U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

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Ex-FBI Agent Leaked Docs, Gets 4 Years

Terry Albury, a former FBI agent, said he wanted to make a difference.

After he made that statement, Judge Wilhelmina Wright sentenced him to four years in prison. The judge said his good intentions were no excuse for leaking confidential documents.

Even though Albury confessed to his crime, it was a difficult case for the government. Prosecutors said it is never easy to go after their own.

In the early 90s, Charles Rhines brutally murdered a donut shop employee while committing a robbery. There's no dispute about that, at least not anymore. Rhines confessed and got sentenced to the death penalty, and has been on death row ever since, despite his numerous unsuccessful appeals and efforts to seek habeas relief.

Recently, it is being reported that Rhines's death sentence is related to the fact that he is a gay man. Apparently, the jurors sent a list of questions to the judge while deliberating during the penalty phase, and those questions seem to imply that the jurors were concerned Rhines would be in a gay paradise in prison for the rest of his life. Despite how offensive such a notion seems today, in the early 90s, women and the disabled had barely just received federal civil rights protections (we're not making excuses over here, just providing context).

When doctors and other professionals conspire, the law can be rather unforgiving. Just ask the Minnesota doctor who just lost her appeal of the $400K+ restitution order stemming from an illegal kickback scheme with a pharmacy.

Though the doc was getting less than $1K per referral, and was only convicted of making 20 or so referrals, after entering her plea, she was ordered to pay restitution for the entire sum the pharmacy defrauded from the U.S. government. Given the massive (20X) difference between the restitution order and her supposed illicit gains, an appeal followed.

For one criminal defendant, the reaction of a drug dog was the tipping point that gave law enforcement probable cause for the dog's sniff search, at least according to the Eighth Circuit.

That sniff search was successful in locating a few kilograms of cocaine, which resulted in the defendant taking a conditional plea of guilt to a drug trafficking charge, pending resolution of an appeal of his motion to suppress. And in the United States v. Javier Pulido-Ayala, the Eighth Circuit rejected that defendant's appeal on his Fourth Amendment challenge to the drug dog's sniff search.

What Happens If a Juror Says 'Guilty' in a Crowded Elevator?

So many things seem to go wrong for criminal defendants on trial, especially when they point out the errors on appeal.

Sandra Bart made her case to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals after her conviction in United States of America v. Bart. Along with her claims of insufficient evidence, abuse of discretion and denial of motions, she complained of juror misconduct.

And why not blame the jury? One of the jurors apparently told others in the courthouse elevator that Bart was guilty.

Murder Charge Against Canadian Upheld in South Dakota

John Graham shot Anna Mae Aquash in the back of the head, execution-style in the Badlands of South Dakota.

She died that day in December 1975, but it took authorities 35 years to get Graham to trial because he had fled to Canada. In 2010, he was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In Graham v. Young, the convicted murderer claimed he was wrongly extradited. The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said he was wrong.

A Kansas City man who was sentenced to three years in jail for pointing a laser pointer at a police helicopter challenged the application of a sentencing enhancement. Interestingly, while the guidelines on his conviction, with the enhancement, recommended 41 to 51 months, the judge only imposed a 36 month sentence.

Nevertheless, the laser-happy defendant claimed that the sentencing enhancement for reckless conduct shouldn't apply -- despite intentionally shining the laser at the helicopter while being fully aware of the risk of harming the pilot and endangering the lives of those onboard the helicopter. The Eighth Circuit didn't agree, and didn't spend too much time explaining why.

Headlines from the beginning of the year detailed the unsealed federal domestic terrorism charges against Taylor Michael Wilson, and recently, additional federal gun charges have been heaped upon the defendant.

In October 2017, Wilson boarded an Amtrak train in California, headed home to Missouri. However, while the train was in Nebraska, train authorities discovered Wilson in one of the engine cars of the train playing with the controls after applying the emergency break. Wilson was armed, but Amtrak staff were able to restrain him until law enforcement arrived.

Gil Lundstrom, the CEO of the now defunct TierOne bank, couldn't convince the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to do anything with his conviction, despite seemingly making any and every conceivable argument.

And while it's not uncommon for convicted bigwigs to pull out all the stops in arguing their appeals, Lundstrom's appeal just seemed doomed from the get-go, given that former insiders turned on him. In addition to appealing the denial of his motion for a judgment of acquittal, he challenged the jury instructions, a few pieces of evidence, some other procedural nonsense, as well as the prison term he was ultimately awarded, and the restitution he was ordered to pay.

Photo ID Was Fair, Not Impermissibly Suggestive

Anthony Whitewater turned a bad day into 240 worse months.

He got into a fight at a party, got into a van and shot at people who were leaving the party. He was convicted of various crimes, including being a felon in possession of a firearm.

After sentencing, he appealed on the grounds that the photo line-up used to identify him was not fair. The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said it was fair enough.