Skip to main content
Photo of a Law Library

Week 13 (2019)

Week of March 25, 2019 through March 29, 2019

Belville v. Ford Motor Co. (Agee 3/25/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that expert witnesses were properly excluded under Dauberteven though not all factors were considered. The Court found that there is broad discretion in choosing which factors to apply and how they will be weighed. The Court affirmed the District Court’s order granting summary judgement on all claims in favor of Ford Motor Company. Full Opinion

R.F. v. Cecil Cty. Pub. Sch. (Duncan 3/25/19): The Fourth Circuit held a free appropriate public education provided for under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not denied when the school offered an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that was reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of that child’s circumstances. The Court also found that failure to involve parents when changing an IEP was not a significant impediment to parental involvement when those changes were in line with their express wishes. The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision that although some procedural requirements were violated, there was no denial of a free appropriate public education. Full Opinion

United States v. Smith (Richardson 3/27/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that direct questioning by a judge to the jury to ensure a fair and impartial trial was proper after one juror expressed concerns about remaining impartial during an ongoing trial. The Court also found that expert testimony by an FBI agent decoding gang terminology was properly admitted when the expert’s knowledge came from personal experience even though the testimony slightly conflated with fact testimony. The Court affirmed the sentences imposed by the lower court. Full Opinion

United States v. Guzman-Velasquez (Motz 3/28/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the due process right to a fair and thorough review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applications is not violated when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services review all materials contained within the application and subsequently deny it. The Court affirmed the decision by the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss the illegal reentry indictment without deciding whether a Mendoza-Lopez constitutional attack on a TPS denial is permitted. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

United States v. Hawley, No. 18-4167

Decided: March 26, 2019

The Fourth Circuit held that prior uncounseled misdemeanors that result in imprisonment may be used in calculating criminal history for purposes of applying the Sentencing Guidelines. 

Hawley pleaded guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and two counts of distributing heroin for which he was sentenced to prison for fifty-seven months. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the United States Probation Office prepared a presentence report that determined Hawley had a criminal history category of V and an offense level of 19. The presentence report included an uncounseled misdemeanor resulting in thirty days imprisonment. Due to Hawley’s offense level and criminal history category, the Guidelines sentencing range was fifty-seven to seventy-one months’ imprisonment. Without the additional point added for the uncounseled misdemeanor, Hawley would have a criminal history category of IV which would result in a Sentencing Guidelines range of forty-six to fifty-seven months imprisonment. Hawley sought appeal arguing that the District Court misapplied the Sentencing Guidelines by including the prior uncounseled misdemeanor for the purposes of calculating criminal history.

The Court stated that in computing a defendant’s criminal history, the Guidelines require certain misdemeanor offenses to be included if the sentence resulted in probation for more than one year or imprisonment for at least thirty days, or if the prior offense was similar to the one at hand. By discerning the plain language of the Guidelines, the Court found that Hawley’s prior uncounseled misdemeanor should be included. 

However, Hawley argued that the Guidelines commentary provides that only uncounseled misdemeanors that do not result in imprisonment should be included. In addressing this argument, the Court looked to the word “including” that precedes the commentary in which Hawley rests his argument. The word “including” is an introductory term that signals an incomplete list of examples. Thus, exclusion of a misdemeanor resulting in imprisonment is not appropriate. The Court also notes that when the Sentencing Guidelines and commentary were first proposed, the inclusion of commentary was intended to emphasize that all constitutionally valid convictions will be included. Excluding prior convictions solely on the basis that the conviction was counseled or uncounseled would create a wide disparity in sentencing. Hawley voluntarily proceeded without counsel in the prior misdemeanor proceeding. Therefore, his constitutional right to counsel was not abridged and his prior misdemeanor conviction was constitutionally valid. 

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the sentence imposed by the lower court.

Full Opinion

Kendall Eoute