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

Recently in Criminal Law Category

Former Oklahoma Senate Leader Must Be Resentenced, 10th Circuit Orders

Michael Morgan, an Oklahoma attorney and former leader of the Oklahoma Senate was sentenced in 2012 to probation arising out of a charge bribery. Since the Tenth Circuit found that the punishment was "grossly at odds" with sentencing guidelines, he will now be resentenced. Basically, the Tenth Circuit determined that the lower court gave the defendant an easy pass.

When Michael Morgan was convicted for bribery, the jury acquitted him of about 60 other criminal counts. Morgan asked for a new trial alleging that the prosecution failed to disclose "tacit agreements" with a witness, insufficiency of evidence and failure to properly instruct the jury. Unfortunately for him, the 3 judge-panel disagreed and found that the jury's conviction of Morgan was based on sufficient factual evidence and further described the trial court's order of Morgan's probation as "little more than a slap on the wrist."

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."

10th Cir. Upholds Bank Robbery Conviction

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.

10th Cir. Upholds 100-Year Conviction for Child Pornography

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.

10th Cir. Tosses Drug Conviction Due to Insufficient Evidence

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.

When a Wells Fargo branch was robbed in Aurora, Colorado, police took it seriously, stopping every car at a nearby intersection and holding them at gunpoint while they attempted to locate the pilfered cash. The mass detention of 29 people lasted over two hours and led to two lawsuits; one by fourteen people who were detained and another by the bank robber, who was caught in the stop.

If that's not bizarre enough, consider how the robbery itself. Recently fired violinist and music teacher Christian Paetsch road to the bank on a stolen bicycle, donned a beekeeper's hat and held up the bank while blasting an air horn. When he left, he took $26,000 in cash and a hidden tracking beacon.

He'd returned to his car by the time police placed the street on lockdown. In an appeal from his conviction, he argued that the mass detention was an unreasonable search and seizure.

10th Circuit Reiterates: SORNA Is Constitutional

James White pleaded guilty to violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) after he failed to update his sex offender registration when he moved from Oklahoma to Texas. (He actually moved to Texas, then "drove back to Oklahoma every ninety days to maintain the illusion that he continued to reside there.")

On appeal, he claimed SORNA violated the Commerce Clause, the Tenth Amendment, and the Ex Post Facto Clause. He also brought two sentencing issues. So, is SORNA grossly unconstitutional?

Using Control Hold on Child Was OK, but One Judge Is Wary

With police use of excessive force all over the news these days, we turn now to police involvement with a nine-year-old boy. One judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has had enough.

In this unpublished case from the Tenth Circuit, via Utah, a nine-year-old was put in a "control hold" after he stole an iPad. The court affirmed the district court's judgment that using the control hold was not excessive force.

And then Judge Carlos Lucero had something to say.

Unauthorized Driver of Rental Car Can Fight Search of Wrapped Packages

A Colorado state trooper stopped Melissa Sotelo for driving too slowly in the left-hand lane. Sotelo was driving a car rented from Hertz by Patrick Schooler, but there were no other authorized drivers listed. The car wasn't stolen, and Schooler was a friend of the passenger, Janelle Mireles. Hertz asked the police to impound the car.

Before they did, they conducted an inventory search and found three gift-wrapped boxes in the back seat. The driver and passenger said the boxes contained baby clothes, a karaoke machine, and a baby stroller -- birthday gifts for Sotelo's daughter. Suspicious, the trooper obtained a search warrant, then opened the boxes. Happy birthday! Marijuana.

Lesson From U.S. v. Henderson: Don't Give Up, Poll the Jury

The Tenth Circuit issued an opinion today in United States v. Henderson that demonstrates the importance of polling the jury when you get a verdict against you.

In 2011, former Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Jeff Henderson was convicted of several counts during a corruption trial and was sentenced to 42 months in prison, Tulsa's KOTV reports. The most interesting issue on appeal was this: Was Henderson denied his constitutional right to a unanimous jury, given that one juror was instructed by the foreman that she was not permitted to change her guilty vote?

The court decided no. Henderson attached an affidavit from the juror, but the court did not consider it, citing Rule 606(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which provides: