Monday, August 21, 2017

Mere Possibility Someone Else Might Be Present Does Not Justify A Protective Sweep of Residence

US v. Nelson, --- F.3d ---, 2017 WL 3526570 (10th Cir. August 17, 2017): Almost a win for the defendant. The Tenth Circuit reverses the district court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant was visiting his girlfriend at her parents' house when the girlfriend's father called deputies to tell them defendant was there, as the deputies had previously asked the father to do so. When the father called, he told the officers defendant was at the residence and the marshals could "go inside and search" for defendant. When the officers arrived, the girlfriend answered the door. She said defendant was upstairs and she would get him, and then tried to shut the door. One deputy stopped her from doing so, and they entered the residence, which had four levels. As it happened, the defendant was not upstairs, but in the subbasement. One deputy saw movement there and told the unidentified person to come out. Defendant came out and was taken into custody on the next level. A deputy then went to the subbasement and searched it, where he found two guns under a pile of clothes on a bed. The girlfriend and her parents all denied ownership of the guns, so defendant was charged with felon in possession of them. Defendant moved to suppress the guns, on the grounds that the Fourth Amendment was violated because the deputies continued to search the residence after arresting him. The government made two arguments in response: 1) The owner of the house, the girlfriend's father, consented to the search, and 2) the search was a lawful protective sweep under Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990). The district court bought the second argument , reasoning that the facts surrounding Nelson's arrest supported a reasonable belief that someone else was in the home who might pose a danger. The district court didn't address the first argument.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit holds that the search was not a lawful protective sweep. The facts relied on by the district court -- that the girlfriend attempted to shut the door on the deputies, that she incorrectly told the deputies defendant was upstairs when he was actually downstairs, and that defendant failed to immediately show himself -- "don't create an inference that someone other than [defendant] was hiding in the house, whether ... taken separately or together." The Court noted that the government did not try to explain how the facts created the necessary inference, instead arguing that the deputies had no way of knowing if anyone else was there. But that isn't enough, the Court says. There might always be somebody else present. That mere possibility does not justify a protective sweep.

The government pointed to two additional facts, but the Court was not impressed. The Court rejects the government's attempt to rely on the finding that one deputy "noticed shadows moving at the bottom of the stairs" in the subbasement because the government did not explain the significance of this putative fact. The government also pointed to the girlfriend's statement that her cousin was also in the house. The Court says that is the type of information that might support the search. Unfortunately, the government conceded the deputy didn't learn about this fact until after the search, and thus it can't justify the search.

The government also made two more arguments to support the search. First, the government contended that the search was appropriate because, under Buie, officers could look into areas immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be launched., The panel is not impressed because the government did not make this specific argument below. Moreover, even though the Court can affirm on alternative grounds, here the record is insufficiently developed to allow it to do so. For the same reasons, the Court declines to consider the government's argument based on the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

However, the defendant is not home free. The Court remands the case to the district court to determine the scope of the father's consent to enter and search the house.

Interestingly, in footnote 5, the panel noted testimony at the hearing that the Marshals had a "blanket safety rule" that whenever they entered a residence to make an arrest, they would "check everywhere that a body could be." The Court was somewhat disturbed by this, saying: "We note that if, as Nelson suggests, the United States Marshals Service for the District of Kansas maintains a practice that systemically ignores the framework set forth in Buie, such a practice would be troubling."

OK Assault and Battery with a Deadly Weapon is a Violent Felony

US v. Burtons, --- Fed.Appx. ---, 2017 WL 3531399 (10th Cir. Aug. 17, 2017) (unpublished): The Court affirms denial of Petitioner's 2255 motion. An Oklahoma conviction for assault and battery with a deadly weapon is a violent felony for purposes of ACCA under the elements clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i). However, there is something potentially useful here: The Court considers the petitioner's argument based on Mathis v. United States regarding the divisibilty of the Oklahoma statute even though it was not raised until the reply brief, largely because Mathis was not decided until after the opening brief as filed. Unfortunately, the Court then concludes that the Oklahoma statute is divisible, the district court correctly applied the modified categorical approach, and the alternative under which the defendant was convicted, assault and battery with a deadly weapon under Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 652(C) (1994), has an element of use, attempted use, or threatened use of force.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Neighbors can sue Colorado marijuana operation

Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865 (6/7/17) (Col.) (Published) - The 10th gives the go ahead for the land-owning neighbors of a marijuana-growing operation to sue the operation and its affiliates. But the 10th shuts down other attackers of Colorado's recreational marijuana law. The landowners' allegations establish a cause of action under RICO's citizen suit provisions. The marijuana growing operation and its affiliates that get the marijuana to consumers could be considered a conspiracy in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. And the neighbors alleged enough injuries due to the interference with their enjoyment of their property and the diminution of their property's value from being near those odors and near an ongoing criminal enterprise. The 10th cautions that this doesn't mean every private citizen, or even every citizen tangentially injured, can sue a marijuana-related enterprise under RICO. Nothing else serves a basis for relief for the neighbors, sheriffs, the Safe Streets Alliance or neighboring states. There is no right to sue based on the Supremacy Clause or the Controlled Substances Act. And the states are out of luck because the Supreme Court is the only place for litigation between states.

