July 17, 2019

Archives for February 10, 2016

Tenth Circuit: Statutory Rape Not Per Se Crime of Violence for Sentence Enhancement Purposes

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Madrid on Monday, November 2, 2015.

Jonathan Madrid pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in 2014. The presentence investigation report (PSR) classified him as a “career offender” subject to sentence enhancement due to his two prior convictions, one of which was a New Mexico conviction for cocaine trafficking and the other of which was a Texas conviction for statutory rape. The career offender enhancement changed his Guidelines sentencing range from 92-115 months to 188-235 months. He was sentenced to 188 months. He appealed his sentence, arguing the Texas conviction does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1.

The Tenth Circuit noted that a conviction counts as a crime of violence when it (1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force; (2) is specifically enumerated in the Guidelines as a crime of violence; or (3) otherwise involves conduct that presents a risk of serious injury. Using the modified categorical approach, the Tenth Circuit analyzed the Texas statute under which Madrid was convicted to see if it fits the definition of crime of violence. The parties agreed that force was not an element of Madrid’s crime of conviction. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Guidelines specifically listed “forcible sex offenses” as crimes of violence, but held that statutory rape is not per se a forcible sex offense. The Tenth Circuit looked only to the elements of the charged offense, not the defendant’s actual conduct, to determine whether the offense was forcible. Because the Texas statute under which Madrid was convicted did not contain an element of force, the Tenth Circuit declined to look at Madrid’s actual conduct and found that his offense did not qualify as a forcible sex offense for Guidelines purposes.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit examined the residual clause of the Guidelines. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), the Tenth Circuit found that the substantially similar Guidelines clause was invalid as unconstitutionally vague. The Tenth Circuit relied on Johnson‘s holding in stating “[t]he vagueness doctrine exists not only to provide notice to individuals, but also to prevent judges from imposing arbitrary or systematically inconsistent sentences.” Because the Guidelines’ residual clause was substantially similar to that of the ACCA, the Tenth Circuit found it did not provide adequate notice to defendants and allowed potential abuse by the judiciary.

The Tenth Circuit remanded with instructions for the district court to vacate Madrid’s sentence and resentence him consistent with its opinion.

Tenth Circuit: DEA Agent’s Removal of Luggage from Common Storage Area Constituted Illegal Seizure

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Hill on Monday, November 9, 2015.

Kelvin Hill boarded an eastbound Amtrak train in Los Angeles. When it made a regularly scheduled stop in Albuquerque, DEA Agent Kevin Small boarded the train and entered the common luggage area. He found a small black and white “Coogi” brand bag with no tag. He took the suitcase into the passenger area and asked each passenger whose bag it was. No one responded, including Hill, so Agent Small deemed the bag abandoned. He searched the suitcase, finding a large quantity of cocaine as well as clothing linking the bag to Hill.

A grand jury indicted Hill of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. He moved to suppress the cocaine, asserting Small’s actions in taking the bag from the common luggage area and moving it about the coach amounted to an illegal seizure, rendering Hill’s abandonment of the bag invalid. The district court denied Hill’s motion, instead concluding Small did not seize the bag at any time before Hill abandoned it. Hill entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his suppression motion.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit analyzed the following question: “Did Small’s actions in removing Hill’s bag from the train’s common luggage area and carrying it through the coach as he questioned passengers constitute a seizure of the bag?” The Tenth Circuit concluded that it did. The Tenth Circuit found that Small’s actions interfered with Hill’s possessory interest in the bag, because by taking the bag for his own purposes, Small interfered with Hill’s right to access the bag for his own purposes, on his own time, and at the place where unchecked baggage is properly stowed. The Tenth Circuit noted that the more difficult question was whether Small’s interference was meaningful for Fourth Amendment purposes.

The Tenth Circuit could not find any case law dealing with a fact scenario similar to the one at hand. Instead, most cases dealing with luggage presented two situations: when luggage is seized directly from a person, or when it is seized while checked at an airport. The Tenth Circuit found that the owner’s possessory interest was greatest when the bag was in his or her direct control and least when the bag was checked. Because the scenario at hand was somewhere in-between those two points, the Tenth Circuit analyzed the facts independently, finding that Hill would have reasonably expected other passengers to perhaps shift his bag’s position but would not have expected anyone to carry the bag through the coach. The Tenth Circuit therefore concluded that Agent Smart’s actions constituted a seizure.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/9/2016

On Tuesday, February 9, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued six published opinions and four unpublished opinions.

Gonzales v. Bernalillo County District Court

Reese v. AES Corp.

Intermountain Stroke Center, Inc. v. Intermountain Health Care, Inc.

Farris v. Garden City, Kansas

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.