May, 2022

10th Circuit: District Court Erred When It Accepted Plea Without Asking Questions After Defendant Stated His Mental Capacity Was Impaired by Denial of Medications

Defendant pled guilty to robbery and gun charges at a plea hearing where he repeatedly expressed doubts about whether he should plead guilty and suggested that his mental capacity was impaired. The Tenth Circuit vacated defendant’s convictions holding that it was a violation of defendant’s due process rights to accept the plea after defendant claimed that he was being denied access to his medications and his judgment was impaired as a consequence, and the district court failed to ask any follow-up questions, such as what the medications were, what conditions they treated, and how those conditions affected defendant’s present mental state. The Court further held that neither findings of an earlier competency evaluation nor a district court’s later questions about defendant’s mental state were sufficient to cure the voluntariness issue. The Court noted that, although a court generally accepts a defendant’s in-court assurance that he understands a plea agreement and voluntarily accepts it, that practice cannot excuse a court from exploring the validity of a specific assertion by a defendant that he is not thinking clearly because he is off his medications, and the need to interrogate about such statements will be governed on a case-by-case basis. United States v. McIntosh, ___ F4th ___ (03-21-2022, WL 830424).

Massachusetts: Trial Court Erred When It Denied Motion to Suppress Evidence Found at Second Traffic Stop After Initial Traffic Stop Was Completed

Defendant was convicted of gun charges after his motion to suppress was denied. Defendant was sitting in the rear seat on the driver’s side when the police pulled up because the vehicle defendant was in was improperly parked. Following a brief discussion with the driver, the officers allowed the vehicle to leave. The officers nonetheless continued to follow the vehicle and pulled it over to conduct a traffic stop and observed a gun on the floor near defendant. The Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed holding that the officers’ second stop of defendant was not reasonable; because the vehicle’s driver did not commit any further traffic violations after the initial stop, the government’s interest in ensuring traffic safety was met once the initial traffic violation was resolved, and because the violation resulted from the manner in which the vehicle was parked, any safety hazards were addressed once the driver moved, and the government’s interest in ensuring traffic safety had lapsed. Commonwealth v. Daveiga, ___ N.E.3d ___ (03-24-2022, WL 869500).

First Circuit: New Trial Required Where Jury Instruction Lacked Knowledge Requirement for Gun Possession Charge

Defendant was convicted by jury of possession of firearm by a person who had previously been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The First Circuit remanded for a new trial holding that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it had to find that defendant knew that he had been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence where defendant had pled no contest to simple assault under a Maine law after refusing to plead guilty to the charge of domestic violence assault because it would have meant that he could not possess firearms. Evidence that the prosecutor told defendant that he would be able to possess a firearm if he pled guilty to simple assault, rather than domestic violence assault, in discussions leading up to his assault conviction would be relevant to defendant’s knowledge and excluding such evidence was an abuse of discretion. United States v. Minor, ___ F.4th ___ (CA 1, 04-11-2022, WL 1076087).

Third Circuit: District Court Erred When It Denied Motion to Suppress Where Officer Went Off Mission During Traffic Stop and Created an Exigency

Defendant, a passenger in a truck that was pulled over, pled guilty to gun offenses after his motion to suppress was denied. The Third Circuit reversed holding that the officer’s delay in a field sobriety test of the truckdriver to ensure the safety of a second officer who had climbed into the truck, improperly extended the traffic stop, even though the delay was brief and arose out of the officer’s concern for the safety of the second officer, where the initial mission of the traffic stop was to investigate the driver for DUI and the second officer created the safety concern by going off-mission when he put himself in a very vulnerable position by entering the truck containing two passengers and kneeling on the front seat, and at the time the safety concern arose, neither officer had a reasonable suspicion to search the passengers. United States v. Hurtt, ___ F.4th ___ (CA 3, 04-13-2022, WL 1098835).

Tenth Circuit: District Court Erred When It Denied Motion to Suppress Where Officer Went Off Mission During Traffic Stop to Arrange Dog Sniff

Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress after he was charged with drug offenses. The Third Circuit reversed holding that the totality of the circumstances did not give the officer a reasonable suspicion that defendant was engaged in criminal activity so as to warrant expanding the traffic stop in order to arrange for a dog sniff where there was merely a duffle bag in the back seat, an air freshener bottle in the central console, defendant only partially rolled down his window, and the officer’s suspicion was based on nothing more than his own hunch that defendant was trying to hide something and the fact that the vehicle was a rental. United States v. Frazier, ___ F.4th ___ (CA 10, 04-13-2022, WL 1099362).