September 15, 2014

Short Wins - the Distribution of Child Pornography Gets (slightly) Limited Edition

Child porn cases are turning out to be a surprisingly large portion of what's in federal court.

Child pornography is gross and wrong, to be clear. But these cases are, I think, a symptom of a larger problem.

All of us have times in our lives when we're in the wilderness, when we feel adrift and alienated and unsure of where we're going or where we are. Some folks in this time of life turn to alcohol, Some turn to drugs, video games, or other ways to keep themselves from facing the great chasm of dissatisfaction that their lives have become. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desparation" and all that.

Maybe this desperation is more acute in these times, maybe it's an inevitable part of what it is to be human.

In any event, as anyone who has defended someone who has been accused of possession of child pornography knows, unfortunately, some folks come to this dark place in their lives and instead of drinking their time away, they turn to pornography. Often they start on more mainstream stuff, come to be desensitized and look for things that are more and more disturbing. That can lead them to child pornography. Or these folks are just searching for pornography in volume and come to the massive troves of child pornography floating around the internet.

The government is not shy about bringing these cases. Much as folks with drug addictions get punished by our government when they come to harder stuff - even though what they really ought to get is treatment - people who merely possess child pornography are too aggressively pursued for what is often a mental health problem that requires treatment.

Happily, in United States v. Husmann, the Third Circuit took a stand against a particularly gross practice in the prosecution of child pornography laws.

Much child pornography is shared through online file sharing systems. So, you can have child pornography in a folder that you mark to be shared with others on the internet.

The government sometimes takes the position that making stuff available through putting it in a folder that allows sharing is distribution of child pornography. Distribution is a massively more severe crime than possession with a much more severe mandatory minimum. And by threatening a distribution charge where a person only allowed file sharing, the government can coerce plenty of people into taking a plea, or taking a plea under worse terms.

Thankfully, the Third Circuit came out against that practice, holding that just showing the images were available for sharing isn't the same as saying they were distributed.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Groysman, Second Circuit: Appellant was convicted of health care fraud and money laundering. The main government witness gave testimony that included inadmissible hearsay and opinions, and was allowed, without personal knowledge, to provide the foundation for seven government exhibits that were inaccurate and misleading. The admission of misleading exhibits for which the witness had no personal knowledge of the matters conveyed, as well as inappropriate opinion testimony relating to Appellant's role in the scheme, was prejudicial and required the convictions to be vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

Defense Attorney: Maurice H. Sercarz

2. United States v. Brown, Third Circuit: Appellant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm was vacated and the remanded for a new trial. The district court erred in admitting evidence of Appellant's past firearm purchases. Although the government had a legitimate non-propensity purpose for admitting the evidence--it showed Appellant's knowledge of the firearm in his car--it still violated 404(b) because the government did not proffer a sufficient explanation of why the evidence was relevant. Evidence that Appellant had previous purchased firearms does nothing to establish that he knowingly possessed a gun six years later.

Defense Attorney: Kimberly R. Brunson

3. United States v. Brown, Third Circuit: The district court inappropriately applied a sentencing enhancement after finding that Appellant was a career offender, requiring Appellant's sentence to be vacated. There is a narrow range of cases where a court can look beyond the legal requirements, and instead examine the factual bases for a conviction to determine if it was a crime of violence. But here, exploring the underlying facts was in error because the prior conviction did not require the factfinder to make a determination that there was a crime of violence so the modified categorical approach cannot be used.

Defense Attorney: Thomas W. Patton

4. United States v. Husmann, Third Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury of three counts of distributing child pornography after Appellant placed images in a shared computer folder connected to a file sharing network. At trial, the government did not present evidence that any person had downloaded or obtained those images. The mere placement of images into a folder, making those images available to users of the file sharing network, does not constitute distribution. Appellant's conviction was therefore vacated.

Defense Attorneys: Theodore C. Forrence, Jr., Kenneth C. Edelin, Jr.

5. United States v. Foster, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 622 months' imprisonment for two counts of drug possession, two counts of firearm possession, one count of drug distribution, and one count of conspiracy. One of the drug possession charges as well as one firearm possession counts were vacated because they were in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Those two counts duplicate other counts for which Appellant was convicted and sentenced.

Defense Attorney: Frederick Liu

6. United States v. Miller, Sixth Circuit: A jury found Appellants guilty of hate crimes after a string of assaults in Amish communities where the Appellants would cut the hair of members of their Amish community. During trial, the court gave a jury instruction requiring the jury to find that the faith of the victims must be a "significant factor" in motivating the assaults. The convictions must be vacated and Appellants retried because the instruction should have required the jury to find that the faith of the victims was a "but for" cause of the assaults.