Useful case discussing minor role reduction, but ultimately nothing for the defendant

U.S. v. Moreno, 2017 WL 2651702 (6/20/17) (Kan.) (unpub'd) - An important discussion about minor role without helping Mr. Moreno any. The 10th notes that Amendment 794's changes to § 3B1.2 were intended to correct what the Sentencing Commission thought was sentencing courts' too sparing use of the minor role adjustment. The Commission, the 10th says, resolved a circuit split by deciding the focus should be on the defendant's role in the particular criminal activity, and not compare the defendant's role to the average participant in other similar crimes. The 10th refuses to apply the new amendment to Mr. Moreno's case, although the amendment came into effect while his appeal was pending. The 10th finds the change to be substantive, rather than clarifying [which would justify applying the change], at least in this circuit, because the change overruled the 10th's precedent. This determination conflicts with at least 4 circuits' rulings. The district court's role findings were "terse, but adequate." The record supported the rejection of Mr. Moreno's minor role request, even though he was a courier. His role was less than the "big boys," but more than the little fish. He conversed with the head guy, knew a lot about the operation and was allowed to carry significant drug quantities a long distance.

Lack of factual basis for guilty plea is plain error

U.S. v. Carillo, 860 F.3d 1293 (6/23/17) (N.M.) (Published) - The 10th finds plain error in the magistrate judge's failure to establish a factual basis for Mr. Carillo's 100-gram-heroin-conspiracy guilty plea. The 10th finds nowhere in the record [not in the indictment, plea hearing or PSR] support for inferring the involvement of 100 grams of heroin was foreseeable to Mr. Carillo or that Mr. Carillo's single purchase of 50 grams was an act intended to further the aims of the larger conspiracy. The plea hearing plainly violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(3)'s factual basis requirement. To establish the third substantial-rights plain error prong for an 11(b)(3) violation, as opposed to other Rule 11 violations, the defendant need not prove he would have pleaded guilty absent the error. He just has to show there is no factual support anywhere in the record. Reversal required here. Similarly, the 10th notes Rule 11(b)(1)(G) was violated because no one identified all the offense's elements at the plea hearing. The 10th says it has serious doubts whether the presumption that counsel informed the defendant of the elements applies in this case where there is nothing in the record to corroborate the presumption. But it refuses to decide the issue. The 10th refuses to grant relief for the misstatement of the mandatory minimum at the plea hearing. Mr. Carillo had other sources for that information and apparently the plea negotiations centered around trying to avoid the mandatory minimum. Back to district court for Mr. Carillo where apparently there is no evidence of the charge he pleaded guilty to.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Divided Panel Grants Partial Relief to Capital Habeas Petitioner

Pavatt v. Royal, 859 F.3d 920 (6/9/17) (Okl.) (Published) - The 10th affirms the murder conviction but overturns the Oklahoma jury's finding that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel ("HAC") and so imposed the death penalty. First the good news. A divided 10th (Judges Hartz & Kelly) holds the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals ("OCCA") issued an adjudication contrary to clearly established federal law under the stringent AEDPA standard when it held the state presented sufficient evidence that the murder was HAC. The 10th finds that evidence the shooting victim may have endured a bit of conscious physical suffering before dying was not enough to distinguish the case from many other murders where the victim didn't die instantly. The cruel & unusual punishment clause requires much more channelling of the jury's discretion so it would not be so related to chance. The OCCA acted contrary to constitutional law because it only addressed whether the evidence matched the state standard, (which the 10th indicates has been slipping away from S. Ct. precedent), and ignored the stiffer, anti-arbitrariness, narrowing constitutional standard. The 10th left it to the district court to decide what relief should be granted where the jury also found an unchallenged aggravating circumstance. Judge Briscoe dissents. She feels Mr. Pavatt procedurally defaulted the claim. Perhaps helpfully for our Johnson cases, the majority refuses to consider the procedural issue, because the state didn't raise it on appeal. Judge Briscoe also thinks the OCCA did consider the constitutional standard and it was enough to combat arbitrariness that the victim may have suffered for several minutes before dying. On the helpful side, Judge Briscoe thinks Hurst v. Fla. 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), requires resentencing by a jury, and prohibits reweighing by the OCCA.

