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Week 5 (2017)

Week of January 30, 2017 through February 3, 2017

US v. Deshawn Dozier (Davis 1/30/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that sentencing courts must compare the state and generic elements of general attempt statutes as well as the elements of the underlying substantive statutory offense when determining whether a prior attempt conviction qualifies as a controlled substance offense. The Court affirmed the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia’s judgment because Dozier’s prior attempt conviction constituted a controlled substance offense under § 4B1.2 of the Sentencing Guidelines. Full Opinion

Charles Ivey, III v. First Citizens Bank & Trust Company (Gregory 1/31/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that transfers from Whitley to the Bank where not avoidable as fraudulent transfers because the transfers neither placed the funds beyond the creditors’ reach nor diminished the bankruptcy estate. The Court concluded the transactions did not constitute transfers within the meaning of the Bankruptcy Code. The Court affirmed the district court’s order affirming the bankruptcy court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the Bank. Full Opinion

US v. Lorene Chittenden (Gregory 1/31/2017): The Fourth Circuit held Chittenden’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not violated because she had retained multiple attorney’s at trial and the government presented substantial evidence that a reasonable jury could find Chittenden guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and mail fraud. The Court affirmed Chittenden’s conviction. Full Opinion

Howard Nease v. Ford Motor Company (Traxler 2/1/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the admission of expert testimony at trial was not admissible under Daubert and without the expert testimony, the Neases could not establish that the Ford truck was defectively designed. The Court reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case for entry of judgment in Ford’s favor. Full Opinion

Ashish Sijapati v. Dana Boente (Wynn 2/1/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that Chevron is entitled to deference when the BIA interprets “the date of admission.” The Court concluded Sijapati’s date of admission was January 18, 2003, the date of his re-entry in the United States; therefore, Sijapati committed a crime involving moral turpitude within five years of his entry. The Court denied Sijapati’s petition for review. Full Opinion

US v. Jamaal Evans (Keenan 2/2/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that carjacking was a crime of violence under Section 924(c) because the statute “‘has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.’” The Court affirmed the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina’s judgment. Full Opinion

Iraq Middle Market Development v. Mohammad Harmoosh (Motz 2/2/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that a genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether the debtor had lost his right to arbitrate by utilizing the Iraqi judicial process to secure a judgment for non-payment of a promissory note. The Court vacated the District Court of Maryland’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the debtor and remanded for further proceedings. Full Opinion

April Smith v. Jason Munday (Gregory 2/3/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that probable cause for an arrest warrant is not established when defendant only has a common gender, race, and name to a person sought for a drug crime, even if defendant had previously committed a drug crime. The Court reversed and remanded to the district court because the warrant lacked probable cause and violated defendants Fourth Amendment rights. See below for full summary.

Full Opinion

Highlight Case

April Smith v. Jason Munday, No. 15-1496

Decided: February 3, 2017

The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the decision of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

April Smith (“Smith”) brought a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and asserting state tort claims. Smith alleged she was arrested without probable cause. In early 2009, police officers conducted an investigation with a confidential informant. The informant had audio and video recorders wired to him and was given sixty dollars to purchase crack cocaine. The informant purchased crack cocaine and told the officers he purchased it from April Smith. At the time of the purchase, the audio recorder nor the camera captured the drug sale because the audio recorder did not have batteries and the camera was pointed in the wrong direction. Police officers searched databases and nine months after the sale, Officer Munday applied for and received an arrest warrant for Smith on charges of possession with intent to sell crack cocaine and selling or distributing cocaine. Smith was arrested and held for eighty days before the charges were dismissed.

Smith filed suit and alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as state-law tort claims for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, assault, negligent supervision, negligence, false imprisonment, battery and false arrest. The district court found no violations of Smith’s Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment rights because the officers were looking for a black woman named April Smith who sold drugs. Smith fit the description that the officers were looking for because she had previous arrests for selling drugs. The district court recognized that Smith’s weight counseled against probable cause because the officers were looking for a “skinny” person and Smith weighed 160 pounds at her arrest and 200 pounds at the time of the drug sale.

The Fourth Circuit concluded probable cause was not established simply from a common gender, common race, criminal history and common name. Probable cause is established by looking at the totality of the circumstances. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 230 (1983). Specifically, “[t]he probable-cause inquiry turns on two factors: ‘the suspect’s conduct as known to the officer, and the contours of the offense thought to be committed by that conduct.’” Graham v. Gagnon, 831 F.3d 176, 184 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Pritchett v. Alford, 973 F.2d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 1992)). Smith’s generic description barely met the mere suspicion threshold, not the probable cause threshold. Further, Smith’s first and last name was the only thing in common with the person sought. However, there were three people named April Smith with criminal histories in the area. Therefore, the Court concluded the warrant lacked probable cause and violated Smith’s Fourth Amendment rights, warranting a reversal. The Court also remanded to the district court Smith’s state-law claims because her constitutional rights had been violated.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the decision of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

Full Opinion

Alicia E. Morris