By Tristan Meagher and Nick McCauslin

United States v. Thomas

 In this criminal case, LaMarcus Thomas was charged with producing child pornography based on evidence obtained from his cellular phone. Thomas sought to suppress this evidence, arguing that the affidavit submitted by the arresting officer in the warrant application did not establish the probable cause required for the search. The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia agreed that the affidavit was deficient, but nevertheless denied Thomas’s motion to suppress, citing a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule established in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). Under this exception, the court may consider facts that were inadvertently excluded in an officer’s affidavit but were known to the officer. The Fourth Circuit determined that the arresting officer had a reasonable belief that probable cause existed and accordingly affirmed the lower court’s denial of Thomas’s motion to suppress.


United States v. Camara

 In this criminal case, Lamine Camara was convicted of conspiracy for his involvement in a scheme to resell vehicles obtained using false identities. Camara appealed the District Court’s decision claiming error on two theories: (1) the supplemental jury instruction provided by the district court violated the Fifth Amendment by “constructively amend[ing] the indictment” and (2) his Sixth Amendment right to a trial in the district in which the crime was committed was violated. Finding that the elements of the offense were not altered by the supplemental instruction, the Fourth Circuit concluded that there was no Fifth Amendment violation for amending the indictment. Additionally, venue was proper because the conspiracy occurred in the Eastern District of Virginia. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Camara’s conviction. Camara also appealed his sentence, but the Fourth Circuit found no grounds for error and affirmed the sentence.


United States v. Ketter

In this criminal law case, the Fourth Circuit considered an unexplained variance in from sentencing guidelines. In this case, Ketter successfully challenged the district court’s application of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B) when calculating his sentence, and thus had his sentence reduced to time served followed by two years of supervised release. There were two main issues this case considered. The first issue is whether the case was moot, and the second issue was whether the sentence was reasonable. On the first issue, the circuit court found that the case was not moot because the district court had the ability to reduce the length of time of supervised release. For the second issue, the Fourth Circuit applied the harmless-error standard and determined that because any error did not in fact impact his substantial rights it was considered harmless and therefore reasonable. The Fourth Circuit upheld the decision of the lower court.


United States v. Birchette

In this criminal law case, the Fourth Circuit considered a district court’s denial of Birchette’s request to interview jurors to see what role race played in their decision-making process. There were two issues on appeal in this case. The first issue was whether the district court’s denial of interviewing the jurors to look for racial bias was an abuse of discretion. The second issue was whether the district court’s exclusion of previous testimony of the arresting officer and allowance of Birchette’s prior history was an abuse of discretion. The first issue turned on two main facts. The first was that white jurors made multiple comments about race to an African American juror—specifically saying, “the two of you are only doing this because of race” and “it’s a race thing for you.” Additionally, one of the black jurors asked to be released from the trial. The court found that the district court’s finding that these facts together did not constitute good cause to conduct interviews of the jury was within its discretion. The second issue was about evidentiary exclusions made by the trial court. With regard to the exclusion of prior testimony, the Fourth Circuit found that Federal Rule of Evidence 608(b), which allowed questions about specific instances of conduct, was permissive and therefore at the district courts discretion. The same permissive analysis was used for the exclusion of testimony pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 403(b). Since the Fourth Circuit found there was no abuse of discretion, the district court’s decision and the conviction was upheld.