6th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Sixth Circuit
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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.

What kind of legal curiosities can arise when state and federal law conflict on the legality of cultivating medical marijuana?

Try this one: a marijuana-cultivating family in Michigan, which complied with state law regarding growing marijuana as caretakers (as for their sales... we'll get to that), was prosecuted in federal court using evidence obtained from a state court-issued warrant that was arguably invalid under state law.

Got all that?

Things are a bit clearer in the rear view mirror.

When a judge is presiding over a trial, and a juror swears, under oath, that he can't bear to look at the child porn that will be presented at evidence, and he had previously given indications that he couldn't be fair and impartial, you recuse him, right?

It seems clear in retrospect. It seemed clear to the Sixth Circuit court too, which issued an opinion subtly benchslapping the trial judge and reversing the conviction.

We've seen a lot of confusion emerge from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in Miller v. Alabama. The Court issued a mushy standard to follow-up on two prior holdings, one banning the death penalty outright for minors, and another banning life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses.

In Miller, the Court addressed homicide offenders, and held that while a life-without-parole sentence may be appropriate, there must first be consideration of the offender's age, childhood, life experience, degree of responsibility the youth was capable of exercising, and the chances for rehabilitation. The Court also implied that a life sentence is almost never appropriate.

Of course, that doesn't help those who have already been sentenced. Or does it?