Defense Attorneys: Michael E. Rosman, Matthew D. Ridings, Wendi L. Overmyer, Rhonda L. Kotnik, John R. Mithcell, Kip T. Bollin, Holly H. Little, Mark R. Butscha, Jr., David C. Jack, George C. Pappas, Brian M. Pierce, Joseph A. Dubyak, Samuel G. Amendolara, Steven R. Jaeger, Robert E. Duffrin, Rhys . Cartwright-Jones, Damian A. Billak, J. Dean Carro, Wesley A. Dumas, Sr., James S. Gentile, Nathan A. Ray, and Gary H. Levine

7. United States v. Prater, Sixth Circuit: A conviction for third-degree burglary under New York law is not a "violent felony" for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The district court's determination that these were violent felonies without applying the modified categorical approach was in error. The sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

8. United States v. Chapman, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of drug trafficking by a jury. The district court erroneously admitted details of Appellant's prior drug-trafficking conviction under Rule 404(b). The judge allowed the government to use that evidence to prove knowledge and intent, but the relevance of the evidence depended entirely on a forbidden propensity inference. Appellant's conviction was vacated and remanded for a new trial.

9. United States v. Gonzalez, Seventh Circuit: Appellants were members of the Almighty Latin Kings Nation gang and most pled guilty to various charges, although one went to trial. Appellant Anaya, who was found guilty at trial, must be resentenced because the district court increased a statutory maximum based on facts that were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the sentencing guidelines should have reflected a maximum of 20 years as opposed to 30.

10. United States v. Johnson, Seventh Circuit: At sentencing, the district court did not announce a term of supervised release, but one was incorporated in the court's written amended judgment. The conditions of supervised release which were not orally announced at sentencing were vacated and the case remanded for the district court to clarify conditions of the supervised release.

11. United States v. Fowlkes, Ninth Circuit: The forcible removal of drugs from Appellant's rectum during a body cavity search, without medical training or a warrant, violated Appellant's Fourth Amendment rights. The evidence obtained from that brutal and physically invasive search should have been suppressed. The conviction predicated on the drugs was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Thomas P. Sleisenger

12. United States v. Luis, Ninth Circuit: The district court erred in calculating the loss amount after Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy and loan fraud. The district court erred by calculating the restitution amount based on the unpaid principal loan balance rather than the value of the loans when they were purchased.

Defense Attorney: Todd W. Burns

13. United States v. Nora, Ninth Circuit: The district court's denial of a motion to suppress was reversed. Although Appellant's arrest was supported by probable cause, it violated the Fourth Amendment because officers physically took Appellant into custody in his front yard by surrounding his house and ordering him out at gunpoint. All evidence seized in the search incident to arrest should have been suppressed, as should the statements made by Appellant's statements.

Defense Attorney: Michael J. Treman

14. Wharton v. Chappell, Ninth Circuit: The district court's denial of habeas was vacated and remanded for further factual proceedings to determine ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant's claim that his lawyer was ineffective for failing to investigate and present testimony by Appellant's half-brother that there was sexual abuse ubiquitous in Appellant's family could have merit as the jury may not have rendered a verdict of death. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Defense Attorneys: Marcia A. Morrissey and Lynne S. Coffin

August 27, 2014

Short Wins - The Late August Edition

It's been an interesting few weeks in the circuits (and, apologies for the gap in posting - pesky family vacations).

Probably my favorite is United States v. Mergen, about whether an FBI agent's statements that what the guy charged with a crime was doing were ok and legal were admissible. I tend to think FBI stings that take advantage of how weak the entrapment defense is are one of the more loathsome things our federal government does - any time you can poke holes in that I think it's a good thing.

Also of note is United States v. Bagdy - there, a guy who spent an inheritance on stuff that wasn't restitution, instead of restitution, didn't violate his supervised release conditions. Supervised release can be insane - especially when restitution is in play. Nice work for the Third Circuit in dialing it back.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Martinez, First Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 70 months' imprisonment. That sentence was vacated because the district court erred in applying a six-level sentencing enhancement for having previously committed a crime of violence. The First Circuit held that a conviction for assault and battery in Massachusetts is categorically not necessarily a crime of violence because it does not require proof of intent.

Defense Attorney: William W. Fick

2. United States v. Ramos, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of various child pornography charges, and as part of his supervised release, was forbidden from using a computer or the internet without permission and also was forbidden from having pornographic material. Those conditions were vacated because they are not reasonably related to Appellant's characteristics and history and thus deprive him of more liberty than is reasonably necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing.

Defense Attorney: Steven A. Feldman

3. United States v. Mergen, Second Circuit: Appellant's conviction under the Travel Act was vacated because the district court erred by excluding as hearsay a recording in which the FBI agent assured Appellant that he had done nothing wrong. The statements should not be excluded as hearsay where prior inconsistent statements are offered for impeachment, and the fact that some portions of the recording were inaudible was not a proper basis for exclusion under the authentication rule.

