Federal Prison Newsletter End of August 2023

Here are some favorable cases in the federal courts this last week of August that may help out some people in federal prison.

United States v. Thomas-Mathews, No. 21-1824, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 22464 (6th Cir. Aug. 25, 2023)

Some judges can’t get out of the erroneous “crack is worse” way of thinking that got us into this mess.

HOLDINGS: [1]-Where defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, the sentence was vacated because the district court treated the crack-to-powder ratio as effectively mandatory and it committed procedural error by failing to appreciate the scope of its discretion; [2]-In particular, the district court committed procedural error by failing to explain why the 18:1 crack-to-powder ratio made sense in defendant’s particular case, especially as defendant’s argument on this issue was much more specific and complex than a general 18 U.S.C.S. § 3553(a) variance argument; [3]-Further, the record did not affirmatively demonstrate the district court’s consideration of the § 3553(a) factors because there was no discussion of defendant’s childhood, family, children, community role, or career.

United States v. Critchfield, No. 22-4063, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 23133 (4th Cir. Aug. 31, 2023)

Big, heavy clothes don’t make the man a criminal to allow an arrest.

Defendant moved to suppress the firearm and other physical evidence, arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop. After the district court denied his motion, Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea that preserved his right to appeal the suppression ruling. The Fourth Circuit vacated Defendant’s conviction and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when they first detained Defendant. The court explained that in considering the totality of the circumstances known to the officers when they stopped Defendant, it concluded the officers did not have objectively reasonable suspicion that Defendant was, or had been, engaged in theft. The court wrote that when the officers stopped Defendant, they knew he was a man with a weighed-down sweatshirt pocket who had walked through a residential neighborhood past an occasionally unoccupied home next to a commercial area in broad daylight and who had behaved evasively when a neighborhood resident watched and followed him. These circumstances, without more, do not give rise to reasonable suspicion of theft. As such, the court held that at bottom, the totality of the circumstances does not support a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Defendant had engaged, or was about to engage, in theft.

United States v. Montalvo-Flores, No. 22-1752, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 22586 (3d Cir. Aug. 28, 2023)

Rental car agency manager couldn’t authorize warrantless search of a vehicle, even though the user of the vehicle wasn’t the actual renter.

HOLDINGS: [1]-Where defendant moved to suppress evidence the Government obtained in its search of his girlfriend’s rental car, the district court erred by concluding that he lacked standing and failed to show he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that vehicle for Fourth Amendment purposes; [2]-The Court of Appeals held that defendant had dominion and control of the car with his girlfriend’s permission, because she gave him the key, he possessed the keys when was arrested, the car was parked outside his hotel room, it was locked and he was observed by police possessing and operating it; [3]-The Court of Appeals held that defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car, even though he wasn’t the renter and he didn’t have a licesne; therefore, the Government was required to justify its warrantless search but did not.

United States v. Mercado, No. 22-1947, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 22734 (3d Cir. Aug. 29, 2023)

Third Circuit upholds the erroneous belief that if you’re a drug addict, you can’t take responsibility for your offense conduct, even if it’s not a drug case. Here’s the Lexis summary:

The district court did not clearly err in relying on defendant’s post-plea misconduct to deny his request for sentence reduction based on acceptance of responsibility under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 3E1.1(a). Following his guilty plea [to PPP loan fraud], defendant repeatedly used cocaine, failed to attend substance abuse treatment, and failed to submit to random drug testing, all of which were conditions of his pre-sentencing release. The circuit court noted that courts have routinely upheld the denial of a § 3E1.1(a) adjustment for similar or less culpable post-plea conduct.

United States v. Reyes-Correa, No. 21-1913, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 23215 (1st Cir. Aug. 31, 2023)

Maximum sentence wasn’t justified for third supervised release violation.

After his third supervised release violation, the defendant was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 3 years in prison. What did he do wrong? He kept failing drug tests. A lot of drug tests. In fact, he had been sent back to prison twice for the same thing. Despite medications and drug treatment, he failed to get clean and the district court got sick of it and hit him with the highest possible sentence, to “teach him a lesson.” The court of appeals, however, said this was wrong and that there was no good reason to depart upward of 400% above the guideline range in this case. It held that the sentence was procedurally unreasonable and remanded for resentencing.

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