Week of June 15, 2020 through June, 19, 2020
United States v. Smith (Wilkinson 6/16/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that even though the district court erred in allowing the government to waive its initial closing argument–while retaining its opportunity to rebut the defendant’s closing argument–the error did not prejudice the defendant because of the overwhelming evidence supporting the jury’s finding that the defendant was guilty of possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, along with simple possession of a smaller quantity of methamphetamine. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a retrial. Full Opinion
United States v. Doe (Wynn 6/17/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that a district court erred when it did not consider a defendant’s heightened risk of harm in prison following the defendant being identified as a government cooperator in the district court’s order. In particular, the court held that the district court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to seal the court order when it discounted the increased risks that government cooperators face because of electronic filing and the use of the internet to identify government cooperators. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded with an order to seal the order in question. Full Opinion
Whether we focus on when the exercise of the inherent judicial Power (or something else) requires sealing or when the First Amendment and the common law merely permit it, the Defendant’s motion is fatally underinclusive—failing to satisfy a requirement shared by the varied points in our somewhat Delphic doctrinal constellation.United States v. Doe, 2020 WL 3263893, at *11 (4th Cir. June 17, 2020) (Richardson, J., dissenting).
United States v. Lozano (Diaz 6/17/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the six-year delay between the defendant’s federal charge and his guilty plea did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial because that claim was waived by the defendant’s guilty plea. What is more, the court rejected the speedy trial claim because the defendant did not assert his right to a speedy trial in the court below, nor did he show prejudice. Furthermore, the court rejected the defendant’s claim that his sentence was procedurally unreasonable. The defendant argued that the district court failed to consider fully his non-frivolous arguments for a downward variance. In rejecting that argument, the court reasoned that the district court did hear the defendant’s arguments and applied a downward variance to his sentence, which the Fourth Circuit noted was within the district court’s discretion. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment. Full Opinion
United States v. Brizuela (Quattlebaum 6/19/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that “the testimony of patients whose treatment was not included in the indictment of a neurologist for unlawful distribution of controlled substances charges, was not necessary to ‘complete the story’ under its rule from United States v. Kennedy, 32 F.3d 876 (4th Cir. 1994), and was not otherwise admissible under Rule 404(b).” 2020 WL 3393440, at *1 (4th Cir. June 19, 2020). The Kennedy rule for admitting evidence of uncharged conduct against a defendant at trial to support his or her charged conduct requires the evidence to “be ‘necessary’ to ‘complete the story’ of the charged offense and that . . . requires a hard look to ensure that there is a clear link . . . between the evidence and the story of the charged offense, and that the purpose for which the evidence is offered is actually essential.” Id. at *7. Otherwise, the court pointed out that the misapplication of Kennedy would render Rule 404(b)’s prohibition on certain propensity evidence useless. In holding that the evidence presented below was not supported by the court’s Kennedy doctrine, the court reasoned that the patient’s testimony was not necessary to complete the story on the defendant’s charged conduct. Further, the government failed to establish a link between the testimony offered and the charged conduct. And finally, the court reasoned that the testimony was not actually essential. Therefore, the court vacated the defendant’s conviction and remanded for a new trial in accordance with its decision. Full Opinion