constituted violations of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The court's discussion at the bottom of page 10 of the opinion is particularly instructive:  the court notes that legal services organizations like the ACLU must be able to send confidential communication prior to initiating legal action, and that both the inmate and the attorney have a strong interest in keeping communications confidential during the investigate stages of a legal matter.  That should be particularly helpful for attorneys considering taking on postconviction or habeas matters on behalf of an inmate.
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Sunday, August 09, 2015

Crimes of Violence Determined Under Shepard

The Sixth Circuit determined that Tennessee’s aggravated burglary statute is divisible and, further, may constitute a “crime of violence.” In United States v. Ozier, the Court used the modified categorical approach to determine whether the defendant committed a breed of aggravated burglary that constitutes a crime of violence under Section 4B1.2(a)(2) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The decision demonstrates the continued viability of Descamps and Shepard when determining career offender status (and potentially the ACCA) following Johnsonv. United States.

In Ozier, the District Court concluded that Ozier had committed one of the enumerated offenses (burglary of a dwelling) in Section 4B1.2(a)(2).  In conducting its analysis, the Sixth Circuit first determined (under Descamps) that Tennessee’s aggravated burglary statute is divisible. Having established that the statute is divisible, the Court then analyzed the plea colloquy underlying the state conviction (under Shepard), which confirmed the District Court’s conclusion. Because the underlying crime fell within the enumerated offenses, the Court declined to consider whether Johnson invalidated an analysis under the residual clause.

The case is United States v. Ozier, 14-6439 (6th Cir. August 5, 2015).

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Insufficient Evidence: Failing to Connect the Defendant with the Crime

The Sixth Circuit reversed a child pornography conviction because the Government failed to present sufficient evidence. In United States v. Lowe, police officers found child pornography on a computer at the defendant’s (James Lowe’s) home. But three people lived at the residence before the police search and the Court found that the Government failed to adduce evidence sufficient for any rational juror to conclude that it was the defendant, and not one of the other residents, who knowingly possessed the illegal computer files.

After developing probable cause that child pornography existed on a computer at the defendant’s residence, the police searched the residence and found three computers: a laptop with the username “Stacy;” a desktop computer; and a laptop with the username “Jamie.” It was on this third computer that the child pornography was located. The police found a form with James’s name, social security number, and date of birth in the office with the third computer.

But the Court noted that none of the computers required passwords. And the peer-to-peer file sharing program apparently involved with the child pornography had to be opened in order to potentially realize that the computer had child pornography (although there were some files that potentially could have contained illegal material in the recycling bin).

According to the Court, the Government failed because its evidence only demonstrated that the defendant owned and occasionally used the laptop, not that he was aware of the illegal material. To meet its burden, the Court suggested that the Government needed to show (if such evidence existed) that use of the illegal material occurred at or near the time the computer was used for some other purpose that identified the individual using the computer as the defendant. On the record before the Court, it concluded that “the evidence did not suggest that someone using the laptop for innocent purposes would know about the ongoing child-pornography downloads.”

The Court rarely finds cases in which the Government has failed to submit sufficient evidence--even when the Government relies only on circumstantial evidence (as it did in Lowe). Hence, this case is instructive with respect to when the Court may find that the Government's intended inferences amount to nothing more than speculation.

Rule 12 Claims Now Reviewable for Plain Error

Failure to raise Rule 12 motions before appeal will result in a forfeiture (not a waiver) of the claim on appeal. In United States v. Soto (a multi-defendant appeal), one defendant failed to raise a severance claim until appeal. Under Circuit precedent, such a claim would have been waived. See, e.g., United States v. Walden, 625 F.3d 961, 967 (6th Cir. 2010). But that precedent relied on a previous version of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. After analyzing the text of the 2014 Rule and the history of the Advisory Committee’s consideration of the new text, the Sixth Circuit held that the defendant had merely forfeited his severance motion, not waived it. The panel then decided to apply plain error review to the claim. Unfortunately, the defendant could not overcome the plain error standard. But the Soto case opens forfeited Rule 12 claims to appellate review.

The case above is United States v. Soto, 13-2300 (6th July 24, 2015).

Monday, July 27, 2015

A bumper crop of opinions

Some days -- and even weeks -- you have to dig pretty hard to find a case that addresses an interesting issue in criminal law in the Sixth Circuit. Other days, such as last Friday, the corn is as high as an elephant's eye. And while everything did not go the way of the defendants of the world, some of the opinions were pretty good. With apologies for the rather cursory discussion, here's what you missed if you took a long weekend:

United States v. Detloff -- A nice win out of the FPD's office in Ohio on a supervised release issue. The Sixth Circuit found itself reminding district courts (and the government, and the appellant's original counsel) that Michigan's resisting arrest statute (Section 750.81d(1)) is not categorically a violent offense. The opinion also helpfully reminded the district court that the guidelines are not mandatory and do not require the supervised-release sentence to run consecutively to his other sentence.

United States v. Randolph -- Practitioners trying to raise arguments about juries' "inconsistent verdicts" run into a whole host of troubles, but not here. The jury found Mr. Randolph guilty of a conspiracy to manufacture or distribute drugs. But when the jury-form required the jury to indicate the quantity of the drugs that were involved in the conspiracy, the jury checked the box for "none" beside each illegal substance, thus suggesting that there were no drugs involved in the conspiracy. The Sixth Circuit ruled that this was not merely an "inconsistent" verdict between multiple counts, as the court has previously addressed. Rather, it was a mutually exclusive verdict within the same count that "reveal[ed] that the government failed to prove an essential element of the charged drug conspiracy," which was a matter of first impression for the court. The court also refused to remand for a new trial, instead remanding for entry of a judgment of acquittal. It explained that to do otherwise would subject the defendant to double jeopardy.

United States v. Bah -- "This case addresses whether an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the magnetic strips on credit cards." (Somehow when an opinion from Judge Rogers, McKeague, and Sargus starts this way, you get the creeping feeling that the answer is going to be "no.") In answering that question in the negative, the court reasoned that the Supreme Court's recent opinion in Riley v. California is not applicable because credit cards do not contain as much information as cellphones. It also held that there was nothing wrong with the traffic stop that led to the search of the credit card. This part of the opinion offers the frustrating reminders that (1) Arizona v. Gant can be pretty toothless if officers just mumble the words "inventory search" at some time during the proceedings, and (2) Rodriguez v. United States doesn't get you very far in challenging prolonged stops (but then, we already knew that).

And finally, United States v. Soto presents a whole host of issues, most of which remind us that it is bad to be on the receiving end of federal charges alleging drugs, kidnapping, and firearms. Perhaps most interestingly, there is a long discussion of whether an appellant can raise a district court's failure to sever claims for the first time on appeal (yes, absent an "intentional relinquishment of the right") and under what standard of review (plain error).