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Felony Hindering Apprehension

Hindering Apprehension for a Sealed Federal Charge

By | Criminal Defense

“Run, Baby, Run!” Girlfriend’s Warnings, Personal Tattoos, and Attempts to Flee From US Marshals, Do Not Rise to the Level of “Felony Hindering Apprehension” Says the CCA

Felony Hindering ApprehensionKeiona Nowlin and her boyfriend, Demarcus Degrate, were riding in a car when a United States Marshal, executing a sealed, federal warrant on the boyfriend, pulled up behind them. After the Marshal activated the siren and lights, the couple pulled over and Degrate fled on foot. The Marshal chased Degrate. Moments later, as two Marshals arrived at the scene, they observed Nowlin screaming, “Run baby run…get away” while she also fled on foot. The Marshals detained Nowlin “to find out why she was running.” At that point, Nowlin fled the Marshals’ car. Nowlin was placed under arrest for escape.

See the CCA Opinion in Nowlin v. State.

After the arrest, Nowlin said she “knew the cars the Marshals drove…and…did not want Degrate to be arrested…[because] he was out on bond for state charges.” The Marshal noted that Nowlin had Degrate’s name tattooed near her collarbone; the trial court inferred the tattoo as indicative of an intimate relationship. The trial court found Nowlin guilty of third-degree felony hindering apprehension, sentencing her to four years imprisonment.

Nowlin appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that she was not warning Degrate of impending apprehension because “he was already aware of the [Marshal’s] presence.” Nowlin contended that because she did not know the contents of the sealed federal warrant, she could not have known Degrate was charged with a felony. The court of appeals disagreed, holding that her statement at the scene, “run baby run…get away,” provided sufficient evidence of providing a warning to Degrate. The court of appeals pointed to statements made at the scene that she knew “he was out on bond for state charges…and…she did not want her man to get arrested.” The court of appeals added that her tattoo was proof of her close relationship with Degrate, and that she likely knew of the felony-level charges he was facing.

Nowlin appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that because the federal indictment was sealed and secret, she could not have known about the indictment itself; that no evidence exists that she knew of the felony-level charges Degrate faced; and, that her tattoo was not proof of a close relationship where she would have had knowledge of the charges. The State argues that the evidence was sufficient: that the tattoo is evidence of a close relationship that implies she knew intimate details of Degrate’s life; that she knew Degrate faced serious state-level charges, and that her attempt to flee from the US Marshal is evidence of her knowledge of the “serious nature of Degrate’s crimes.” In an interesting turn of events, the State offered an alternative to acquittal–that an alternative charge could be misdemeanor-level hindering apprehension, and the sentence could be amended to reflect a lesser charge.

“In order to show that the evidence presented was legally sufficient to support a conviction of felony hindering apprehension, the State must prove:

  1. the defendant warned another person of impending discovery or apprehension;
  2. the defendant had the intent to hinder that individual’s arrest; and,
  3. the defendant had knowledge that the individual was under arrest for, charged with, or convicted of a felony.

Tex.Penal Code § 38.05(a), (d).

An individual acts with knowledge when he is aware that the circumstances exist. Tex. Penal Code § 6.03(b). In a nutshell, the State must show Nowlin was aware that her boyfriend was under arrest for, charged with, or convicted of a felony. The Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) now decides whether the evidence is sufficient to show that Nowlin knew Degrate was charged with a felony offense.

Here, the CCA does not agree with the trial court and court of appeals. “The state offense that Degrate was on bond for cannot serve as the basis for [Nowlin’s] conviction.” The CCA notes that there was no evidence at trial that named the type and level of the state offense, therefore, the trial court had no way of knowing if the offense was a felony or not. Also, there was no mention of whether Nowlin knew what type of charge her boyfriend was facing. Therefore, because there was insufficient evidence regarding the state offense, the state offense cannot serve as the basis for Nowlin’s conviction.

Further, Degrate’s federal indictment was sealed. There was no way for Nowlin and Degrate to know about the charges before their arrests. “With this mandated secrecy and the lack of evidence that he was told about the indictment during the attempt to arrest him, Degrate could not have known that he was under indictment for felon in possession of a firearm.” It would have been impossible for Degrate to have told Nowlin about the felony charge because he would not have known about it.

