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Criminal Law Blog

CRIMINAL LAW:  The Extent of Judicial Power in Sentencing Pursuant to a Federal Plea Agreement

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Fri, Dec 15, 2023 @ 15:12 PM

CRIMINAL LAW:  The Extent of Judicial Power in Sentencing Pursuant to a Federal Plea Agreement 

Suzanne Bailey—Senior Attorney

       A recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, United States v. Toebbe, 85 F.4th 190 (4th Cir. 2023), illustrates both the binding nature of plea agreements entered into pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the ultimate authority of the judge in sentencing. Diana Toebbe, a high school humanities teacher with a Ph.D., and her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer assigned to the Reactor Engineering Division of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion program and possessing both an active Top Secret security clearance through the Department of Defense and an active “Q clearance” through the Department of Energy, decided to supplement their income by selling Restricted Data of the U.S. Navy relating to Virginia-class-nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign government. Unfortunately for the Toebbes, the foreign government alerted the FBI to the couple’s proposed scheme, and all of the “dead drops” of information Jonathan thought he was making to the foreign government—with Diana acting as look-out—were actually left for an FBI undercover investigation team. Both Toebbes were indicted and charged with “one count of conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2274(a), and two counts of aiding and abetting the communication of Restricted Data, in violation of § 2274(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2," 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 28366, at *7-8, and both faced a potential sentence of life in prison.

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CIVIL RIGHTS:  SCOTUS: Use of Un-Mirandized Statement Does Not Serve as Basis for § 1983 Claim

Posted by Jason Holder on Mon, May 1, 2023 @ 14:05 PM

Jason Holder, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group, Inc.

        Accused of sexually assaulting a patient while working as a certified nursing assistant, Terence Tekoh was interrogated “at length” by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy. Vega v. Tekoh, 142 S. Ct. 2095, 2099, 213 L. Ed. 2d 479, 485 (2022). While the Deputy ultimately secured a written statement from Tekoh apologizing for inappropriate touching of a patient, the Deputy had failed to inform Tekoh of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966). Vega, 142 S. Ct. at 2099-2100. Following a mistrial, Tekoh was acquitted at the conclusion of his second trial. Id. at 2100. In both criminal trials, judges refused to suppress the un-Mirandized statement. Id.

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Topics: civil rights, Criminal Law Update, SCOTUS, section 1983

In Pursuit of Fleeing Misdemeanants: SCOTUS Rejects Categorical Rule of Exigency

Posted by Jason Holder on Wed, Mar 23, 2022 @ 10:03 AM

Jason Holder—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

          Arthur Lange (“Lange”) drove past a highway patrol officer with his windows down, music blaring, and repeatedly honking on his horn; in short, Lange “was asking for attention.” Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 2011, 2016 (2021). The officer followed Lange a short distance before turning on his overhead light and attempting to pull Lange over. Id. Lange was seconds away from his home, however, and chose to continue to his driveway and pull into his garage. Id. The officer continued his pursuit and confronted Lange with the subsequent investigation revealing, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Lange was under the influence of alcohol. See id. (blood test revealed Lange was more than three times the legal limit).

          Upon being charged with driving under the influence as well as a noise infraction, Lange moved to suppress all the evidence obtained by the officer’s warrantless entry into the garage. Id. In response, the prosecution argued that “the pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant always qualifies as an exigent circumstance authorizing a warrantless home entry.” Id. (emphasis added). The state courts accepted this argument and the U.S. Supreme Court granted review to resolve the conflict between the various state/federal courts regarding a categorical rule of exigency when in pursuit of a fleeing suspect. Id. at 2017.

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Topics: Jason Holder, warrantless home entry, rule of exigency, pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanant

Sex Offender Registration Requirement

Posted by Mark Rieber on Wed, Dec 15, 2021 @ 12:12 PM

Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In Doe v. Wasden, No. 1:20-CV-00452-BLW, 2021 WL 4129144 (D. Idaho Sept. 8, 2021), appeal filed (9th Cir. Oct. 1, 2021), the court granted the two offenders' (John Doe and Randall Menges) motion for preliminary injunction challenging the requirement of their registration for the Idaho Sex Offender Registry because of Doe's conviction under a Crime Against Nature statute and Menges's conviction under Idaho's Crime Against Nature statute for engaging in consensual oral or anal sex. The court held that both offenders were likely to prevail on their claims that Idaho was violating their constitutional rights, which included a substantive due process claim, a procedural due process claim, and an equal protection claim. The court found that Idaho could have no legitimate interest in requiring offenders to register as sex offenders for engaging in private, consensual sexual acts and that the offenders had a protected liberty interest in both engaging in private consensual sexual activity and being free from the burdens of sex offender registration.

