U.S. Fifth Circuit

U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


A lady signs up for a checking account with a bank. She closes the account a year later. A few years after that, she's involved in a car accident, her attorney negotiates a settlement, and then embezzles the funds. Bad times.

She sues the attorney's bank, which she alleges ignored blatant signs that he was a scheming crook. The bank cries "arbitration!" based on her long-since closed checking account agreement from many years prior. Common sense says "puh-leaze," right? Unrelated disputes, unrelated accounts, and the arbitration agreement was signed in connection to a long-since closed account. Ridiculous.

This is one of the more interesting jurisdictional and constitutional questions you'll read about for a while: does the family of an unarmed Mexican national, shot across the border by a Border Patrol agent standing in the United States, have any cognizable claims whatsoever?

The answer, for now, is yes: the Fifth Circuit held, earlier this week, that the family could bring a Fifth Amendment claim against the agent himself, but no claims against his supervisors, the agency, or the U.S. government. The panel held that Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr.'s conduct was "arbitrary," "shocked the conscience," and could for the basis for a Fifth Amendment claim, even though the victim, 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca was not a U.S. citizen and was killed in foreign territory.

You already know where this is going from the title: "harmless error," but last week's Boche-Perez decision, out of the Fifth Circuit, provides a stern warning to the overburdened law enforcement agencies near the Mexican Border: a little delay in processing might be fine, even a smidge beyond the six-hour "safe harbor" for prompt presentment of a criminal defendant to a magistrate judge.

But Rule 5 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires that "[a] person making an arrest within the United States must take the defendant without unnecessary delay before a magistrate judge," and while there is that wiggle room, if authorities wait too long, they risk losing a confession and possibly a conviction.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made a curious ruling: it held that a federal ban on animal crush videos was unconstitutional.

Animal crush videos are despicable depictions of torture, dismemberment, and killing of animals, often in a sexually fetishized context. Few would argue that these videos deserve the protections of the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court ruled the way it did because of the text of the statute: an overly broad wording that could've been applied to hunting and husbandry.

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Yesterday, the Fifth Circuit made it official: The two child-porn restitution orders for Michael Wright and Doyle Paroline, which made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, are now vacated and remanded [PDF] to the district court. The two defendants were ordered to pay restitution for downloading child pornography featuring the victim, pseudonymously known as "Amy Unknown."

And while the two orders were brief and uneventful, it seems likely that these cases will return at some point. After all, not only are there causation issues and ever more defendants (the images are still widely traded online by pedophiles), but the Supreme Court barely helped the issue by vaguely ordering the lower courts to order "restitution in an amount that comports with the defendant's relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim's general losses."

Relative role. In an ever-increasing pool of hundreds, if not thousands of defendants. Expect a lot more litigation.

And then there were two (vacancies).

Congratulations to Judge Gregg Jeffrey Costa, who, yesterday, moved from the district court bench to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after a unanimous confirmation. The filled seat leaves two more vacancies, one from mid-2012, the other from the end of last year, on the Fifth Circuit bench.

Who is this new, and highly uncontroversial judge? Read on, local practitioners:

British Petroleum made a bad bargain, a settlement that contained a formula that made it possible for parties not affected by the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to gain windfall payouts. Though that formula was tweaked last year, and again this year, BP still wants to freeze the payouts.

Too bad, said the Fifth Circuit, both in a panel opinion and an en banc denial. Now, the oil company is reaching out to the Supreme Court in hopes that the nine justices will save the company from its own bad bargain, one that some argue has already been "fixed."

Deepwater Horizon. Lots of oil. Lots of damage to businesses, homes, and nature. Lots of litigation and payouts.

In 2012, British Petroleum (BP) agreed to a settlement that, instead of requiring direct proof of damages, would set damages according to a formula that incorporated geographic distance from the spill, type of business, and other factors. The formula has led to some absurd results, like profitable businesses that were undamaged getting millions of dollars, or businesses that were already dead at the time of the oil spill getting payouts.

Juan Salazar was guilty. He was charged with a long list of crimes, including drug-related conspiracies. Prosecutors presented "overwhelming evidence of guilt." He even got on the stand (against his counsel's advice) and, on cross-examination, confessed to everything. Though his attorney was planning on arguing that Salazar withdrew from the conspiracy in a timely manner, by the time Salazar finished crucifying himself testifying, his stumped attorney noted, "Well, what am I going to argue? That he wasn't there? That he didn't complete the conspiracy?"

So, why was his conviction reversed? Because, as obvious as his guilt may have been, a judge telling the jury to "to go back and find the Defendant guilty" is an obvious violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

Robert James Campbell was about two and a half hours away from being executed, the first scheduled execution in the United States since a botched execution in Oklahoma led to 43 minutes of apparent agony for a now-deceased inmate.

Now, thanks to recently discovered IQ tests that Texas officials failed to turn over to the defense years ago, and some equitable tolling, the allegedly mentally impaired inmate, whose IQ was recently determined to be 69, will get a shot at habeas relief.