Lastly, the inferences made about Nowlin’s close relationship with Degrate—including the tattoo on her collarbone and her attempt to escape the Marshall—do not apply here. “While the inferences that the court of appeals makes would likely be reasonable ones had there been any evidence of Degrate himself having knowledge of the indictment, no such evidence was ever presented.”

The CCA found that the evidence was insufficient to support a felony-level hindering apprehension charge. The CCA reforms Nowlin’s convictions to a misdemeanor hindering apprehension charge, instructing the trial court to conduct a new punishment hearing to reflect the lesser charge.

Possession of Methamphetamine in Fort Worth

Federal Courts No Longer Distinguish Between Pure Meth and Botched Meth When Calculating Weight

By | Drug Crimes

Possession of Methamphetamine in Fort WorthHere’s a Breaking Bad question for you: If Walt lets Jesse cook a batch of Meth and Jesse screws it up, such that it is unsellable, can they be punished for the amount of bad methamphetamine that they cooked in addition to the amount of good methamphetamine (if there were such a thing)? This 5th Circuit tells us in United States v. Ramirez-Olvera.

Antonio Ramirez-Olvera was convicted of possessing methamphetamine (meth) with the intent to distribute, violating 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); he received a sentence of 240 months imprisonment, which is ten years below the bottom of the federal sentencing guidelines range for this offense.  Arguing that the district court excessively punished him, as the court did not distinguish between d-methamphetamine (“d-meth”) and l-methamphetamine (“l-meth”) for the sentencing guidelines’ equivalency table, Ramirez-Olvera appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth District.

See the opinion in United States v. Ramirez-Olvera (5th Circuit, 2015)

How Should the Court Determine the Weight of Meth in a Possession Case?

The issue before the Court is whether federal courts must distinguish between the types of meth when deciding punishment, or, whether courts can punish based on a “lump sum” of the meth. As you can imagine, higher amounts generally mean a longer prison sentence.

Had the district court used only the d-meth in its calculations, Ramirez-Olvera’s prison sentence might have, in theory, been shorter. Relying on DEA lab reports,Ramirez-Olvera’s probation officer generated a presentence report that recommended, he “should be held responsible for 7.7 [total] grams,” combining both the l-meth and d-meth seized fromRamirez-Olvera’s home and car.

The Court discusses types of methamphetamine, highlighting the differences scientifically and practically. “D-meth and l-meth are stereoisomers of meth…consist[ing] of identical molecules [that are] differently arranged.” United States v. Acklen, 47 F.3d 739, 742 (5th Cir. 1995). D-meth causes psychological and physical changes in humans. L-meth, on the other hand, “produces little or no physiological effect when ingested.” Id. Further, L-meth is a “weak form of [meth], is rarely seen and is not made intentionally, but rather results from a botched attempt to produce d-meth.” U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2D1.1(c)(1)(2014). In other words, l-meth is an accidental byproduct when creating d-meth goes awry; L-meth has little to no cash value.

The Court reviews this case anew, focusing on the plain meaning of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for drug crimes; the Guidelines are the authoritative, controlling source of law. United States v. Moore, 733 F.3d 161-63 (5th Cir. 2013). Amendment 518, “a 1995 amendment to § 2D1.1, indicates that courts need not distinguish between d-meth and l-meth when determining the quantity of…meth attributable to a defendant.” U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, [Sentencing Commission Dicta], §2D1.1(c)(1)(2004). Under this amendment, “l-meth [is to] be treated the same as d-meth…thereby simplifying guideline application [from this point forward].” Id. Further, the Court “ha[s] relied on Amendment 518 to hold [in an unpublished case] that any distinction between d-meth and l-meth is now immaterial when calculating drug quantity under the guidelines. United States v. Beltran, 91 F. App’x 349 (5th Cir. 2004).

The Court affirms the district court’s opinion, holding that under Amendment 518 to the sentencing guidelines, meth no longer is to be categorized for sentencing purposes; l-meth and d-meth are to be added together to render the quantity courts will use in assessing punishment. All meth created, pure and botched, will be added together to determine a defendant’s prison sentence.

