Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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During seven weeks in 2002, Malvo (then 17 years old) and Muhammad, the “D.C. Snipers,” murdered 12 individuals, inflicted grievous injuries on six others, and terrorized the area with a shooting spree. The two were apprehended while sleeping in a car. A loaded rifle was found in the car; a hole had been “cut into the lid of the trunk, just above the license plate, through which a rifle barrel could be projected.” At the time, a Virginia defendant convicted of capital murder, who was at least 16 years old at the time of his crime, would be punished by either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A jury convicted Malvo of two counts of capital murder but declined to recommend the death penalty. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without parole. Malvo later pleaded guilty in another Virginia jurisdiction to capital murder and attempted capital murder and received two additional terms of life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court subsequently held that defendants who committed crimes when under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death; cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole unless they committed a homicide that reflected their permanent incorrigibility; and that these rules were to be applied retroactively. The Fourth Circuit concluded that Malvo’s sentences must be vacated because the retroactive constitutional rules for sentencing juveniles were not satisfied. The court remanded for resentencing to determine whether Malvo qualifies as a rare juvenile offender who may, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility” or whether those crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” so that he must receive a lesser sentence. View "Malvo v. Mathena" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of habeas relief and remanded with instructions to dismiss petitioner's habeas application with prejudice under the court's decision in United States v. Surratt, 855 F.3d 218 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc). Petitioner was sentenced to 118 years in prison for nonhomicide crimes that he committed when he was 15 years old. Petitioner sought habeas relief after the Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which prohibited juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes from being sentenced to life without parole. While the application was pending, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell issued petitioner a partial pardon, reducing his sentence to 40 years' imprisonment. The court reasoned that had the district court properly applied Surratt, it would have been required to conclude that Governor McDonnell's valid partial pardon reducing petitioner's sentence to 40 years' imprisonment rendered his habeas application moot and that the district court was therefore without jurisdiction to address it and opine on the constitutionality of petitioner's original sentence under Graham. View "Blount v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Juvenile Delinquency Act (JDA), 18 U.S.C. 5031, is intended to ensure that at the time they are brought into the criminal justice process, juveniles will have the benefit of a system that is tailored to their special needs and vulnerabilities and, in particular, to their special receptivity to rehabilitation. In light of this statutory purpose, it is entirely rational to define as juveniles protected by the JDA only those who are younger than 21 when they are indicted. In this case, although defendant was 17 years old when he and another individual robbed a brothel, raping one victim and killing another, he was over 21 years old when he was indicted for the crimes. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that defendant's timing-related arguments were without merit, and that the government established the connection to interstate commerce necessary to sustain a Hobbs Act conviction. The court also found no error in the evidentiary rulings challenged on appeal nor error with defendant's sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law