U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

March 2016 Archives

In late 2013, a wave of armed bank robberies occurred around Washington, D.C. In October, a bank in Rockland, Maryland, followed by one in Vienna, Virginia, was hit. The next month, a Wells Fargo in Arlington. Just a few weeks later, on New Year's Eve 2013, three men were arrested, just after they robbed another Arlington bank, caught with nearly $48,000 of cash in hand.

It's hard to beat a charge of armed robbery when you're caught literally leaving the bank. It can be even harder to win on appeal, after you've been convicted of almost every charge thrown at you. But that didn't stop two of the robbers, James Larry McNeal and Alphonso Stoddard, from appealing their convictions using some clever novel arguments: one, that the government had failed to show that their guns could shoot; two, that armed bank robbery was not a crime of violence. Somehow, those arguments failed to convince the Fourth Circuit, which upheld their convictions.

The Fourth Circuit reversed a criminal conviction last week because the defendant's lawyer snoozed through a significant portion of the trial. Nicholas Ragin had been convicted by a federal jury in Charlotte, North Carolina, and sentenced to 30 years for his involvement in prostitution and drug rings. But his lawyer, Nikita Mackey, napped through several parts of his trial.

The attorney's somnolence was so bad, the Fourth Circuit ruled, that Ragin did not need to show that he was actually prejudiced. So lawyers, before your next big trial, please get some sleep.

Waiting Two-and-a-Half Years to File Motion Is Untimely, Fourth Cir. Rules

Motion practice can often be a very fast-paced and harrowing experience, particularly when someone's life or livelihood hangs in the balance. In motion practice, timing is everything.

So what would you say to a defendant who waited two and a half years to file a motion for relief from judgment after the court handed down a decision? You'd say that was an unjustified wait, right? We're glad you agree. That's how the Fourth Circuit ruled in Moses v. Carlton Joyner.

The Fourth Circuit will reconsider a controversial ruling that found a fundamental right to own assault weapons, the court announced last Friday. Just one month ago, a divided Fourth Circuit panel ruled that the possession of firearms was a "fundamental right" under the Second Amendment. As such, laws impinging on that right, here, a Maryland ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines, must be reviewed under a standard of strict scrutiny.

The ruling was a win for gun rights advocates, but a departure from the conclusions of other circuits. Now, that conclusion is in question as the Fourth prepares to rehear the case en banc.

Fourth Circuit Dismisses Equal Protection Suit Against FEC

Conservative political action committees (PACs) took a hit on the chin with the Fourth Circuit's determination that the 1971 FECA rules did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment as to MPCs. In fact, if anything, the Act actually favors political committees.

Summary Judgment against the PACs was affirmed by the circuit court and remanded back to the district.

Deportation Case Ruling: Knowledge of Almost Certain Torture Isn't Deliberate

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviewed a deportation case that implicated the proper interpretation and application of the International Treaty of the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The case is an interesting highlight into the limitations of the CAT.

The appeals court found that almost certain knowledge by a state actor who detains a deported felon (from the United States) that the detainee might suffer severe pain and suffering does not rise to the level of "specific intent" under CAT -- thereby not affording such persons protection under the treaty.