Parole by Mistake: No Credit Toward Sentence

By | Parole

If a person convicted of aggravated rape is paroled by mistake, is that person entitled to street-time credit for the period between his release and the revocation of his release?

The 5th Circuit said NO in Rhodes v. Thaler.

Rhodes v. Thaler, 713 F.3d 264 (5th Cir. 2013): Mandell Rhodes, Jr. was convicted of aggravated rape in 1980. He was paroled in 2004, but returned to prison in 2006 after violating a condition of his release. Rhodes claimed that he was denied street-time credit for the two years that he was on parole which “could have been used to accelerate his automatic release to mandatory supervision.”

According to Rhodes, Texas law required that when an inmate is released in error through no fault of his own, he is entitled to be credited with all earned street-time credit upon his return to prison. The denial of such credit, he argued, was a violation of due process.

Rhodes sought habeas relief in federal district court. The district court denied his petition. Through a Certificate of Appealability, the 5th Circuit was granted jurisdiction to decide the appeal and consider Rhodes’s argument that his street time should have been restored because he was erroneously released to parole. According to the 5th Circuit, Rhodes’s petition could only be granted if one of his constitutional rights had been violated.

In order to prevail under due process, Rhodes must have had a “liberty interest” in his claimed street-time credit. If he did not have a liberty interest in that street-time credit, he was due no more process than he received. In determining whether Rhodes had a liberty interest in the street-time credit he demanded, the 5th Circuit looked to Texas’ law of releasees that was in effect when his release was revoked.

At the time Rhodes’s parole was revoked, Texas’ “street-time credit statute,” Tex. Gov’t Code §508.283, controlled. According to §508.283, “if the parole, mandatory supervision, or conditional pardon of a person described by §508.149(a) is revoked, the person may be required to serve the remaining portion of the sentence on which the person was released. The remaining portion is computed without credit for the time from the date of the person’s release to the date of revocation.” According to the Court of Criminal Appeals, §508.149(a) includes persons- like Rhodes- who have been convicted of aggravated rape.

Therefore, because Rhodes was not entitled to street-time credit for that period, he had no protected liberty interest that was subject to due-process protection. Rhodes was only entitled to federal habeas relief if he was deprived of street time credit without due process. Because Rhodes had no protected liberty interest in the street-time credit that he claimed to have accrued, his due-process right was not violated. Therefore, the district court’s denial of Rhodes’s habeas petition was affirmed.

Drug Crimes House

5th Circuit Update: Evidence Admitted Over Miranda Violation

By | Drug Crimes, Miranda

United States v. Gonzalez-Garcia, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 3366 (5th Cir. Tex. Feb. 15, 2013)

Drug Crimes HouseA federal agent saw Appellant walk out of a house under surveillance as part of a drug investigation.  The agent approached Appellant, handcuffed him and placed him in his police vehicle.  Without advising Appellant of his Miranda rights, the agent asked him if he was guarding a drug-house and if there were drugs in the house.  Appellant replied, “Yes” to both questions and then requested an attorney.  The agent asked Appellant for consent to search the house, which Appellant granted.

The agents found over two thousand kilograms of marijuana in the house. The district court suppressed Appellant’s admissions that he was guarding marijuana in the house because they were obtained in violation of Miranda, which the government conceded on appeal.  However, the district court refused to suppress the marijuana recovered from the house.

First, Appellant argued the marijuana should have been suppressed because the agent obtained consent to search from Appellant after he requested an attorney.  Second, Appellant claimed the agents’ use of his admissions, which were later suppressed, automatically rendered his consent to search involuntary. The Court disagreed.

In Edwards v. Arizona the Supreme Court held when an accused invokes his right to counsel, he is not subject to further questioning until counsel has been made available to him.  However, a violation of the Edwards rule does not require suppression of physical, non-testimonial evidence.  Consequently, even if the agent violated Edwards when he asked Appellant for consent to search the house, that violation would not justify suppression of the marijuana, which is physical, non-testimonial evidence.

Next, the court held Appellant’s consent was not automatically rendered involuntary because his Miranda rights were violated.  Such a rule is not consistent with the multi-factor approach courts must use when determining voluntariness.  Using that approach, and considering the Miranda violation, the district court found Appellant voluntarily consented to the search of the house.

