Friday, December 21, 2018

Appeal After 2255 Challenging Eventual Sentence Is Criminal, Not Civil, For FRAP Purposes

USv. Chaney: Chaney pleaded guilty to carjacking and gun charges in 2003, pursuant to a plea agreement where he waived most of his appeal and 2255 rights. He was sentenced to 272 months – concurrent 180 and 188-month terms on the carjacking and felon in possession charges, with a consecutive 84-month sentence on the use of a firearm charge. After the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Simmons, he filed a 2255, arguing that he no longer had a qualifying prior felony and his felon in possession conviction should be vacated. In addition, he sought resentencing on the other counts. The Government agreed not to invoke the waiver on the felon in possession count, agreeing that conviction could not stand, but opposed resentencing. The district court followed the Government’s lead, vacating the conviction but leaving the other sentences intact.

Chaney appealed, arguing that he was entitled to be fully resentenced. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal as being untimely filed. Chaney filed his notice of appeal 54 days after the district court granted his 2255 and entered an amended judgment in the criminal case – within the 60-day requirement for civil cases, but well outside the 14-day deadline for criminal cases. The court held that Chaney was really appealing the new criminal sentence – the relief provided by the district court in the 2255 proceeding – not the result of the 2255 proceeding itself (which was in his favor). Alternately, the court held that the district court did not err in how it resolved the case, relying both on the waivers in Chaney’s plea agreement and the fact that Chaney’s sentences were not so intertwined as to trigger the sentencing package doctrine.

Defendant Cleary Invoked Right to Remain Silent, But Questioning Didn't Stop

USv. Abdallah: Abdallah was being investigated for selling “spice” from local convenience stores in Virginia. After his arrest on federal drug charges, he was taken to a local police station and questioned. While being read his Miranda rights Abdallah stated that he “wasn’t going to say anything at all.” Nonetheless, one investigator kept reading the rights warning form, after which another asked if Abdallah knew why he was under arrest. The Miranda rights were read again and Abdallah eventually made “multiple inculpatory” statements that were used against him at trial.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the statements should have been suppressed. The court concluded that Abdallah’s statement that he “wasn’t going to say anything at all” was an unambiguous assertion of his right to remain silent, after which the investigators should have ceased questioning. The district court had erred by looking to post-invocation facts to raise questions about the ambiguity of Abdallah’s invocation, noting that “courts cannot cast ambiguity on an otherwise clear invocation by looking to circumstances which occurred after the request.” The court also noted that such invocations need not be “measured, polite, or free of anger” and rejected the Government’s argument that such an invocation could only be dong “knowingly and intelligently” after Miranda warnings had been given. Because there was an unambiguous invocation of the right to remain silent, Abdallah’s further statements should have been suppressed and the failure to do so was not harmless. The court also held that the district court erred by not reviewing email messages between investigators in camera to determine if they were Brady material, where Abdallah had shown via conflicting testimony about his questioning that such information might be relevant.

Evidence from Trash Pull Not Enough for Warrant

USv. Lyles: Lyles’ phone number was in a murder victim’s cell phone. As a result, police thought he “might be relevant to that investigation” and went to his home to do a trash pull. From the trash they recovered “three unknown type plant stems, three empty packs of rolling papers,” and some mail. The stems, of course, were marijuana. Based only on that, a search warrant was issued for Lyles’ home (the warrant application didn’t even mention the murder victim), leading to the discovery of guns, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. Lyles was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. However, the district court suppressed the firearm, finding that the warrant application did not sufficiently show “a fair probability that additional marijuana will be found within the home.”

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the suppression. The court noted that “trash pulls can be subject to abuse” and that therefore they should “be viewed with at least modest circumspection.” The court also noted that it was “anything but clear that a scintilla of marijuana residue or hint of marijuana use in a trash can should support a sweeping search of a residence.” As to the Government’s argument that the evidence in the warrant application was sufficient to prove that additional drugs “probably would have been found in Lyles’ home,” the court responded, “[w]ell perhaps, but not probably.” There was no evidence of ongoing activity, there having been only one trash pull and the amount of marijuana found was minimal. The court also called the warrant itself, which allowed for a search of just about everywhere in Lyles’ home, “astoundingly broad” and that, for instance, there was “insufficient reason to believe that any cell phone in the home, no matter who owns it, will reveal evidence pertinent to marijuana possession simply because three marijuana stems were found in a nearby trash bag.” The court also rejected the Government’s argument that the warrant was sought in good faith because it was reviewed both by a supervising officer and a prosecutor, noting that their review, “while unquestionably useful, ‘cannot be regarded as dispositive’ of the good faith inquiry.”

Congrats to the Defender office in Maryland on the win!