U.S. Tenth Circuit

U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


Convicted for child pornography charges, Timothy Vanderwerff wanted to make a plea agreement. The prosecution was on board with the deal. Everything was fine until the trial court decided to use this case to make a point about the evils of plea bargains. And so the court flat-out denied the agreement, emphasizing its distaste for plea bargains in general.

Why did the district court hate plea bargains so much? It offered a few reasons. For example, the court noted that unfortunate circumstance of too many guilty pleas and not enough trials. Also, it cited the Supreme Court case in Lafler v. Cooper, which "suggested that a sentencing court should be a participant in the plea-bargaining process."

The separation of powers is good for everyone -- unless you're a state governor with a political agenda you want to implement quickly. Then you might find the judiciary, for instance, to be a bit of a nuisance.

Gov. Sam Brownback wouldn't be the first governor to confront this issue, but he may be one of the first to tackle the issue by attempting to replace Kansas judges. At least, that's how Brownback's critics interpret his latest proposals concerning constitutional amendments.

People still rob banks? You bet they do -- and they get caught. Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma were confronted with a spate of bank robberies they linked to the Hoover Crips, a franchise of the Crips street gang. They also had reason to believe the appellant in this case, Dejuan Hill, was involved.

A federal grand jury indicted Dejuan on 10 counts, including robbery and conspiracy, for a series of bank robberies that occurred between 2009 and 2011.

An Air Force Captain and her family cannot plead their way around hurdles to suing the federal government, the Tenth Circuit reluctantly found last week. After Captain Heather Ortiz suffered negligent treatment at a military hospital during her pregnancy, her husband and child sued. However, the government cannot be sued for that negligence, the court found.

Under a 1950 Supreme Court decision, Feres v. United States, military service members are barred from suing the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. That Heather Ortiz was not named as a plaintiff made no difference, since the in utero injuries claimed were to her. The court made it clear that it disagreed with the precedent, describing it as overbroad and unfair, but had no choice except to uphold it.

After Miguel Gutierrez-Carranza pleaded guilty to reentering the U.S. following a prior deportation, the district court sentenced him to three years of supervised release. Gutierrez-Carranza appealed, making the fairly straightforward argument that, since he was bound to be deported anyway, the supervised release was unreasonable. After all, he won't be in the country to be supervised.

That's not unreasonable enough for the Tenth Circuit, though. The court found that supervised release could provide deterrence against Gutierrez-Carranza illegally returning to see his family and children.

Richard Franklin was convicted on federal child pornography charges, including advertisement or notice of child pornography. Franklin was a member of a file-sharing website called GigaTribe, which allowed him to approve other users as "friends," letting them into his "tribe."

Of course, his fellow tribe members wanted child pornography, which he supplied, leading to his conviction. On appeal, he contended that the evidence didn't support a conviction for "advertisement or notice" of pornography. He also claimed that his total sentence -- five consecutive sentences, totaling 100 years -- was unreasonable.

This is a case about a fax. In 2008, well after the rest of the world had retired its fax machines, Custom Mechanical Equipment faxed CE Design an unsolicited advertisement, perhaps because their carrier pigeon had the day off. CE Design reacted proportionately -- by filing a class action lawsuit.

Custom's insurer, Emcasco, refused to defend the junk faxers, not just because they were embarrassed to represent a company that advertised via fax. They also didn't believe Custom's policy required them to defend or indemnify Custom for the junk faxes. They were right, the Tenth Circuit ruled this week.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, didn't violate anyone's civil rights when she cleaned house after taking office, demanding the resignation of employees appointed by her Democratic predecessor. Glenn Smith, the former director of the state Workers' Compensation Administration sued after he was terminated, arguing that he had a right to finish out his five year term.

Unfortunately for Smith, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that he served at the will of the Governor and could be let go before his term concluded. Martinez is considered by some to be a likely contender for the GOP's VP pick in 2016.

Anthony Washington and Maurice Edwards were both convicted on federal drug possession charges with intent to sell after police found the drugs in the trunk of a rental car Edwards borrowed from his mother.

Trouble is, while it was easy for the jury to tie Edwards to the fourteen bricks of marijuana inside a black duffel bag, Washington's connection wasn't so clear. For that reason, the Tenth Circuit last week reversed Washington's conviction, finding insufficient evidence to tie him to the drugs.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some folks have one too many drinks before getting behind the wheel. Others fail, allegedly, to follow proper procedure when testing DUI blood draws, leading to retesting 1,700 samples. When Colorado's state toxicology lab had to do just that, they laid the blame publicly on one young lab tech, Mitchell Fox-Rivera.

After he was fired, Fox-Rivera claimed that the government lab improperly impugned his reputation, denying him due process. The Tenth Circuit was less sympathetic to his claims of scapegoating, finding that the comments made, which accused Fox-Rivera of not doing his job properly, did not rise to the level needed to implicate his due process liberty interests.