Warrantless Search GPS Tracking

Warrantless Search with GPS Device

By | Warrantless Search

Warrantless Search GPS TrackingNew Case from the 5th Circuit (Federal):  United States v. Andres, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 143 (5th Cir. Tex. Jan. 3, 2013)

Synopsis:  In December 2009, federal agents conducting an investigation into a large drug trafficking operation installed a GPS device underneath a pick-up truck, with a trailer attached to it, while it was parked on a public street after it had been loaded with twenty kilos of cocaine. Federal agents monitored the truck’s movements as it drove toward Chicago.

The agents contacted the Illinois State Police, gave them information about the truck, and told them they would like to have the drugs discovered during a traffic stop so they would not have to disclose the existence of a federal investigation. After being provided GPS information on the truck, a police officer saw it on an interstate highway and began to follow it.

The officer conducted a traffic stop on the truck for improper lane usage and improper lighting after he saw the trailer was swaying back and forth within its lane and its taillights were flickering.  After the officer wrote a warning ticket, he asked Appellant to get out of the truck so he could talk to him about the taillight problem.

After inspecting the electrical connection between the truck and trailer, the officer handed Appellant his clipboard so he could sign the ticket.  While Appellant was signing the ticket, the officer asked him where he was coming from.  Appellant told the officer he was coming from Joliet, but the officer knew this could not be possible based on the surveillance the officers had been conducting.  The officer also noticed that Appellant had begun to fidget and move his feet and arms around very nervously.  When the officer asked Appellant if he had any drugs in the truck, he said, “No” and then consented to a search with a drug dog.  The drug dog alerted and the officers found twenty kilos of cocaine hidden in the truck.

Appellant argued the drug evidence should have been suppressed because the initial traffic stop was a pretext and not based on any actual traffic offense.  Even if the traffic stop was valid, Appellant claimed the officer’s continued questioning and dog search were not reasonably related to the original reasons for the stop.

First, the court held the officer was justified in stopping Appellant based on the traffic violations he saw.  Second, the court held the officer’s continued seizure of Appellant after the reason for the initial traffic stop ended was supported by reasonable suspicion.  It was reasonable for the officer, who had stopped Appellant for a safety violation concerning his trailer, to ask him to get out of his truck to look at the trailer and discuss the problem.  In addition, the officer’s question, asking Appellant where he was coming from, occurred before the officer had finished dealing with the traffic offenses and did not extend the scope or duration of the stop. Appellant’s untruthful answer created reasonable suspicion that justified his continued detention, which ultimately led to the officer receiving consent to search the truck.

Appellant also argued the warrantless placement and use of the GPS device to monitor the movements of his truck violated the Fourth Amendment in light of the United States Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Jones, decided in 2012. The Fifth Circuit Court declined to rule on whether warrantless GPS searches are per se unreasonable.  Even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation had occurred, the court held the evidence should not be suppressed in this case because in December 2009, it was objectively reasonable for agents in the Fifth Circuit to believe that warrantless GPS tracking was allowed under circuit precedent.

Conspiring With a Government Informant

By | Conspiracy

It Takes Two to Tango | Can a Person be convicted for Conspiring With a Government Informant?

Conspiring With a Government InformantUnited States v. Delgado, U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 5th Circuit (Federal)

In this U.S. v. Delgado, the Defendant-Appellant, Maria Aide Delgado, was convicted of

  1. possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and
  2. conspiracy to commit the same offense.

She was sentenced to a concurrent term of 100 months imprisonment for each conviction. Delgado appealed, complaining that she shouldn’t be convicted for Conspiracy if she was Conspiring With a Government Informant.

The Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a conspiracy charge in the indictment because the government failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish that the Appellant entered into a conspiracy with anyone other than a government informant. While it takes at least two people to form a conspiracy, an agreement must exist among co-conspirators who actually intend to carry out the agreed upon criminal plan. A defendant cannot be criminally liable for conspiring solely with an undercover government agent or a government informant, therefore, evidence of any agreement Delgado had with the government informant cannot support a conspiracy conviction.