Criminal Law News - DC Circuit
DC Circuit - The FindLaw DC Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Criminal Law Category

Tobacco companies won't have to include disclosures stating that a federal court has ruled they deliberately deceived the American public, the D.C. Circuit ruled last week. While statements about the health consequences and addictiveness of cigarettes can be required, forcing the companies to announce the court's findings is too backwards looking to be allowed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The case is the fifth appeal in a suit that was filed 15 years ago, when the U.S. sued Philip Morris and eight other "Big Tobacco" companies. According to the government, the companies engaged in illegal RICO violations through an "ongoing conspiracy to deceive the American public" about cigarettes' addictiveness and health consequences. The court agreed and imposed strict civil remedies to prevent future violations.

A warrantless airport seizure of a man's laptop, followed by extensive searches of its contents, can't be justified as a routine border search, the District Court of D.C. ruled last week. Contrary to government arguments, a computer isn't just a container agents can pop open and look in to, as they might a suitcase or backpack.

In 2012, DHS agents seized a foreign citizen's computer as he was boarding a flight to Korea, after suspecting he was involved in illegal trading with Iran. They shipped the computer to San Diego, copied it, searched it, and burned the information onto a DVD -- all before bothering with a warrant. That's not the type of border search that's allowed, the circuit ruled, finding that the evidence from that search must be suppressed.

One half of a duo of allegedly drug dealing brothers may have a shot at overturning his conviction after the D.C. Circuit remanded his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Since the D.C. Circuit allows that claim to be raised on appeal, but district courts are better suited for hearing it, almost any claim which asserts sufficient facts is entitled to remand -- though the court promises this isn't reflexive!

At trial, Maurice Williams was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute. His brother, Ronald, faced similar charges, but the jury was hung on each of his counts. After a mistrial was declared, Ronald was retried and found guilty. On appeal he alleged, successfully enough for now, that his counsel failed to provide effective assistance, as required by the Sixth Amendment.

D.C. Circuit Upholds Conviction for International Child Kidnapping

In 2001, Khaled Shabban had a child with Araceli Hernandez. The two didn't live together, so they stipulated to a custody agreement in which Hernandez would have physical custody but Shabban would be allowed unsupervised visits. In 2004, Shabban told Hernandez he was taking their son -- then three years old -- to an amusement park.

Except that he didn't take the kid to an amusement park; he took the kid to Egypt, where Shabban was from. This resulted, almost two years later, in Shabban being arrested and charged with international parental kidnapping.

D.C. Cir. Upholds Conviction for Colombian Drug Smuggler

In 2010, Luis Miranda -- also known as "El Gordo" -- was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the United States, among other places. In 2012, after a federal court rejected his motion to dismiss the charges because the statute was unconstitutional and because the statute didn't apply to his conduct, El Gordo entered an unconditional guilty plea that purported to prevent him from raising the pretrial motions on appeal.

Well, now El Gordo, and an associated named Francisco Valderrama Carvajal, are appealing their convictions on the same grounds as before.

D.C. Dist. Ct. Denies Motion to Suppress in Laptop Seizure Case

In 2011, Homeland Security received an anonymous tip that someone was trying to help an Iranian company obtain relays for an Iranian power project. The source shared an email from that person, which contained a phone number. Homeland Security searched for this number in its secret database and found a match for a number in Los Angeles.

They searched for more information in their database, finding that the suspect -- Shantia Hassanshahi -- had been investigated before for violating the Iranian trade embargo. More investigations resulted in Hassanshahi being detained at LAX in 2012, during which time his laptop was seized and he was questioned.

D.C. Police Liable for False Arrests at House Party

It's like a scene out of an after-school special: Police are called to the scene of a raucous house party, and finding illegal activity going on, they arrest everyone -- including the party's host, who, as it turns out, doesn't even live there.

That's more or less what the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police wanted the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to see. But the court saw quite the opposite: a party that wasn't in violation of any ordinances, admittedly no illegal activity going on, and a party host whose residency at the house wasn't so cut-and-dry.

Five of the partygoers sued the police for false arrest, and the D.C. Circuit Court affirmed a grant of summary judgment to them.

James Brady's Death a Homicide, but Will John Hinckley Be Charged?

Former Reagan press secretary James Brady's death earlier this month has been ruled a homicide by the District of Columbia medical examiner, apparently based on his being shot in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr.

Hinckley was trying to assassinate President Reagan but failed; instead, he wounded both Reagan and Brady, who was shot in the head. A jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity (he said he'd shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he had been stalking), though he didn't go free. He's spent his life since then in St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., as The New York Times has reported.

But even with the homicide ruling, prosecuting Hinckley for Brady's death 33 years after the shooting "could prove tough," an Associated Press headline from over the weekend reads. That would seem to be an understatement.

Defendant Waived Right to Counsel in Civil Contempt Claim: Court

Barry Gewin has been a troublesome defendant. In 2006, a jury convicted Gewin of securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy after a trial in which he represented himself. At sentencing, he refused to give the probation department a full accounting of his assets. The court took what assets it knew about -- including those controlled by his wife -- into account and calculated a bill for $651,541.82, to be paid immediately toward a total amount of restitution and fines for $2.4 million. A year later, Gewin had paid only $1,325 of that amount and tried to send the court a fake International Bill of Exchange for $2.5 million. As you might expect, these actions got him extra time added on for contempt in a 2007 order.

Not that the contempt order mattered. By 2012, the District Court continued its order holding him in civil contempt, as Gewin still hadn't paid any more toward his restitution bill. He challenged the order pro se, arguing that he didn't have control over his wife's accounts and apologizing up and down for not complying with the order.

On appeal to the D.C. Circuit, Gewin made a brand-new argument: The District Court violated his Due Process Rights by not offering to provide counsel during the 2012 contempt proceedings.

Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.

D.C. Circuit Affirms Prison Sentence Imposed After Acquittal

The D.C. Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that found a man's prison sentence constitutional even though it was imposed by a judge after he was acquitted by the jury.

In U.S. v Jones, the D.C. Circuit relies on precedent that basically states a sentencing court can base a sentence on acquitted conduct without violating the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury.