WikiLeaks defendants were denied their disclosure request due to government interests in not tipping off additional suspects.United States v. Appelbaum
, No. 11-5151, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 1746 (4th Cir. Jan. 25, 2013).
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 criminalized “the unauthorized access of the contents and transactional records of stored wire and electronic communications.” At the same time, the Act also allowed law enforcement to obtain electronic records after obtaining a warrant under the applicable rules and a reasonable suspicion standard. The government does not need to notify the individuals when obtaining such records.
After obtaining a warrant, the government required Twitter to release three users’ (accused of criminal conduct in relation to WikiLeaks) “names, usernames, personal contact information, connection records, financial data, length of service, direct messages to and from email addresses and Internet Protocol addresses for all communications” within certain dates. The suspects filed a motion to unseal the request for documents (the “request”). The magistrate judge denied the request, and the district court and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit both affirmed.
The suspects argued that both the First Amendment and the common law subject the request to a right of public access. The Fourth Circuit held that such a right applies only to judicial records. Thus, the common law presumption of access applied. However, the Fourth Circuit found that the First Amendment did not create a presumption of access, since neither prong of the two pronged “tradition and logic” test was met: there was no tradition of access since the law was only passed in 1986, and logic dictates that public access does not play a significant role in the investigative process.
Finally, the Fourth Circuit determined that the common law presumption of access was overcome by a significant countervailing interest. In making that determination, it considered the public’s interest in having access to the documents in a high profile case, but found it to be outweighed by the Government’s interest in avoiding tipping off additional suspects of the investigation.
United States v. Flores-Machicote, No. 11-2243, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 1565 (1st Cir. Jan. 23 2013).
Victor Flores-Machicote pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The crime carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The probation department prepared a report recommending an incarceration of between 33 and 41 months. At sentencing the parties jointly recommended a sentence of 33 months. Instead, the district court imposed a sentence of 60 months. Flores-Machicote appeals the sentence, arguing that the procedure followed in invoking the upward variance was inaccurate and that the sentence was substantively unreasonable. Acknowledging the limited role of appeals courts in reviewing sentences under an abuse of discretion standard, the First Circuit rejected both arguments, affirming the sentence.
Procedurally, Flores-Machicote contended that the judge failed to treat him as an individual, instead focusing on perceived shortcomings of the local criminal justice system and the high murder rate. The appellate court agreed that the judge is required to rely on the characteristics of the defendant and the crime to justify an upward variance. The district judge, although he did comment on the shortcomings of the local criminal justice system, also focused on the defendant’s record, which included numerous drug convictions and a conviction for misappropriation of a vehicle, each resulting in a relatively lenient sentence. The court also noted that it is appropriate to give community factors some consideration in sentencing, especially since deterrence is an avowed goal of the criminal justice system. Finally, the First Circuit rejected the claim that the sentence was substantively unreasonable, citing the defendant’s extensive criminal history coupled with the need for deterrence in a high crime area.
Americans for Safe Access v. DEA, No. 11-1265, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 1407 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 22, 2013).
Although marijuana has now been legalized in several states, it is still classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the DEA, which maintains that “marijuana has no currently accepted medical use.” Therefore, it is mostly illegal to produce, sell or use marijuana under federal law. Several groups and individuals petitioned the DEA to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and appealed in response to being denied. The Court of Appeals found that at least one individual, Michael Krawitz, had standing to bring the appeal, counter to the government’s argument.
Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran, successfully argued standing because the DEA’s classification of marijuana deprives him of services that he would otherwise receive free of charge from the VA. As a condition of pain management treatment, VA officials asked him to sign an agreement to not use medical marijuana. Krawitz refused, barring him from receiving treatment he is otherwise entitled to. Additionally, Krawitz currently must consult with a non-VA physician in order to participate in Oregon’s medical marijuana program.
Although they did agree that Krawitz had standing to appeal, under the arbitrary and capricious standard the court found that substantial evidence supported the agency’s factual findings, which in turn reasonably supported the decision not to reschedule marijuana.
United States v. Morrison, No. 12-4269, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 1068 (Jan. 15, 2013).
The defendant, William James Morrison III, was convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms. Morrison appealed, arguing that the search that turned up the weapons violated his Fourth Amendment rights. A police officer had observed Morrison make an abrupt (though legal) U-turn while driving and decided to follow Morrison’s vehicle. While following Morrison, the officer noted that his automobile’s 30-day paper registration was old, weathered, and unreadable and decided to stop the vehicle. Upon approaching, the officer noticed a large black case and a firearm in the backseat. After running Morrison’s license, the officer was alerted that Morrison was a convicted felon, and thus his possession of firearms was illegal.
Morrison contended that the initial stop was unlawful because it was based solely on the legal U-turn. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, however, because the stop was also based on the unreadable temporary license plate. Thus the stop and subsequent search were both lawful.
United States v. Maryea, No. 11-2239, 2013 WL 150316 (1st Cir. Jan. 15, 2013).
In Maryea, the First Circuit grappled with role of the courts in enforcing the Speedy Trial Act. Defendant Lynette Maryea was convicted of one count of conspiracy to possess Oxycontin, Suboxone, Lorazepam, and Ativan with intent to distribute. Maryea participated in a scheme to smuggle the painkillers to her boyfriend inside a New Hampshire correctional facility. Maryea purchased the drugs by filling forged prescriptions, then delivered the drugs in latex gloves to “trustees working within the laundry department” at a nursing home located next to the jail.
Maryea had spent time in a psychiatric facility for the treatment of bipolar disorder, and complained at trial of back and neck pain requiring medication. A co-defendant requested a continuance to resolve a related state law case, which the District Court granted. Maryea opposed severance, but moved for dismissal on the basis of a violation of the Speedy Trial Act, which guarantees that a defendant will have a trial to determine guilt within a particular period of time, while excepting particular delays from the calculation, including delays requested by a co-defendant. The District Court denied Maryea’s motions for dismissal. During trial, Maryea was injured in a car accident. The court ordered an independent medical evaluation to ascertain the injuries and whether the “continuing effects of those injuries, if any, will prevent her from meaningfully participating in the ongoing criminal trial and assisting with her defense.”
Maryea made two principal arguments on appeal. First, she argued that the reasonableness of the continuances should be judged with respect to her (as opposed to her codefendant) for Speedy Trial Act purposes, and the continuances at issue should have been determined to be unreasonable. Second, she argued that the district court should have explicitly ordered a psychiatric evaluation.
The First Circuit rejected both arguments. Assuming, without deciding, that the “Co-defendant Clause” of the Speedy Trial Act (which permits “a reasonable period of delay” at the request of one co-defendant) was subject to a reasonableness limitation, it found the delays requested by the Maryea’s co-defendant reasonable because Maryea did not petition for (or indeed want) severance, and the reasons for joint trial in this case were compelling, since the co-defendants were charged with perpetrating a single conspiracy.
The court noted that a judge must inquire into a defendant’s mental capacity to stand trial if “there is reasonable cause to believe a defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent …” and that a new determination may be necessary when there is a “significant change of circumstances.” The First Circuit found those requirements satisfied by the competency evaluation conducted at the beginning of trial and the medical examination and court questioning after the accident.