Last week, I posted about United States v. Oliver, in which the Fourth Circuit held that the Court has the inherent authority to dismiss an untimely criminal appeal sua sponte. As that post was about to go live, the Fourth Circuit added to its limited jurisprudence in this area in United States v. Hyman, holding that the Government did not forfeit its objection to an untimely criminal appeal by waiting to file a motion to dismiss until after the defendant filed his opening brief. Read More…
President Trump’s revised “travel ban,” which targets six predominantly Muslim nations, has drawn intense media scrutiny and legal challenges across the nation. The proceedings in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Hawaii and Washington, have garnered the lion’s share of the media spotlight. But proceedings here in the Fourth Circuit may yield the first substantive appellate court decision on the travel ban’s constitutionality.
As often happens in high-profile appeals, unusual procedural questions have also arisen. Last week, the Fourth Circuit received briefing, which it had ordered from the parties just days earlier, “on the appropriateness of initial en banc review” by the entire court. This is atypical for many reasons. Read More…
By Stuart Berman
Veteran federal prosecutors and defense lawyers can pretty much recite in their sleep the standard jury instructions defining “knowingly” and “willfully.” In the commonly used Modern Federal Jury Instructions, knowingly means “to act voluntarily and deliberately, rather than mistakenly or inadvertently. A person acts knowingly if he acts intentionally and voluntarily, and not because of ignorance, mistake, accident, or carelessness.” Willfully means “to act knowingly and purposely, with an intent to do something the law forbids; that is to say, with bad purpose either to disobey or to disregard the law.” Simple enough, right? Read More…
In many respects, the en banc decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., No. 13-1473 (May 7, 2015), presents a series of unfortunate events.* The Court used a relaxed standard for an employee to assert a claim for hostile work environment that could have a significant impact on employers.
On May 11, the Fourth Circuit published its opinion in United States v. Bajoghli, which held that a Virginia district judge abused his discretion in excluding evidence of acts that were either deleted from an indictment for healthcare fraud or that took place after the scheme was alleged to have ended. In the process, Bajoghli took an extreme view of the doctrine of evidence that is “intrinsic” to an indictment. If the defendant petitions for en banc review, the full Fourth Circuit should take the opportunity to cabin or abandon the “intrinsic evidence” doctrine. Read More…
The Wire in the (Fourth) Circuit: Civil Rights Claims Proceed Against Police Who Inspired David Simon Characters
On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in Owens v. Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office et al., largely vacating a lower court’s dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action brought by James Owens seeking damages for wrongful conduct by Baltimore City police officers and an assistant state’s attorney that, Owens alleges, resulted in his spending more than two decades in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. If Owens can prove his allegations of intentional suppression of exculpatory evidence by police, it will be a tremendous black eye for the Baltimore City Police Department and perhaps in particular for Jay Landsman, a former BCPD detective sergeant who lent his name to a character in HBO’s The Wire and who also acted in that series.
Obamacare on Appeal: Statutory Construction of This Politically Charged Question Will Inevitably Be Called Judicial Activism
In June, I wrote here that law professors should use the Supreme Court’s reversal of a Fourth Circuit opinion (CTS Corp. v. Waldburger) as their case study to teach the complexity of statutory construction. But I fear that a subsequent pair of conflicting, high-profile opinions in the D.C. Circuit and Fourth Circuit construing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) is what many law professors will be using to teach statutory construction. Halbig v. Burwell, No. 14-5018 (D.C. Cir. July 22, 2014), rehearing en banc granted (Sep. 4, 2014), and King v. Burwell, No. 14-1158 (4th Cir. July 22, 2014), are attractive as important cases that present a pure question of statutory construction, but using them to teach statutory construction runs the risk that students will see statutory construction as a mere euphemism for partisan “judicial activism.” The opinions are best used to instead explore the precarious role of appellate judges in resolving politically charged controversies.
The odds that the full Fourth Circuit will review the good faith of pre-2012 warrantless GPS tracking
In United States v. Stephens, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit affirmed a holding of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to police officers’ concededly unconstitutional warrantless use of a GPS device to track a suspect and obtain evidence in furtherance of his prosecution. Judge Dennis Shedd, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote the majority opinion, joined by Senior Judge Clyde Hamilton, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush. An appointee of President Obama, Judge Stephanie Thacker, wrote a dissenting opinion.
A petition for rehearing en banc almost certainly will be filed by the defendant. The question then will become whether the six Obama appointees who are active judges on the Court — and at least two other judges appointed by prior presidents — will choose this Fourth Amendment good-faith case as one to plant their flag in en banc. As I explain below, I doubt that this case will result in a very rare grant of rehearing en banc.
On August 12, 2014, a divided Fourth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc that had been filed by capital defendant Alejandro Umaña. Umaña had sought the rehearing en banc of a panel opinion, 750 F.3d 320 (4th Cir. 2014), in which a majority held that the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause does not apply to the sentencing selection phase of capital sentencing. Eight judges (Chief Judge Traxler, Judge Wilkinson, Judge Niemeyer, Judge King, Judge Shedd, Judge Duncan, Judge Agee, and Judge Floyd) voted to deny the rehearing en banc, while five (Judge Motz, Judge Gregory, Judge Keenan, Judge Wynn, and Judge Thacker) voted to grant the petition.
A leader in the MS-13 transnational criminal gang, Umaña was convicted in federal court of murdering two brothers (who were not affiliated with any gang) in a bar in Greensboro, N.C., after the brothers got into an argument with Umaña and other MS-13 members about the music that should be played on the jukebox. After the jury found Umaña eligible for the death penalty in the first portion of the sentencing phase, the proceeding moved to the sentencing selection phase. Over Umaña’s objection, the district court allowed the government to introduce hearsay testimony from Los Angeles police detectives concerning statements that MS-13 informants had given the detectives implicating Umaña in several unrelated murders in Los Angeles. Umaña argued that the Confrontation Clause required the government to produce the informants themselves at the sentencing selection phase. In a 2-to-1 decision, the Fourth Circuit panel (Niemeyer and Agee, with Gregory dissenting) affirmed the admission of the informants’ statements through the detectives.