U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

February 2013 Archives

Defendant Can't Explain Bootlegged Blueprints, Still Wins

Building Graphics, Inc., designs family homes. In the 1990s, BG designed three plans that were later sold to other builders. Two of the designs were used to build a pair of houses (one per design) in the Charlotte area. The designs were also available online for purchase as “stock” plans. The third design’s plans were available offline for sale. All three were copyrighted.

Lennar Corporation builds homes in 18 states. Before jumping into a market, they conduct “due diligence” of recently built homes in the area, which includes analyzing floor plans, features, and prices. However, Lennar maintains that it is limited to homes currently being built and sold, not completed examples.

Sex Offender Registration Trumps Juvenile Offender Anonymity

An anonymous juvenile offender, whose identity is sealed under federal law, was required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) after he sexually assaulted his two half-sisters, ages 10 and 6. Being a juvenile offender, his court case was kept under seal (hence his lack of identity in this case) due to the requirements of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA).

Obviously, there's a bit of dissonance between the two laws. SORNA requires identification and registration, as well as semi-regular appearances for photos. FJDA requires that a juvenile's record be sealed unless he is tried as an adult, as the legal system does not wish to have the crimes of a minor follow him for life.

Grenade in a Locked Closet? Not Exigent Circumstances

Police received a call about a domestic assault and arrived to find that the lady of the home had fled and the husband, Joseph Yengel, Jr., was angry, agitated, possibly armed, and threatening to shoot law enforcement officers. He was eventually talked into coming out of the house unarmed and was then placed under arrest.

Sergeant Staton interviewed Mrs. Yengel, who indicated that there were many firearms and a grenade in the house. She directed him to the upstairs master bedroom, where she collected and handed over a variety of firearms. Sergeant Staton then asked about the grenade. Mrs. Yengel led him to a locked closet where she had seen her husband store the grenade two years earlier.

Chief Judge Traxler to Pull Double Duty as Chair of Executive Committee

In a time of strained resources and judicial shortages, Chief Judge William B. Traxler, Jr. of the Fourth Circuit has agreed to take on extra duties as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, effective today. He succeeds Judge David B. Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit, who took senior status yesterday.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts made the announcement today and stated:

Self-Incrimination During a Sting Operation and Beyond

In the criminal case that won't die, Rodney Anton Williamson ("RAW") makes his way to the Fourth Circuit once again - after prevailing somewhat with SCOTUS with a remand order.

Cops caught RAW with kilos of cocaine after using a wired snitch to record a conversation. RAW claimed the conversation -- which occurred after a sealed indictment had been issued -- violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

He initially lost that Sixth Amendment claim in the Fourth Circuit. But when it reached SCOTUS, the government conceded the point but argued harmless error.

4th Circuit Could Force Prisons to Provide Sex Change Operations

Gender Identity Disorder (“GID”) is characterized by a feeling of being trapped in the body of the wrong gender. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health prescribes a “triadic treatment sequence” comprised of hormone therapy, real-life experience of living as a member of the opposite sex, and if the dysphoria persists after one year of treatment, sex reassignment surgery.

Ophelia Azriel De’lonta, born Michael A. Stokes, is currently serving a lengthy sentence in a Virginia prison. She suffers from GID and sued the Virginia Department of Corrections in 1999 for withholding treatment. After the Fourth Circuit stepped in, the case settled in 2004 after VDOC agreed to provide counseling, hormone therapy and to allow De’lonta to cross-dress to the extent allowed in an incarcerated context.