Wednesday, October 14, 2020

No Evidence of Lack of Permit Means Stop Violates Fourth Amendment


US v. Feliciana: Feliciana was driving a bakery delivery truck down the George Washington Memorial Parkway (in Virginia, but a federal enclave) when he was pulled over by a Park Police officer. His offense? The officer knew that commercial vehicles requires a permit to operate on the parkway and Feliciana’s truck appeared to be one. Once stopped, the officer found marijuana on Feliciana, who was charged with possession and operating a vehicle without a permit. The district court denied Feliciana’s motion to suppress and he entered a conditional guilty plea (to the marijuana charge, only).

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress. The court noted that the “entire factual basis . . . offered for conducting the traffic stop was that he saw a vehicle requiring a permit on the Parkway,” but that was “wholly innocent.” It rejected the Government’s argument that such permits are rarely issued, raising an inference of a violation, by noting that “we find no evidence in the record to support” that claim. Without more, the Government failed to “articulate some particularlized and objective basis for suspecting illegality.” The court also rejected the Government’s argument that the regulation requiring permits is structured in such a way as to allow “discretionary spot checks” on vehicles on the Parkway. Finally, the court held that the stop was not made pursuant to any administrative scheme that would avoid Fourth Amendment issues.

Congrats to the Defender office in the Eastern District of VA on the win! 

Court Affirms Juvenile Life Sentence After Resentencing


US v. McCain: McCain, who was then 17 years old, shot a pair of what he believed were cooperators in the investigation of the drug operation of which McCain was a part. One of them died, the other lived “but with permanent and disabling injuries” (McCain ran out of bullets, so he ran off and returned with a knife, only to find a crowd gathered at the shooting site). McCain was transferred to adult status and pleaded guilty to witness tampering by murder, witness tampering by attempted murder, and using a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime and a crime of violence. The district court imposed a mandatory sentence of life on the murder charge (after McCain, while awaiting sentencing, sent letters threatening to kill several people, including the attempted murder victim).

In 2016, McCain filed a 2255 motion to vacate his sentence on the basis of intervening Supreme Court law that had held that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment. The Government agreed and McCain was resentenced. The district court imposed another life sentence, concluding that McCain’s record in prison (which included a sexual assault of another inmate when he was moved back to the district court for resentence) showed that this was “one of those uncommon cases where sentencing a juvenile to the hardest possible penalty [was] appropriate.”

The Fourth Circuit affirmed McCain’s new life sentence. First, the court rejected McCain’s argument that because the only authorized sentences for the murder conviction were life in prison or death, the district court could not actually sentence him at all and should have sua sponte vacated the conviction. Applying plain error, the court concluded there was no prejudice (even if there was error) because McCain’s other counts of conviction (and the accompanying Guideline ranges) would still have allowed for the life sentence. Second, the court concluded that “the sentencing hearing easily satisfied our requirements for procedural reasonableness” and the relevant Supreme Court cases and that the district court appropriately considered McCain’s juvenile status at the time of the offense, not just his post-arrest record. The court also concluded that there was no procedural error in the district court’s rejection of McCain’s request for a “de facto parole” setup where the court would regularly revisit his sentence, noting that there is no law authorizing such a scheme. Finally, the court held that McCain’s life sentence was substantively reasonable.