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Week 43 (2019)

Week of November 22, 2019 through November 24, 2019

Accident, Injury and Rehab v. Alex Azar, II (Niemeyer 11/21/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that a health care provider who was required to re-pay Medicare claims because it was not entitled to reimbursement for those claims did not have its due process rights violated by being required to make those repayments before an Administrative Law Judge could rule on appeal. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s preliminary injunction halting the re-payments. Full Opinion

US v. Daniel Wirsing (Wynn 11/20/2019) (amended 11/21/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the defendant who plead guilty to felon in possession of a firearm and possession with intent to distribute 16 grams of cocaine base was eligible to seek relief under the First Step Act. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded for consideration of a reduction of the defendant’s sentence under the Act. Full Opinion

US v. Bobby Venable (Agee 11/20/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the defendant, who had already completed his term of imprisonment, but who was back in custody because his supervised release was revoked, was eligible for a reduction of his sentence under the First Step Act. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment denying the defendant’s motion and remanded with instructions that the district court re-consider the defendant’s motion for a reduction in sentence in accordance with the Act. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

US v. Raymond Aigbekaen

Decided: November 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit held that the exception to the warrant requirement for “border searches” did not extend to a warrantless search of a defendant’s electronic devices at JFK airport that was conducted to gather evidence of sex trafficking. However, the Court further held that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule barred suppression in this particular case. 

In April of 2015, a 16 year old girl “L,” called 911 from a Maryland hotel and reported to police officers that she had been trafficked for sex in multiple northern states. L was able to identify the defendant from hotel surveillance footage and also provided officers with his phone number. The local officers turned their case over to Homeland Security who subpoenaed the defendant’s phone and internet records. 

Homeland Security learned that the defendant was out of the country but was due to return soon, so they instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to seize any electronic devices in the defendant’s possession upon his return. When the defendant arrived at JFK Airport, Customs officers seized his electronic devices without a warrant, and a Homeland Security agent reviewed those items and discovered incriminating evidence.

The Court reasoned that the border search exception did not apply in this instance because the purpose of the search was too far removed from the purpose underlying the warrant exception. In this case, the warrantless search was intended to uncover evidence of general criminal wrongdoing, where the border search exception is intended to allow warrantless searches in order to “protect[] national security, collect[] duties, block[] the entry of unwanted persons, or disrupt[] efforts to export or import contraband.” Thus, the nexus between the purpose of the search and the purpose of the border search warrant exception was too attenuated in this instance. 

The Court noted that the Fourth Circuit did not recognize the nexus requirement with border searches until 2018, years after the search in this case. Therefore, because the Homeland Security agent relied on an “established and uniform body of precedent allowing warrantless border searches of digital devices,” the Court reasoned that the good faith exception to the warrant requirement applied in this case, so the evidence could not be suppressed.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. 

Full Opinion

William S. Anderson