Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting and sentencing Defendant of a variety of offenses, including conspiring to possess heroin with intent to distribute and possessing and distributing heroin, holding that nothing in the proceedings below rose to the level of reversible error. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the judge erred by denying a motion for a mistrial based on the judge's allowing a government witness to retake the stand and recant some trial testimony and a second motion for a mistrial based on his codefendant supposedly offering a defense that was prejudicially antagonistic to his own. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the denial of Defendant's mistrial motions survived abuse-of-discretion scrutiny; and (2) contrary to Defendant's argument on appeal, the sentence was neither implausible or indefensible. View "United States v. Chisholm" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentence of fifteen years' imprisonment, holding that the district court did not commit plain error convicting Defendant and properly sentenced him under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(A)(ii). On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court committed plain error because the government did not charge him with, and he did not plead guilty to, knowing the facts that made him a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant failed to demonstrate that it was reasonably probable that he would not have pled guilty had the district court informed him that the government was required to prove that he knew when he possessed the gun that he had previously been convicted of an offense by more than one year in prison; and (2) selling a controlled substance under New Hampshire law, N.H. Rev. Stat. 318-B:2(I), is a "serious drug offense" as defined under the ACCA and therefore can be a predicate act for purposes of triggering the ACCA's mandatory minimum sentence. View "United States v. Burghardt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of two counts of making false statements and one count of theft of government property, holding that sufficient evidence supported Defendant's convictions and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings or in its response to the jury's request for a transcript. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court (1) erred in denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal, (2) abused its discretion in admitting into evidence photographs taken from a Facebook page under the name of Defendant's ex-wife, and (3) abused its discretion by declining to provide the jury with the transcript of certain witness testimony and did not inform the jury that it could request a readback of the testimony. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; (2) the Facebook photos were properly admitted despite an authentication objection; and (3) the district court did not err in its response to the jury's request for a transcript. View "United States v. Vazquez-Soto" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the Defendant's sentence imposed in connection with his guilty plea to being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error. The sentencing calculations and recommendations in Defendant's plea agreement were not binding on the district court. Defendant was advised as much at his change of plea hearing. On appeal, Defendant argued that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary because the district court did not inform him of the possibility of a stolen firearm enhancement and that the district court incorrectly calculated his criminal history category. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the district court's acceptance of the plea or in the district court's application of the stolen firearm enhancement; and (2) any error in the district court's calculation of Defendant's criminal history category was harmless. View "United States v. Cortes-Maldonado" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant for disclosure of social security numbers and aggravated identity theft, holding that the district court did not commit clear or obvious error in refusing to ask prospective jurors about racial bias. On appeal, Defendant argued that there was a reasonable possibility that racial bias might have affected the jury because she requested that the district court ask the prospective jurors as a group a question during voir dire about whether any of them harbored racial bias and the district court denied that request. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant objection to the district court's failure to ask a question about racial bias during voir dire was at least forfeited; and (2) it was not clear or obvious error for the district court to refuse to ask such a question. View "United States v. Cezaire" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the order of the district court dismissing the indictment against Defendants after a first trial ended in a mistrial, holding that the district court erred in concluding that Defendants were protected from a retrial by double jeopardy principles. Four defendant were charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, honest-services wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit both species of wire fraud. After trial began, one juror was diagnosed with a brain tumor requiring immediately surgery. The government was unwilling to consent to a reduced jury, and the court subsequently declared a mistrial. Defendants moved to preclude retail and to dismiss the indictment under the Double Jeopardy Clause on the ground that the government could not establish manifest necessity for its decision to force the mistrial. The court granted the motion to dismiss the indictment. The First Circuit reversed as to three of the four defendants, holding that the district court's decision to declare a mistrial rested on manifest necessity, and because the mistrial was not the produce of any purposeful instigation or other government misconduct, double jeopardy principles did not prohibit the government from retrying the defendants. View "United States v. Garske" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of RICO conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 1962(d) and sentencing him to 228 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release, holding that the district court correctly instructed the jury. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by not following a statement of the law contained in United States v. Ramirez-Rivera, 800 F.3d 1, 18 (1st Cir. 2015) and, more generally, challenged the jury instructions for failing to require the jury to make an affirmative finding as to which predicate acts he in fact committed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's arguments regarding the jury instructions were inconsistent with Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S. 52 (1997); (2) the district court did not err when it instructed the jury on the requirements of a withdrawal defense; and (3) Defendant's remaining claims were without merit. View "United States v. Leoner-Aguirre" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions for conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), conspiracy to possess and distribute narcotics, use and carry of a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, and related offenses, holding that no prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below. Defendants in this case were five members of La Rompe ONU, one of the largest and most violent of Puerto Rico's street gangs. The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the RICO-conspiracy, drug-conspiracy, and firearms convictions; (2) the trial court did not commit reversible error by admitting out-of-court statements about a murder-by-choking incident; (3) Defendants failed to show that the trial judge's general RICO-conspiracy instructions resulted in a miscarriage of justice; and (4) the two sentences challenged on appeal were reasonable. View "United States v. Rodriguez-Torres" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed Appellants' convictions for drug trafficking under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), 46 U.S.C. 70501-70508, holding that the protective principle of international law permitted the United States to arrest and prosecute Appellants even if, as they argued, their vessel possessed Costa Rican nationality. Appellants were on a small speed boat in the western Caribbean Sea when they were interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard and subsequently arrested. Appellants moved to dismiss their indictment under the MDLEA, which allows U.S. law enforcement to arrest foreign nationals for drug crimes committed in international waters, arguing that the statute exceeds Congress's authority under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Due Process Clause. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, and Appellants pleaded guilty. On appeal, Appellants again challenged the constitutionality of the MDLEA, arguing that their vessel was not properly deemed stateless. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the protective principle of international law, as applied by the First Circuit, permits prosecution under the MDLEA even of foreigners on foreign vessels; and (2) there was no abuse of discretion in the sentence imposed. View "United States v. Davila-Reyes" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated Defendant's conviction of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS but affirmed his remaining convictions, holding that the court erred in instructing the jury on the conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS count and that the error was not harmless. Defendant was conviction of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS (Count One), conspiracy to obstruct justice (Count Two), obstruction of justice (Count Three), conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries (Count Four), and obstruction of justice (Count Five). The First Circuit vacated the conviction on Count One and affirmed the remaining convictions, holding (1) the instruction as to count one with respect to the definition of "coordination" constituted legal error, and the error was not harmless; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to reversal on his remaining convictions. View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law