Defense Attorneys: Andrew J. Frisch and Jeremy B. Sporn

4. United States v. Bagdy, Third Circuit: The district court cannot revoke supervised release based on Appellant's purposeful dissipation of an inheritance he received instead of using the money to pay restitution he owed. While that conduct is reprehensible, it did not violate a specific condition of Appellant's supervised release. The judgment was vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorney: Candace Cain

5. United States v. Mark, Third Circuit: After being convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, Appellant was sentenced to 210 months' imprisonment. The court remanded for resentencing because the Court did not provide a basis for its findings on the amount of drugs attributable to Appellant and Appellant had disputed the amount as indicated in the PSR. The court's conclusory statements were insufficient since the amount to attribute was in dispute.

Defense Attorney: Pamela L. Colon

6. United States v. McLaurin, Fourth Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated because his criminal history calculation included two common law robbery convictions when Appellant was 16. Because this miscalculation was plain error, the case was remanded for resentencing with a lower sentencing range.

Defense Attorneys: Joshua B. Carpenter, Lawrence W. Hewitt, and Henderson Hill

7. United States v. Juarez-Velasquez, Fifth Circuit: Appellant's probation revocation was reversed and vacated because his supervised release expired prior to the date the Probation Office petitioned the court for revocation, depriving the court of jurisdiction. Tolling a term of supervised release is appropriate only when Appellant was imprisoned in connection to a criminal conviction, and Appellant's imprisonment was only while he was awaiting trial for charges for which he was acquitted.

8. United States v. Hackett, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury of various gang-related, weapons, and drug offenses as well as a RICO conspiracy charge and was sentenced to 440 months' imprisonment. The mandatory-minimum sentence on a firearms count was imposed in violation of Alleyne--because the indictment did not allege that Appellant discharged the weapon--and therefore Appellant's sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: David L. Doughten

9. United States v. Noble, Sixth Circuit: During their trial for various drug trafficking charges, Appellants moved to suppress evidence obtained from a frisk during a traffic stop. The decision to perform the frisk was based solely on: 1) a passenger acting extremely nervous; 2) the DEA task force told the officer that the vehicle was suspected to be involved in drug trafficking; and 3) the idea that subjects involved in drug trafficking often carry a weapon to protect themselves. That was not enough to amount to a reasonable suspicion so the convictions were vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Frederick J. Anderson, Charles P. Gore, and Katherine A. Crytzer

10. United States v. Tomlinson, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Appellant timely raised his Batson challenge before the jury was sworn and the trial commenced, so the case was remanded for a Batson hearing. The Sixth Circuit held that a Batson challenge does not have to happen contemporaneously for each stricken juror.

Defense Attorney: Valentine C. Darker

11. United States v. Toviave, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of forced labor for requiring his young relatives to cook, clean, and do household chores. The Court found that Appellant's behavior was reprehensible, but did not amount to forced labor. Requiring a child to do chores cannot possibly amount to forced labor, and physically punishing children for failing to perform those chores does not change the nature of the work from chores into forced labor. His conviction was therefore vacated.

Defense Attorney: Christopher Keleher

12. Socha v. Boughton, Seventh Circuit: The district court abused its discretion when it rejected Petitioner's equitable tolling argument when requesting habeas relief. Although he failed to file his petition within the given time limits, equity required that the deadline be forgiven. Petitioner faced many difficulties in filing his petition, none of which were his fault, including his inability to obtain his case file for almost a year from the public defender despite numerous requests.

13. United States v. Adame-Hernandez, Seventh Circuit: The district court withdrew Appellant's guilty plea over his objection. This violated the procedures of Rule 11 which allows a district court to reject a plea agreement and then allow Appellant to either stand by the plea or withdraw it. It was an abuse of discretion for the court to make that choice for Appellant. The court also erred in believing Appellant had breached the plea agreement.

14.United States v. Domnenko, Seventh Circuit: A 14-point sentencing enhancement was not sufficiently explained or supported and therefore required remand. Appellants were convicted of fraud, but a conviction for their involvement does not necessarily mean that all economic damages were reasonably foreseeable.

15. United States v. Jones, Seventh Circuit: The sentences for three Appellants were vacated and remanded for resentencing. Jones' request to be sentenced under the Fair Sentencing Act was erroneously denied. Mockabee was sentenced under a more recent version of the sentencing guidelines which resulted in a higher guidelines range than the previous version. Drake's sentence was also vacated and remanded for resentencing because the jury failed to make specific findings regarding drug quantities which increased the mandatory minimum. All three must be resentenced.

16. United States v. Moore, Seventh Circuit: A jury convicted Appellant of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence but was unable to reach a verdict on the predicate violent crime itself. The conviction was vacated because the trial court solicited a partial verdict form the jury before the jurors indicated that no further deliberations would be useful. Because this could have resulted in a premature verdict, the conviction must be vacated.

