6th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Sixth Circuit
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Is a good deed any less good if it was done with less-than-noble intentions?

Maybe so. But the Ponzi scheme guidelines don't care about motive -- they care about money. And Jason Snelling, in the end, only stole $5.3 million, returning the other $3.6 million to his investors in order to lure them into "investing" more money into his Ponzi scheme.

The district court declined to credit Snelling for the returned funds, but the Sixth Circuit reversed the sentence as procedurally unreasonable.

The Armed Career Criminal Act provides sentence enhancements for convicted felons who commit firearms crimes. Commit two or more violent crimes or drug trafficking crimes and your third gets you 15 years, minimum.

Edward Young was helping his neighbor sell her late husband's possessions when he found seven shotgun shells in a box. He put them in a drawer for safekeeping. Unbeknownst to him, he wasn't allowed to possess ammunition because he had been convicted of burglary-type crimes 20 years earlier.

Police came calling to investigate burglaries at an auto repair shop nearby. Young consented to a search, and of course they found the shotgun shells. For that, he received 15 years in prison.

Last year, a federal court convicted sixteen members of an Ohio Amish group of hate crimes. They cut the hair and shaved the beards of members of their sect who they believed weren't "Amish enough."

Though no one disputes that the defendants did, in fact, commit these assaults, on appeal to the Sixth Circuit, the question was whether the prosecution proved that the defendants committed the assaults because of the victims' religion under a federal hate crimes statute. Reversing the hate crime convictions in United States v. Miller, the Sixth Circuit said, "nope."

Suspecting that a particular Chevy Tahoe might be involved in a methamphetamine-trafficking ring, DEA agents radioed the Lexington (Kentucky) Police, telling them that they "didn't know who was in the vehicle, didn't know anything about any weapons but basically the group was involved in meth." Officer Adam Ray, who responded, found the Tahoe and observed the driver, Marcus Adkins, fail to use a turn signal. He also suspected the tint on the windows was too dark.

So he pulled the car over. Ray noticed the passenger, Courtney Noble, was "extremely nervous." Ray administered a field sobriety test on Adkins, which he passed. Ray asked for permission to search the car, which Adkins gave -- but before he searched the car, Ray patted down both Adkins and Noble.

Turns out, Noble had meth and a loaded gun in his possession. This, in turn, led the DEA to a motel room where Dana Brooks was surrounded by meth-selling paraphernalia.

Federal jurisdiction is a great thing -- when you can get it. And all too often, attempts to get it are too clever by half.

From Michigan comes the allegation that making "children cook, clean, and do the laundry," and beating them if they don't, constitutes "forced labor" under 18 USC 1589. The Sixth Circuit ruled Monday in U.S. v. Toviave that state-level child abuse doesn't violate federal law -- or, at least, it's not "forced labor."

What's the primary reason a sentence is imposed: to punish the offender or to deter others?

If it's the former, then a white collar criminal -- who has little to no chance of repeating his crime now that he's tagged with a felony record, likely lost any professional licensure, and spent a ton of his hard-stolen cash on defending himself in court -- shouldn't serve a lengthy sentence. This is why Paul Musgrave was given a one-day sentence, with credit for for the day of processing -- essentially no sentence at all. (h/t to the ever-great Sentencing Law and Policy Blog)

But if you're worried about deterrence, look to the Sixth Circuit's ever widening body of case law that basically demands at least some imprisonment, even if the offender is unlikely to recidivate.

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The Sixth Circuit is seeing a lot action lately on the same sex marriage front, with all four states in the circuit facing appeals on the issue. As the Sixth Circuit will join the national debate on same sex marriage, we also have other cases making progress though the courts related to hate crimes and a death row inmate's attempt at a second chance.

Read on for details ...

We read so many denials of petitions for writ of habeas corpus, that when we come across one that reverses a denial of a petition, our ears perk up.

But when a circuit panel votes to rehear the case en banc, then we are all ears. Here's a breakdown on the latest rehearing en banc granted by the Sixth Circuit.

It's no secret that the Sixth Circuit is having some trouble with crack sentencing. But it's not just Fair Sentencing Act changes, or retroactivity, or their own muddled precedent that they keep botching. They're also having issues with differentiating a felony from a misdemeanor for purposes of priors and with statutes of limitations.

To be fair, this is all North Carolina's fault. Their determinative sentencing scheme, which takes into account past crimes, the nature of the present crime, and other individualized factors to determine an appropriate sentence is far more complicated than "give 'em a few decades." And the Sixth Circuit isn't the only circuit to struggle with NC's sentencing; the Fourth, being more local, has gone back-and-forth on the issue.

The police get a call. Someone is banging on the windows and trying to break into a house.

They respond. A guy is outside, holding a beer, and knocking on the door. He says that he is "here for [his] people." The police ask him to stop, frisk him, and find a .38 caliber revolver. Except he was there for his people, as in to help his people.

And he was a felon in possession of a firearm.