April, 2020

Fourth Circuit: District Court
Abused Its Discretion
When It Refused to
Hold Remmer Hearing on
Juror Impartiality

Defendants were convicted by jury of murder in aid of racketeering and numerous other charges related to participation in a violent street gang at a trial involving evidence of murdered witnesses to the gang’s activities. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of defendants’ motions for new trial, holding that the district court abused its discretion when it failed to hold a Remmer hearing to determine whether a reported incident of a juror, that family members or friends of defendants had used cell phones to take photographs of the jurors in a public area of the courthouse, prejudiced the jurors and affected their ability to impartially consider the evidence in violation of defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury. United States v. Johnson, ___ F.3d ___ (CA 4, 03-25-2020, WL 1443525).

Fourth Circuit: Failure to Inform
Defendant of “Knowledge-of-Status”
Element Rendered Plea Involuntary
Even Though Defendant Knew
His Status as a Felon

Defendant moved to withdraw his pleas to felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) under Rehaif v. United States, which held that, to obtain a conviction under § 922(g), the government must prove that defendant knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm. The Fourth Circuit held that defendant’s guilty plea was not knowingly and intelligently made because he did not understand the essential elements of the offense to which he pled guilty and that the error was structural. The Court further held that the error seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings requiring vacation of defendant’s conviction in spite of evidence in the record that would tend to prove that defendant knew of his status as a convicted felon. United States v. Gary, ___ F.3d ___ (CA 4, 03-25-2020, WL 1443528).