17. United States v. Walton, Seventh Circuit: The trial court's denial of Appellant's motion to suppress was in error. Appellant had Fourth Amendment standing despite the fact that he was a parolee because parolees do not receive fewer constitutional protections based on their status. Further, the person who is listed on a rental agreement for a rental car does possess an expectation of privacy that enables him to challenge a search under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the denial of the suppression motion was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

18. United States v. Zheng, Seventh Circuit: After pleading guilty to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to misuse Social Security numbers and commit passport fraud, Appellant was sentenced to 61 months in prison. A two-level sentencing enhancement for fraudulent use of a foreign passport was applied. The case was remanded for resentencing because the application of the enhancement would double-count conduct that was already considered in the aggravated identity theft conviction and therefore was improper.

19. Franco v. United States, Eighth Circuit: After pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, Appellant was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment. Appellant filed a habeas petition arguing that his sentence should be vacated because his attorney failed to file a requested notice of appeal. The district court erred by denying the habeas petition without an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Appellant had asked his attorney to file an appeal. The denial of the petition was reversed and remanded.

20. Colwell v. Bannister, Ninth Circuit: The district court's grant of summary judgment was reversed in a §1983 claim. The Nevada Department of Corrections' categorical denial of Petitioner's request to have cataract surgery amounted to deliberate indifference when it was based on an administrative policy that one eye was good enough for prison inmates. The case was remanded for trial.

Defense Attorneys: Mason Boling, Lauren Murphy, Dustin E. Buehler, Michelle King, Joy Nissen, and Gregory C. Sisk

21. Hernandez v. Spearman, Ninth Circuit: The district court erred in failing to apply the prison mailbox rule when dismissing Petitioner's habeas corpus petition as untimely. The mailbox rule applies when a pro se habeas petitioner gives his petition to a third party to mail from within the prison.

Defense Attorney: Tony Faryar Farmani

22. Nordstrom v. Ryan, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's allegations that prison officials violated his constitutional rights when they read a confidential letter to his lawyer should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim. Petitioner stated a Sixth Amendment claim by alleging that officials read his legal mail, claimed entitlement to do so, and his right to private consultation with counsel had been chilled. Those allegations also supported Petitioner's claim for injunctive relief. The district court's dismissal was reversed.

Defense Attorneys: Michelle King, Joy Nissen, Gregory C. Sisk, Mason Boling, Lauren E. Murphy, and Dustin E. Buehler.

23. United States v. JDT, Juvenile Male, Ninth Circuit: The adjudications of delinquency for six counts of aggravated sexual abuse were vacated and remanded for reconsideration. The district court abused its discretion in denying Appellant's requests to suspend his status as a juvenile delinquent because the court did not weigh the factors bearing on suspension.

Defense Attorney: Keith J. Hilzendeger

24. United States v. Mageno, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine was reversed because the prosecutors made several factual misstatements in closing arguments which encouraged the jury to convict Appellant based on evidence not presented at trial. The Ninth Circuit determined that there was a reasonable probability that the misstatements affected the outcome of Appellant's trial.

Defense Attorney: Mace J. Yampolsky

25. United States v. Hale, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of making a materially false statement under oath in a bankruptcy case. That conviction cannot stand where the questions giving rise to the allegation were ambiguous and the answers provided by Appellant may have been valid under one interpretation of the questions asked. That conviction was reversed.

Defense Attorney: Joseph Alexander Little, IV

26. United States v. Roy, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant's conviction for possession of child pornography was vacated and the case remanded for a new trial because the trial court allowed the government to elicit testimony and evidence even though defense counsel was not in the courtroom. This was a violation to Appellant's 6th Amendment right to counsel because the government was allowed to examine its computer forensics expert witness and admit inculpatory evidence (pictures) even though defense counsel was not in the courtroom.

August 1, 2014

Short Wins - the Entrapment Edition

It is rare and wonderful to see an entrapment opinion. And United States v. Kopstein fits the bill.

In other news, I was on TV last night talking about the trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. If you're interested, here's a clip (I start at about 2:15).

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Kopstein, Second Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury of transporting and shipping child pornography. During trial, Appellant's sole defense was entrapment. The conviction was vacated and the case remanded because the jury instruction on entrapment failed to consistently and adequately guide the jury. Here, a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of possession would allow the jury to return a verdict of guilty on the transporting and shipping charge, even if the jury found Appellant not guilty of possession. This was confusing because it would allow the jury to render a verdict of guilty on the greater offense even if the prosecution had failed to prove a necessary part of its case (the lesser offense).

Defense Attorney: Norman Trabulus

2. United States v. Caldwell, Third Circuit: Appellant's conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm was vacated because the district court improperly admitted evidence of Appellant's prior convictions for unlawful firearm possession. Because the government's theory of the case was only for actual possession, and therefore knowledge was not at issue, knowledge was not a proper reason to admit the prior prejudicial convictions under Rule 404(b).

3. United States v. Mohamed, Seventh Circuit: A jury convicted Appellant of one count of knowingly transporting and possessing contraband cigarettes. The Seventh Circuit interpreted Indian's cigarette tax law as not applying to cigarettes merely possessed in Indiana. Since cigarettes simply passing through the state in interstate commerce do not have to bear Indiana tax stamps, the government failed to bear its burden to prove sale, use, consumption, handling, or distribution within Indiana and Appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal should have been granted.

