5th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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A Texas man convicted for possession and distribution of child pornography won't have his sentenced revisited, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Tuesday. Peter Groce had been convicted for receiving child pornography, with a sentencing enhancement for distributing child porn in a bartered exchange.

Groce's child porn crimes were committed through peer-to-peer file sharing programs -- the kind that are often used to share bootlegged music or movies. Since those programs don't involve direct communication, there was a question as to whether the "bargaining" enhancement could apply. With Groce, the Fifth officially adopted the rule that it does.

The federal government's "reverse sting" operation on five defendants was not entrapment or a violation of due process, the Fifth Circuit held on Monday, in an unpublished decision.

The defendants' unlucky story began when the group met with a disgruntled cocaine trafficker, Richard Zayas. Zayas was looking for help in robbing a stash house and the crew was happy to provide it.

Evidence of a man's possession of cocaine following a traffic stop must be suppressed because of the officer's unreasonable mistakes of law and fact, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. In stopping a driver for failing to signal sufficiently before changing lanes, Texas Highway Patrol Officer was wrong not only about the law, but about the distance between the defendant's activation of his signal and his turn, rendering the stop an unreasonable seizure.

The case marks the first time that the Fifth Circuit has addressed the reasonableness in errors in estimating distances. For an error in distance to be reasonable, the court held, it must be supported with specific, articulable facts, something which was undermined by the officer's misapplication of the law.

Several Supreme Court Justices expressed frustration with the record in the case of Brumfield v. Cain during oral arguments on Monday. At the heart of the case is whether Louisiana is bound by the Constitution to provide a separate hearing to decide whether someone convicted of murder is mentally disabled or not. The expansive record seemed to provide no clear guidance as to how the state's determination to not provide a hearing was made.

The Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia, decided in 2002, that states may not execute mentally disabled individuals convicted of murder. But the decision also left it to the states to decide who fits into that category; now the Court must tackle with the adequacy of those determinations.

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.