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Civil Rights, Criminal and Immigration Matters

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By FindLaw Staff on March 04, 2010 2:21 PM

The Eighth Circuit decided six criminal matters, one immigration case and one involving prisoner civil rights.

In US v. Donnell, No. 08-2543, the court of appeals affirmed defendants' drug conspiracy convictions on the grounds that 1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting wiretapped phone recordings, because the danger of unfair prejudice did not substantially outweigh their probative value on the issue of defendant's involvement in the conspiracy; 2) any error in introducing evidence concerning one defendant's prior arrests was harmless because they did not have a substantial influence on the jury's verdict; 3) the various defendants, all of whom were alleged to be members of the same overarching conspiracy, were properly joined; and 4) the mere fact that one defendant was unaware of the more distant members of the chain-conspiracy does not defeat the conspiracy charge.

In US v. Azure, No. 08-3663, the Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's assault sentence, holding that 1) the record adequately supported the district court's rejection of defendant's self-defense claim, and defendant's arguments regarding her own wounds were immaterial to the court's findings; 2) the district court properly assigned criminal history points based on defendant's prior assaults; and 3) the court had previously rejected the possibility of requiring heightened standards of proof in cases where a sentencing factor proven merely by the preponderance of the evidence drove the overall sentence.

In Karim v. Holder, No. 08-3684, the court denied a petition for review of the BIA's denial of petitioners' asylum application, on the ground that, even assuming that petitioner was credible and could establish past persecution, the court would not interfere with the decision because the record provided sufficient support for the factual finding that changed country conditions meant petitioner did not have a well-founded fear of future persecution.

US v. Fazio, No. 08-3900, involved a prosecution for transportation and possession of child pornography and firearm possession, in which the district court ordered defendant to be forcibly medicated so that he could stand trial.  The court of appeals affirmed the order, holding that 1) the government proved an important government interest was at stake; 2) the government's medical expert made his claim specifically with respect to defendant and after examining his medical history; and 3) the district court did not clearly err by concluding involuntary medication would significantly further the prosecution's interest in prosecuting defendant.

Keup v. Hopkins, No. 09-1079, involved a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 action by a prisoner claiming defendant prison personnel prevented plaintiff from sending drawings outside the prison in violation of the First Amendment.  The court of appeals affirmed the judgment for plaintiff in part, on the grounds that 1) defendants did not raise their mootness or exhaustion defenses at trial; and 2) because the district court directed a verdict for plaintiff, he was the prevailing party.  However, the Eighth Circuit reversed the judgment in part on the ground that, when a prisoner plaintiff only receives nominal damages of $1.00, 42 U.S.C. section 1997e(d)(2) caps attorney fees at $1.50.

In US v. Wiest, No. 09-1389, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's bank robbery conviction, on the grounds that 1) defendant's girlfriend's stepmother was not an instrument or agent of the government for Fourth Amendment purposes when she turned defendant's clothes over to the government; 2) there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant committed the charged robberies, and used the gun at issue to do them; and 3) comparison of defendant's 684-month sentence to the robbery of three financial institutions with a gun did not lead to an inference of gross disproportionality.

Rodela-Aguilar v. US, No. 09-1555, involved the government's appeal from a grant of defendant's 28 U.S.C. section 2255 motion for post-conviction relief, alleging trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance.  The court of appeals reversed on the grounds that 1) defense counsel was not asked at the section 2255 hearing many questions crucial to establish that her conduct fell outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; 2) defendant failed to show prejudice as a result of the allegedly ineffective assistance; and 3) as a matter of hindsight the court agreed with counsel's cost-benefit analysis of whether to call defendant's employer as a witness.

In US v. Williams, No. 09-1907, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's bank robbery sentence, on the grounds that 1) the record shows that the district court did in fact address many of the 18 U.S.C. section 3553(a) factors, including the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, the need for the sentence imposed to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct and to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, the kinds of sentences available, and the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among similarly situated defendants; and 2) the severity of a mandatory consecutive sentence for an 18 U.S.C. section 924(c)(1)(A) offense was an improper factor that the district court may not consider when sentencing a defendant on related crimes of violence.

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