4. United States v. Daniels, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit vacated Appellant's sentence and remanded for resentencing after his supervised release was revoked. It was plain error for the district court not to offer Appellant an opportunity to speak before it imposed a post-revocation sentence.

Defense Attorneys: K. Elizabeth Dahlstrom, Sean K. Kennedy, Brianna Fuller Mircheff

July 29, 2014

Lying Isn't Always Fraud - the Sixth Circuit Sends A Case Back Because Buying Drugs From a Drug Distributor Is What The Drug Distributor Wants

Lester and Nancy Sadler, a husband and wife, ran a series of pain management clinics in Ohio.

As the Sixth Circuit explained, "these were not conventional plain clinics." For example, at one clinic

patients would arrive well before it opened, filling the clinic's parking lot and the lots of nearby businesses. While waiting for the clinic to open, the patients used drugs and traded prescription forms for cash in the parking lots. The patients often traveled long distances (and in large groups) to come to the Sadlers' shops, sometimes as much as 316 miles in a roundtrip, even though most of the patients lived much closer to other clinics.

pills-out-of-bottle-1394618-m.jpgIt's impressive to have a client base that loyal. Many businesses would do a lot to be known as the company that folks would travel many miles to visit.

How did the pain management clinics distinguish themselves? Perhaps it was their service. Here's how the Sixth Circuit described what happened when patients got inside the clinic:

After paying their $150 appointment fee (cash only), they met an "assessor" who would review the patients' healthfacts "day sheet" and hand the patients an already completed prescription form. Clinic staff sometimes filled out these day sheets and prescription forms weeks in advance, pulling the content from the patients' last day sheet and prescription and altering them slightly to make sure they didn't look the same. Patients then stepped into an office, where they met the doctor for a minute or two. After that, they left the clinic (some "almost skipping," reported one witness) with a signed prescription for a fresh supply of hydrocodone, oxycodone or other pain medications in hand. As many as 100 people per day completed this "five minute[]" process of assessment and prescription

With customers leaving your office "almost skipping" you can see why people would drive from miles around. What business wouldn't want such a reaction?

Though, as it happens, the Sadler's clinics may have gone too far in their quest for client service. You know you've crossed a line when you start making up clients to help. That's not good customer service; that's hubris.

The clinics also treated phantom patients. Each month, Nancy would announce to the clinic staff that "it was time to do the charts," meaning it was time to update the medical treatment files for a long list of people who had never set foot in the clinics. R. 326 at 35. The Sadlers used the names of family members for these charts. Lester's dad had a chart, as did two of the Sadlers' children, Kyle and Levi, though none of them ever needed the clinics' services. Staff members would then write prescriptions for these non-existent patients, the doctor would sign the prescriptions, and clinic staff would fill the prescriptions at a local pharmacy. The pain pills found their way to David Michael Journey, a relative of the Sadlers and an occasional clinic employee, who sold the pills on the street at a significant profit.

Doubtless Mr. Journey's clients were also happy with his service, but at that point the business does seem to be shifting from its retail base into wholesaling. It's a too common journey - a company gets good at one thing, then wants to expand into something it has no business doing - like when J. Peterman opened stores. (Because, of course, the whole point of J. Peterman was the catalog? If you see they're stuff in a store you know its just overpriced cloth)

At some point, unfortunately, the DEA began to think that the Sadler's pain clinics were not completely in compliance with all applicable regulations. And, to make things worse, some of those regulations were found in Title 18 of the United States Code.

The Sadlers were charged with a number of controlled substances offenses. And Nancy Sadler was charged with wire fraud and money laundering.

After a trial, the jury found them both guilty of most of the controlled substances charges and found Nancy Sadler guilty of wire fraud and money laundering.

Lester was sentenced to 151 months, and Nancy was sentenced to 210 months.

Though, on appeal, the Sixth Circuit, in United States v. Sadler, reversed Nancy's conviction on the wire fraud count. It's a cool issue - here's what happened.

First, to prove wire fraud, the government has to prove that Nancy "knowingly used an interstate wire communication to further a scheme to defraud [someone] of their money or property."

The government argued that the "someone" here are the drug companies that distrubute the drugs that Nancy, in turn, distributed. There's no question that Nancy lied to the drug companies - the only interesting issue is whether she deprived them of property.

The government says she did - after all, the don't have the pills anymore. The Sixth Circuit smacks it down. Here's how:

The government's opening bid offers this answer: Nancy deprived the distributors of their pills. Well, yes, in one sense: The pills were gone after the transaction. But paying the going rate for a product does not square with the conventional understanding of "deprive." Cleveland, 531 U.S. at 19; Webster's Third New International Dictionary 606 (2002). Stealing the pills would be one thing; paying full price for them is another. Case law reinforces that the conventional meaning of "deprive" applies in the fraud context. To be guilty of fraud, an offender's "purpose must be to injure," Horman v. United States, 116 F. 350, 352 (6th Cir. 1902), a common-law root of the federal fraud statutes, see Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1, 21-25 (1999); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 531 ("One who makes a fraudulent misrepresentation is subject to liability . . . for pecuniary losses suffered."). Nancy may have had many unflattering motives in mind in buying the pills, but unfairly depriving the distributors of their property was not one of them. As to the wire-fraud count, she ordered pills and paid the distributors' asking price, nothing more.

