5th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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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.)

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.

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.

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.

Federal criminal sentencing can often be bewildering to criminal defense attorneys, making pleading strategies more uncertain than usual.

For thefts involving government property, the Fifth Circuit simplified things a bit on Tuesday. In U.S. v. Lagrone, the court rejected the government's application of 18 U.S.C. Section 641, favoring an interpretation that is more lenient to defendants charged with multiple small thefts.

Why did the court decide to remand Lagrone's case for sentencing with only one felony count?

Texas is set to execute the 14th woman in the U.S. since the Supreme Court upheld state use of the death penalty in 1976.

After almost four decades of uninterrupted capital punishment in the Lone Star State, Suzanne Basso is scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday evening for horrible crimes she committed in 1998. The Associated Press reported that Basso's request for a stay of execution was denied by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, leaving the U.S. Supreme Court as Basso's final option for clemency.

What does this historic execution mean for a state which has literally put thousands to death?