As for the conviction, the 10th says Mr. Pavatt did not preserve two of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel ("IA"")issues in federal district court. For one of those issues he only mentioned it in one sentence buried under a heading that didn't mention the issue. For the third IA issue, Mr. Pavatt couldn't prove enough prejudice regarding failure to object to admission of photographs of the deceased before his death.

Civil Rights Plaintiff Loses on Religious Freedom Argument

Sause v. Bauer, 859 F.3d 1270 (6/20/17) (Kan.) (Published) - The § 1983 civil rights plaintiff only raised the religious freedom argument. Judge Tymkovich opines that, if the plaintiff had raised a 4th Amendment argument, he would have found a constitutional violation. He finds the allegations, if true, that officers prolonged the encounter beyond the time needed to complete the officers' objective and their actions were not reasonably related to a legitimate objective. The officers went to Ms. Sause's home due to a noise complaint; at first Ms. Sause denied entry; later she let the officers in; the officers asked angrily why she hadn't let them in at first; she responded by showing them a copy of the constitution she had on display by her front door; "the Bill of rights are just a piece of paper, that doesn't work here," an officer responded; the officers threatened that their encounter would be on COPS; they told her to get ready because she was going to jail and her bond would be $2,000; she started praying; they demanded that she stop and then said: "you need to move back to where you came from"; an officer flipped through a booklet searching for a violation to charge Ms. Sause with, suggesting the officers weren't proceeding under the noise ordinance; they issued tickets for interference with law enforcement and disorderly conduct for not answering the door at first; and 3 or 4 times they asked her to show them any tattoos or scars she had, including scars on her chest from a double mastectomy. If true, the judge summed up, the officers "acted with extraordinary contempt of a law abiding citizen."

Modified Categorical Approach Applies to California Drug Statute

U.S. v. Rogers, 2017 WL 2557130 (6/13/17) (Okl.) (unpub'd) - A bad Mathis/controlled-substances-offense decision. Following a 9th Circuit case, the 10th holds California's drug statute, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11378, is divisible by the type of controlled substance. California law treats the type of controlled substance as a separate element, the 10th says. So a sentencing court would use the modified categorical approach to decide what type of controlled substance the defendant was accused of distributing. In this case, the defendant's methamphetamine offense was a "controlled substance offense" under the career-offender guidelines because methamphetamine is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. If the statute was not divisible, then the fact that California criminalizes some drugs that the feds don't would doom any claim that a California drug offense was a career-offender predicate.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Court reversed forfeiture order, but defendant loses other challenges to conviction and sentence

United States v. Pickel, 2017 WL 3028502 (July 18, 2017) (KS) (published): Perceptive readers might remember the update from April 4, 2017 in which we reported on the brothers Dahda. Unfortunately for Pickel, he was convicted of being part of the brothers’ conspiracy and like them, his convictions are affirmed by the circuit.

Pickel presented four challenges to his convictions and two regarding his sentence. He argued: (1) the district court incorrectly denied his motion to suppress marijuana found in his truck after a traffic stop; (2) the government’s evidence did not establish a single conspiracy or that he was connected to it; (3) the government’s failure to establish a single conspiracy caused a prejudicial variance between the superseding indictment and the trial evidence; (4) the government did not prove that he used a communication facility to facilitate a drug trafficking crime; (5) the 10-year term of supervised release exceeded the statutory maximum set forth in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(D); and (6) the district court violated 21 U.S.C. § 853(a) when it imposed joint and several forfeiture liability on him for the value of marijuana attributable to the whole conspiracy. Pickel was successful only in setting aside the forfeiture order.

Pickel’s issues are reviewed here in order.

1. Law enforcement had probable cause to search Pickel’s truck under the collective knowledge doctrine: Collectively, the panel said, law enforcement had probable cause to stop Pickel in his truck as he was driving on the highway. Officials had developed probable cause from wiretapping various conspirators’ phones. They knew other conspirators had communicated with Pickel and that he had been assigned to bring marijuana from California to Kansas. Earlier Utah police had ‘randomly’ stopped and searched another conspirator and found marijuana hidden inside his truck’s auxiliary fuel tank. Together this information gave the officers cause to search the auxiliary fuel tank in Pickel’s truck. It did not matter then that Nebraska state troopers used a pretext to stop him in order to help other officials from losing him in the dark. (Did you know that Nebraska requires all vehicles to have “fenders, covers, or devices, including flaps or splash aprons, unless the body of the vehicle affords adequate protection to effectively minimize the spray or splash of water or mud to the rear of the motor vehicle or semitrailer”?).