Lying isn't always fraud.

July 22, 2014

Short Wins - the Shameless Promotion Edition

Remember back with this blog was more than just Short Wins? Remember when there were long and loving descriptions of cases?

I still aspire to get back to that vision for the blog - that was fun. Seriously, look for more long write-ups soon. I've been distracted by writing for Above the Law (here is a link to my columns (I particularly like the one about cannibalism)) and my day job as a practicing lawyer.

But, if you're jonesing for those long write-ups again, thanks to the good people at James Publishing, you can now read them in one handy-dandy book. It has the jazzy title Criminal Defense Victories in the Federal Circuits. Or you could just read the archives.

In other self-promoting news, the ABA's annual list of best blogs is open for nominations. Here's the link. It would be nice if you'd say something nice about this blog, but don't feel like you have to.

To the Victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Flores-Mejia, Third Circuit: The court vacated Appellant's sentence after being convicted of reentry after deportation. The Third Circuit, however, used the opportunity to change its current law and now requires a party to object to procedural errors during the sentencing proceeding once that error is evident, otherwise it is not preserved. Because the new rule cannot apply retroactively, Appellant's case was remanded.

Defense Attorney: Robert Epstein

2. Hurst v. Joyner, Fourth Circuit: The district court improperly denied a petition for habeas corpus. The Fourth Circuit remanded for an evidentiary hearing where a juror communicated with her father during the penalty phase of Appellant's capital murder trial. At her father's suggestion, the juror read a section in the Bible about "an eye for an eye," and then voted in favor of the death penalty the following day. An evidentiary hearing was necessary to determine whether that communication had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury's verdict.

Defense Attorney: Robert Hood Hale

3. United States v. Garrett, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 151 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Although that sentence was at the bottom of Appellant's guidelines, the Sixth Circuit determined that Appellant was eligible for resentencing because his sentence was based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission. Appellant's initial Guidelines range was 151 to 188 months, but after the Guidelines Amendment, it would be 120 to 137 months.

Defense Attorneys: Bradley R. Hall and James Gerometta

4. Townsend v. Cooper, Seventh Circuit: Appellant sued a number of officials at his correctional facility and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Appellees. The court determined, taken in the light most favorable to Appellant, that Appellant raised genuine issues of material fact about whether he had a liberty interest in avoiding transfer to more restrictive prison conditions, which would require procedural due process. Because there was not appropriate notice or an opportunity to be heard, the district court's grant of summary judgment was vacated and remanded.

5. United States v. Harden, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and Appellant agreed to allow a magistrate judge perform he plea colloquy. Taking and accepting guilty pleas in felony cases is not one of the enumerated duties of magistrate judges and was determined by the Seventh Circuit to be both important and dispositive. Therefore, magistrate judges are not authorized to accept guilty pleas in felony cases, even if both parties would consent.

6. United States v. Sheth, Seventh Circuit: After pleading guilty to health care fraud, the district court entered an order of criminal forfeiture for cash and investment accounts then valued at about $13 million plus real estate and a vehicle. The forfeited assets would be credited against his $12,376,310 restitution. The government then sought further assets to apply to restitution and the district court ordered Appellant to turn over those assets. The turnover order was vacated and remanded for discovery and an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the first set of forfeited assets was sufficient to cover the restitution order.

7. United States v. Doering, Eighth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to tampering with evidence and was sentenced to 90 months' imprisonment and ordered to pay $45,382.88 in restitution. The restitution order was vacated and remanded because Appellant's plea agreement did not list, as required, that an offense listed in the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act gave rise to the plea agreement. Without that specific, mandatory term, restitution under the MVRA was unauthorized.

8. United States v. Howard, Eighth Circuit: The order of restitution against Appellant was vacated because the calculation improperly included losses from dates preceding the relevant conduct of Appellant's extortion conviction. The losses arose outsides of the dates listed in the indictment.

9. United States v. Nguyen, Eighth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for knowingly shipping, transporting, receiving, possessing, selling, and distributing contraband cigarettes was reversed because there was insufficient evidence. Specifically, the government had no evidence that Appellant was aware of any applicable sales taxes on the cigarettes; the government had no evidence as to Appellant's knowing violation of the statute.

10. United States v. Thomas, Eighth Circuit: Appellants was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The case was remanded because the district court's oral sentence was ambiguous about the sentencing guidelines range on which the Appellant's sentence as based. On appeal, that ambiguity made it impossible to determine if the district court committed procedural error.

