Case Summaries and Commentary by Federal Defenders of the Tenth Circuit


US v. Headman, No. 09-1033, 2/4/10 - Defendant and others were drinking together. Two of them started fighting and defendant and two women joined in. They and the winner threw the loser into the trunk and drove to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. They got the loser out, continued beating and also stabbing him, and eventually killed him. Defendant went to trial and was convicted of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and kidnapping. His defense at trial was intoxication. Held: 1) As the government conceded, defendant could not be convicted of both felony murder and kidnapping, so one or the other had to vacated on remand; 2) No Brady violation, and therefore no plain error, in failing to disclose that the two women, who had pled and testified against defendant at trial, were sharing a cell at the tribal jail before and during trial, where both stated in affidavits they did not discuss their testimony with each other and defendant alleged no facts to contradict them; and 3) no plain error in failing to specifically instruct jury that intoxication was a defense to aiding and abetting first degree murder. The court seriously doubted that there was any error at all, considering the instructions as a whole, but if there were, it was certainly not obvious.


US v. Barraza-Martinez and US v. Ramirez, Nos. 09-3048 and 09-3057, 2/4/10 - Another all-too-routine traffic stop case in which the driver gets a warning ticket, is handed his documents, is told he is free to go, and voluntarily decides to stick around, answers more questions, and consents to search. 245 kilograms of cocaine were eventually found in secret compartment. Held: 1) Stop for failing to maintain traffic lane was supported by reasonable suspicion, in part because video clearly showed two different failures, and violations were more than de minimis, as required by Kansas law; 2) Consent to search was given during consensual encounter, and did not exceed scope of consent, so denial of motion to suppress was proper; 3) district court did not clearly err in finding that driver was not a minor participant; 4) evidence was sufficient to support passenger's involvement in conspiracy; and 5) passenger's sentence at the low end of the guidelines range was substantively reasonable because defendant did not rebut the presumption that is was.