USA v. Schultz
Opinion Date: December 20, 2023
Areas of Law: Criminal Law
Between November 2020 and February 2021, Adam Joseph Schultz and his co-conspirators engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain vehicles using stolen login credentials from car dealerships. They purchased and paid for these vehicles with the dealerships' money and then used the purchase documents to pick up the vehicles. Schultz pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He was sentenced to 120 months in prison, which he appealed. This case was heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Schultz's appeal was based on two claims: first, that his April 2021 offense of being stopped while driving a stolen vehicle should have been classified as relevant conduct rather than criminal history, and second, he should have received a reduction for a partially completed offense under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. He argued that the April 2021 offense shared similarities with the offense he was convicted for and that the partially completed offense reduction should apply because he intended a larger offense for which he was not charged.
The court rejected both of Schultz's arguments. The court reasoned that the April 2021 offense was not similar enough to the offense of conviction to be classified as relevant conduct, and that the partially completed offense reduction did not apply because Schultz had completed all elements of the charged crime. The court affirmed Schultz's sentence, but remanded the case to the district court to clarify a discrepancy between the oral pronouncement and written judgment regarding whether the sentence would run concurrently or consecutively with any sentences imposed in his state cases.
USA v. Jackson
Opinion Date: December 13, 2023
Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the appellant, Brian Jackson, challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his guilty plea for attempted interference with commerce by robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). Jackson and two co-conspirators had attempted to rob a convenience store, and in the course of the incident, the store was closed for about three hours, causing it to lose $600 in potential earnings. Jackson argued that the record did not sufficiently show that the attempted robbery impacted interstate commerce.
The court, however, ruled that Jackson's plea agreement contained sufficient factual admissions to satisfy the Hobbs Act’s commerce element. It noted that Jackson admitted to attempting to rob the store with the intent to affect interstate commerce. In addition, the court found that the temporary closure of the store resulting from the attempted robbery affected interstate commerce, as it depleted the store's assets by $600, impeding its ability to engage in future interstate commerce. The court also inferred from the record that the store likely dealt in goods originating from outside Texas and therefore engaged in interstate commerce.
Jackson's argument that he would not have pled guilty if he had known the facts were insufficient under the commerce element was dismissed by the court. The court noted that Jackson had pled guilty despite believing that the facts were insufficient to support the commerce prong, and he had admitted that his purpose in pleading guilty was to avoid potential conviction under a statute carrying longer sentences.
The court thus found no reversible error and affirmed the lower court's decision.
Louisiana Supreme Court Opinions
STATE OF LOUISIANA VS. JOSE M. SAGASTUME
Opinion Date: December 8, 2023
Areas of Law: Criminal Law
In this case, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reviewed a conviction for domestic abuse battery involving strangulation. The defendant, Jose Sagastume, was found guilty by a unanimous jury and sentenced to three years imprisonment with two years suspended, followed by two years of probation. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his challenges for cause against two potential jurors: a retired police officer and a former assistant district attorney. However, the defense counsel did not object when the trial court denied these challenges.
The Court of Appeal set aside the conviction, stating that despite the lack of formal objection, the defense counsel's reasons for the challenges and subsequent use of peremptory challenges to remove the jurors were sufficient to preserve the issue for review.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed, ruling that according to the Code of Criminal Procedure art. 800(A), a defendant must object contemporaneously to a ruling refusing to sustain a challenge for cause in order to assign it as an error on appeal. The court found that the defense counsel's acquiescence without objection did not meet this requirement. Therefore, it reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal, reinstated the conviction and sentence, and affirmed them. The court emphasized that the legislature's language in Article 800(A) was clear: an objection must be made at the time of the ruling, and the nature and grounds for the objection must be stated at that time.
USA v. Villarreal
Opinion Date: December 5, 2023
Areas of Law: Criminal Law
This case involves Rolando Villarreal who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. His sentence was enhanced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) due to a prior burglary and two prior aggravated assaults. Villarreal challenged the enhancement under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his sentence was improperly enhanced under the ACCA's elements or force clause based on the predicate offense that allowed conviction for reckless conduct, a claim subsequently termed a "Borden claim."
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Villarreal did assert a Borden claim in his § 2255 motion and that his sentence was "in excess of the maximum authorized by law." This was due to the fact that, after the ruling in Borden v. United States, the convictions under the relevant aggravated assault statute could not constitute predicate offenses under the ACCA as they do not require the "physical use of force against the person of another."
As a result, the Court of Appeals vacated Villarreal’s sentence and remanded the case back to the district court with instructions to resentence Villarreal without consideration of the ACCA.
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