11. United States v. Gonzalez, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit remanded Petitioner's case with instructions to grant the writ of habeas corpus based on the prosecution's failure to disclose Brady material that would have impeached the credibility of a critical witness. The California Court of Appeal's decision that Petitioner had not established that the evidence was newly discovered was an unreasonable determination of the facts. The court held that the California Court of Appeal's requirement of due diligence was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

Defense Attorney: John Lanahan

12. Wood v. Ryan, Ninth Circuit: The district court improperly denied Appellant's request for a preliminary injunction delaying his execution, which was scheduled for July 23, 2014. Appellant presented claimed that Department of Corrections violated his First Amendment rights by denying him information regarding the method of his execution. Because Appellant presented serious questions to the merits of the claim, and because the balance of hardships tips in his favor, the preliminary injunction should have been granted

13. United States v. Charles, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to charges relating to a conspiring to use unauthorized access devices. Appellant's sentence was vacated because the district court committed legal error when it included a two-level sentence increase for trafficking in unauthorized access devices (for example, a prepaid debit card). Because Appellant was convicted of aggravated identity theft as well, the district court was precluded from considering any specific offense characteristic for the transfer, possession, or use of a means of identification when determining the sentence for the underlying offense.

14. United States v. Estrella, Eleventh Circuit: As part of his sentence for illegal reentry, Appellant's received a sentencing enhancement for a crime of violence based on his prior conviction for wantonly or maliciously throwing, hurling, or projecting a missile, stone, or other hard substance at an occupied vehicle. Under the categorical approach, the Eleventh Circuit determined that a conviction for that crime does not necessarily involve proof of the use, attempt, or threat of force. Therefore, the crime of violence enhancement was improper.

15. Bahlul v. United States, D.C. Circuit: Hamdan II held that there cannot be retroactive prosecution for conduct committed before the Military Commissions Act of 2006 unless that conduct was already prohibited under existing U.S. law as a war crime triable by a military commission. But that understand was contrary to the statutory wording, which allowed for the prosecution of any crimes. The D.C. Circuit, applying an ex post facto analysis, determined that Appellant's conviction for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes were not previously offenses that were triable by a military commission, so the convictions were vacated.

Defense Attorneys: Michel Paradis, Mary R. McCormick, and Todd E. Pierce

July 6, 2014

Short Wins - the Presentment Delay Issue

It's a relatively slow week in the federal circuits.

My favorite case of the last week is United States v. Torres Pimental. You've got to love a suppression motion being granted off of a government delay in presentment.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Spann, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 97 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute. The sentence was reversed because the judge failed to justify the sentence. The reasoning for the top-of-the-guidelines sentence was improper because it would in essence equate to every drug trafficker being sentenced at the top of the guidelines unless there are unusual circumstances justifying a reduction.

2. United States v. Lopez Martinez, Eighth Circuit: The Eighth Circuit held that a district court, when performing a modified categorical analysis to determine whether a prior state conviction qualifies for a sentencing enhancement, may not rely upon allegations in a superseded indictment to which the defendant did not plead guilty. Appellant's sentence was reversed because his conviction for solicitation to commit "misconduct involving weapons" should not have qualified as a firearms offense under the Sentencing Guidelines.

3. United States v. Lopez-Chavez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for illegal reentry was reversed and the case remanded for dismissal of the indictment. The Ninth Circuit decided Appellant's counsel was ineffective where counsel conceded removability of Appellant base on a prior conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and for failing to pursue appellant proceedings that the BIA had announced could result in a holding that Appellant's conviction did not constitute a removable offense. The prior conviction covers conduct that may fit under either the felony or misdemeanor provisions of the Controlled Substances Act and thus is not necessarily a removable offense.

Defense Attorney: Harini P. Raghupathi

4. United States v. Torres Pimental, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for importing marijuana was vacated after the Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress. A four-day delay in presenting Appellant to a magistrate was unreasonable and unnecessary so the statements Appellant made to a federal agent forty-eight hours after arrest, but before he was presented to a magistrate, must be suppressed.

Defense Attorney: Zandra L. Lopez

5. United States v. Medina-Copete, Tenth Circuit: Appellants' convictioins of drug trafficking charges were vacated and remanded. During trial, the district court allowed expert testimony (by a law enforcement officer) on certain religious iconography which purported to prove that the occupants of the vehicle were aware of the presence of drugs. The witness was also allowed to render theological opinions about the legitimacy of religious icons vis-à-vis other venerated figures. Testimony about the connection between a religious icon and drug trafficking was improper under Daubert and Kumho.

Defense Attorneys: Kevin Nault, Amy Sirignano, Kari Converse, and Joseph W. Gandert

6. United States v. Smith, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of two counts of robbery and two counts of using a gun during and in relation to those crimes of violence. During sentencing the trial court ignored the sentence it had imposed for the gun charges when determining the sentence for the robbery charges. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding it inappropriate to categorically disregard a sentence for a gun conviction when sentencing for a related crime.