2. The evidence proved a single conspiracy to which Pickel was connected: Pickel said he was outside the greater conspiracy which intended to distribute over 1000 kilos of marijuana. His involvement was only to grow marijuana inside his home. The panel pointed out the evidence showed that on behalf of the Dahda brothers, he collected payments, directed transactions and packaged marijuana for transport. This evidence demonstrated Pickel knew the scope and objective of the conspiracy and was an integral part of it.

3. There was no variance: since the evidence showed he participated in the conspiracy, there was no variance between the conspiracy charge and the evidence at trial.

4. The evidence was sufficient to prove Pickel used a phone to further a drug trafficking crime: Pickel argued the one intercepted phone call between him and R. Dahda was inadequate to sustain the conviction. In that call the two discussed a possible delivery of 5 lbs. of marijuana. The panel noted that completion of the specific transaction underlying the call is not an element of the offense. The issue for the jury is whether the call facilitated the conspiracy. Here, the call facilitated the conspiracy because the men discussed distributing marijuana for profit.

5. The supervised release term did not exceed the statutory maximum: 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(D), requires a two year minimum supervised release term but imposes no statutory maximum. Therefore, the ten year term the court imposed was not improper.

6. The district court incorrectly made Pickel jointly and severally liable for a $16 million forfeiture: After the Supreme Court’s decision in Honeycutt v. United States, forfeiture is limited to property Pickel actually acquired as a result of the offense. The panel reversed the forfeiture order and remanded for resentencing because the district court did not address the amount of tainted proceeds Pickel received.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"High-Risk" Procedures at Traffic Stop were Warranted Because of Gun Info

U.S. v. Windom, 2017 WL 3124047 (7/24/17)(CO)(published) - The Tenth affirms the denial of Mr. Windom's suppression motion, rejecting his claim that officers unreasonably used "high-risk" traffic stop procedures to investigate the "completed misdemeanor" of flashing a gun in public. After receiving a report from a bar employee that a man--who turned out to be Mr. Windom--flashed a gun at the bar and claimed to be a Crips member, officers stopped a car matching the description they were given. Mr. Windom argued that while officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop, the heightened degree of force they used converted what would have been an investigative stop into a de facto arrest requiring probable cause. The Tenth concludes that it was reasonable for officers to draw their weapons and order the car occupants to exit the car and get face-down on the ground with legs crossed because the available information suggested Mr. Windom was armed and dangerous and officers needed to take precautionary measures to protect their personal safety. Consequently, the seizure was lawful and Mr. Windom's felon in possession of a firearm conviction is affirmed.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Self-incriminating Statements Held to be "Spontaneous"

U.S. v. Yepa, 2017 WL 3014352 (7/17/17) (NM) (Published) - The 10th rejects arguments that Mr. Yepa's self-incriminating statements during a search of his person pursuant to a warrant resulted from interrogation and upholds the district court's ruling that they were spontaneous. Although officers asked a number of questions that elicited statements from Mr. Yepa, the court thinks these were just neutral follow-up questions intended to clarify spontaneous volunteered statements. The court says reasonable officers would not think their responses would be likely to result in incriminating statements despite Mr. Yepa's fatigue, intoxication, and high level of emotional stress. The court concludes that the officers' queries "did nothing to draw Defendant out" regarding the murder they were investigating.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sentence reduction for accepting responsibility does not require more than pleading guilty and truthfully admitting offense conduct

US v. Spaulding, 2017 WL 2978235 (unpublished) (10th Cir. July 12, 2017): Mr. Spaulding pled guilty to distribution of meth and conspiracy to distribute meth. Acting as a courier, he had sold two ounces of meth to an undercover federal agent. He pled guilty and agreed to cooperate. The government joined Mr. Spaulding in requesting a sentencing reduction for acceptance and also promised to move for a departure based on substantial assistance. The government recommended a 77-96 month sentence. The district court imposed a 137-month sentence. It rejected the acceptance reduction because it believed the reduction required more than pleading guilty and saving the government the effort of preparing for trial; rather, the defendant needed to also do something like take steps "to deal with the victims" or combat defendant's drug addiction. It granted the motion for a reduction based on substantial assistance, but rejected the government's recommended sentence without explanation. First, the Tenth Circuit agrees with Mr. Spaulding and the government that the district court erred in its interpretation of USSG § 3E1.1. On the contrary, pleading guilty and truthfully admitting the offense conduct is "significant evidence of acceptance of responsibility," USSG § 3E1.1 cmt. n.3, and absent contrary evidence, is generally sufficient. Additionally, the court committed procedural error when it granted the substantial departure motion without adequately explaining the chosen sentence. Remand for resentencing is granted. However, Mr. Spaulding is denied his request that his case be assigned to a new district judge because he could not point to anything in the record to demonstrate personal bias against him. (I hope that Spaulding is not the defendant's real name since this decision mentions his cooperation.)