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Topics: criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, sex offender registration, consensual sex

Ineffective Assistance—Death Penalty

Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In Andrus v. Texas, 140 S. Ct. 1875 (2020), the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denying habeas relief to the petitioner challenging his death sentence and claiming that his counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of trial. At the guilty phase of defendant's capital murder trial, defense counsel essentially conceded guilt and indicated he would "be fighting" at the punishment phase. Counsel, however, presented limited evidence at sentencing and failed to investigate and overlooked "vast tranches of mitigating evidence." Id. at 1881. Counsel also failed to investigate the State's aggravating evidence. At the habeas hearing, counsel offered no tactical rationale for such failure, which was "all the more alarming given that counsel's purported strategy was to concede guilt and focus on mitigation." Id. at 1883. The Court easily found that counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase, despite the Texas state court's summary dismissal of such claim.

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Topics: criminal, ineffective assistance of counsel, death penalty, penalty phase

Insanity Defense

Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Wed, Feb 17, 2021 @ 10:02 AM

Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In Kahler v. Kansas, 140 S. Ct. 1021 (2020), the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require a state to adopt a particular formulation of the insanity defense. The ruling came in a case out of Kansas where the state had adopted the "cognitive incapacity" test, which examines whether a defendant was able to understand what he was doing when he committed the crime. The Kansas statute does not incorporate the "moral incapacity" test, which is the inquiry into whether a defendant could not distinguish right from wrong when committing the crime.

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Topics: Due Process Clause, Mark Rieber, Kansas, insanity defense, cognitive incapacity test

Fourth Circuit Panel Rules That Probable Cause Is a Mere Click Away

Posted by Jason Holder on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 @ 12:02 PM

Jason Holder-Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            On what the court in United States v. Bosyk, 933 F.3d 319 (4th Cir. 2019), described as a "secretive online message board," id. at 322, a link appeared with a message explaining that the link would lead to multiple videos of child pornography.  On the same day that this link appeared, an IP address associated with Bosyk's house accessed the link to view the advertised materials.  Id.  Armed with these facts, and a brief description regarding the characteristics of individuals who possess and access child pornography, investigators were able to obtain a search warrant for Bosyk's residence authorizing the seizure of "computers, digital devices, storage media, and related evidence."  Id. at 323.

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Topics: probable cause, criminal law, search warrant, hyperlink evidence

Mere Possession of Concealed Firearm Does Not Justify Terry Stop

Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Fri, Aug 2, 2019 @ 11:08 AM

Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In Commonwealth v. Hicks, No. 56 MAP 2017, 2019 WL 2305953 (Pa. May 31, 2019), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled precedent from the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Robinson, 410 Pa. Super. 614, 600 A.2d 957 (1991), and held that the mere possession of a concealed firearm does not provide reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify a stop pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).  The court explained that the prior holding in Robinson, upholding such stops (the Robinson rule) improperly dispensed with the requirement of individualized suspicion and, in doing so, misapplied the overarching totality of the circumstances test.

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Topics: criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, reasonable suspicion, concealed firearm, prior knowledge requirement

No Constitutional Right to Engage in Bestiality

Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Tue, Feb 5, 2019 @ 11:02 AM

Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In an unusual case, and one apparently of first impression, the Virginia Court of Appeals has very recently upheld the constitutionality of the state's statute prohibiting bestiality.  Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-361(A); Warren v. Commonwealth, No. 2086-17-3, 2019 WL 189386 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2019).  The defendant in Warren was convicted of soliciting another person to "carnally know a brute animal or to submit to carnal knowledge with a brute animal" in violation of Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-361(A) and 18.2-29 (criminal solicitation).  The evidence against the defendant included videos of the prohibited activities.  The defendant argued that the bestiality statute was unconstitutional under Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), because the activities at issue amounted to nothing more than private sexual conduct of consenting adults.

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Topics: criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, constitutionality, legitimate state interests, bestiality

Fourth Amendment Applies to Cell Site Location Information

Posted by Mark Rieber on Mon, Nov 26, 2018 @ 11:11 AM

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group


        Cell-site location information ("CSLI") is location information generated by cellular phone providers that indicates which cell tower a particular phone was communicating with when a communication was made. United States v. Curtis, No. 17-1833, 2018 WL 4042631, at *1 (7th Cir. Aug. 24, 2018). It is capable of pinpointing a phone's location within 50 meters. Id. Because cell phones are in constant communication with the nearest cell siteoften affixed to a cell towerthey can collect CSLI as frequently as several times a minute. Id.


            In June 2018, in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018), the Supreme Court extended Fourth Amendment protection to CSLI and held that the government conducts a "search" when it accesses historical cell phone records that provide a comprehensive chronicle of the user's past movements. The Court concluded that the government must generally obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before acquiring such records and rejected application of the "third-party doctrine," even though the records at issue were held by a wireless carrier.

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Topics: Fourth Amendment, Mark Rieber, criminal procedure, cell-site location information

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