5th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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Last year, in Navarette v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court said that an anonymous tip alleging drunk driving was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop of the car described.

Mississippi doesn't seem so sure. The state's supreme court deviated from Navarette earlier this month when it held that police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop a car based solely on an anonymous allegation of drunk driving.

Two high-ranking BP employees working on the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling platform when it exploded on April 20, 2010, can't be charged with 23 counts of "seaman's manslaughter," the Fifth Circuit ruled last week.

The issue here is statutory interpretation, and much like the Supreme Court's recent decision that a fish is not a "record," the Fifth Circuit decided that a BP employee is not an "other person" within the meaning of the statute.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week reversed a district court order requiring a man convicted of sexual offenses against a 14-year-old to maintain Internet monitoring and filtering software on his computer for the rest of his life.

While acknowledging the "broad discretion" district courts have in imposing conditions of supervised release, the Fifth Circuit emphasized that supervised-release conditions must be "reasonably related" to the defendant's conduct.

5th Cir. Stays Execution of Mentally Ill Scott Panetti

Will Texas get its chance to execute a schizophrenic man who defended himself while wearing a purple cowboy suit and tried to call JFK and the Pope as witnesses? Not yet.

Scott Panetti, set for execution today, was granted a last-minute stay by the Fifth Circuit "to allow [the court] to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue." No timetable has yet been set, but the court did say in its order that a briefing and oral argument schedule would follow. (H/T to Josh Lee on Twitter.)

Will Texas Execute Schizophrenic Who Defended Himself in a Cowboy Suit?

Mad, deranged, demented, non compos mentis, unhinged, mad as a hatter, nutty, off one's rocker, not right in the head -- insane, or just plain crazy.

Or, if you prefer the politically correct term: Scott Panetti is a man suffering from mental illness -- severe schizophrenia, to be even more specific. He's also on death row. In 1992, he shaved his head (poorly) and murdered his in-laws before holding his wife and daughter captive at gunpoint. He then represented himself in a purple cowboy costume and was sentenced to death.

Texas wants to execute him on December 3. Panetti still believes that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the condemned.

What is the scope of consent when the driver of a vehicle consents to a search of the car, but there are multiple passengers, all of whom have luggage in the trunk? The Fifth Circuit answered that question this week in U.S. v. Iraheta.

The case involved a lawful traffic stop of a car with a driver and two passengers. Deputies asked for the driver's consent to search the car, which he gave. They found duffel bags in the trunk, and not knowing which bag the driver owned, searched them all. Naturally, one of them contained cocaine and methamphetamine.

At the district court level, a magistrate granted the defendants' motions to suppress evidence on the ground that the search of the duffel bags exceeded the scope of the consent that the driver, William Iraheta, gave. After that, the government appealed.

USAO Scolded for Not Prompt Presentment, Keeps Conviction

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.

5th Cir. Finds Revised Animal Crush Video Ban Constitutional

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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Child Porn Restitution Cases Vacated; New Vague Standard Awaits

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.

5th Cir: This Guy is Guilty, But Judge Still Has to Let Jury Say So

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.