Defense Attorneys: O. Dean Sanderford and Warren R. Williamson

June 30, 2014

Short Wins - the Seventh Circuit Draws a Line on Supervised Release

There's been a lot in the circuits in the last week, but perhaps the most surprising bit is that the Seventh Circuit issued four opinions on supervised release conditions.

Supervised release may not be the sexiest of issues, but, especially in child pornography cases, it matters a lot. I'm not sure what's in the water in Chicago, but whatever it is reaffirms that these conditions need to be narrowly tailored and properly justified.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Ganias, Second Circuit: Following a jury trial, Appellant was convicted for tax evasion. That conviction was vacated because the district court erred in denying a motion to suppress personal computer records. Those records were retained by the Government for more than two-and-a-half years after Appellant's computer was copied pursuant to a search warrant. This unauthorized retention of personal files violated Appellant's Fourth Amendment rights.

Defense Attorneys: Stanley A. Twardy, Jr. and Daniel E. Wenner

2. United States v. Adepoju, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft and sentenced to 70 months' imprisonment. During sentencing, Appellant was given a sentencing enhancement for sophisticated means. Completing paperwork to open a bank account in another's name, including obtaining that personal information via internet searched, did not constitute sophisticated means, so the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: John O. Iweanoge, II

3. United States v. Henriquez, Fourth Circuit: The Fourth Circuit determined that first degree burglary in Maryland did not constitute a generic burglary and therefore does not qualify as a crime of violence under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Appellant's sentence was reversed because he received a sentencing enhancement for having committed a crime of violence.

Defense Attorneys: Paresh S. Patel and James Wyda

4. United States v. Blevins, Fifth Circuit: Appellant received a sentencing enhancement for having a prior felony drug conviction. In order to apply that enhancement, the Government was required to serve notice on Appellant. The Government's service of such information under a first indictment was insufficient when that indictment was dismissed and the Government then filed a second, separate indictment. The notice must be served as part of the prosecution to which the sentencing is connected, so the case was remanded for further proceedings.

5. United States v. Escobedo, Fifth Circuit: During trial, the Government introduced evidence of Appellant's withdrawn guilty plea and related inculpatory statements. Appellant withdrew the guilty plea prior to its acceptance by the district court and proceeded to trial instead. The plea included a waiver of Appellant's ability to challenge the introduction of his withdrawn guilty plea and related inculpatory statements. Because the plea was ambiguous about whether that waiver took effect immediately or only upon the acceptance of the plea, the case was reversed and remanded.

6. United States v. Mackay, Fifth Circuit: After pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Because of a clerical error, Appellant's PSR and judgment listed cocaine instead of marijuana. Appellant filed a motion to correct that error. The refusal to correct the PSR was reversed. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the PSR is a part of the record under Rule 36 and because the BOP uses the PSR for classification and designation, the error was not harmless.

7. United States v. Rodriguez-Lopez, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The district court applied a three-level sentencing enhancement for his managerial or supervisor role in the drug conspiracy. On appeal, the Court vacated and remanded for resentencing because there was no evidence that Appellant had exercised supervisory control over other members of the conspiracy, nor was he involved in the planning of operations of the organization. Instead, he only recruited another to purchase firearms, and that person recruited others. That involvement was insufficient to prove a managerial position for the sentencing enhancement.

8. United States v. Baker, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty for failing to register as a sex offender and was sentenced to 77 months' imprisonment followed by a life term of supervised release. The judge also imposed eight special conditions of supervised release. The life term of supervised release was vacated because the judge improperly calculated the guidelines and failed to provide for any justification for exceeding the correct 5-year guidelines term. Three special conditions were also vacated because they were not reasonably tailored or properly defined. Finally, the order was deficient in failing to account for Appellant's potential inability to pay for some of the required treatment and tests of his supervision.

9. United States v. Benhoff, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to knowingly transporting and shipping child pornography and, along with his sentence, was given special conditions of supervised release. The court's order on two of the special conditions was remanded sot that the trial court can narrowly tailor them. The trial court must clarify what materials are "sexually stimulating" as well as narrow the scope of the no contact with minors order so it does not block Appellant's access to protected speech.

10. United States v. Farmer, Seventh Circuit: Once again, the Seventh Circuit vacated the special conditions of Appellant's supervised release and remanded for further consideration. In this case, the special conditions bore no reasonably direct relationship to Appellant's underlying crime. Appellant pled to attempted extortion and using interstate communications in that attempt. The two conditions--a prohibition on self-employment and a requirement that Appellant submit to a search of his person, vehicle, office, residence, and property without a warrant--were not reasonably related to his convictions.

11. United States v. Garrett, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's sentencing guidelines were miscalculated after his drug offense conviction. The court did not clearly state the drug quantity that it found attributable to Appellant or adequately indicate the evidence it found reliable in determining Appellant's relevant conduct. Appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

12. Henderson v. Ghosh, Seventh Circuit: Appellant, a prisoner, filed suit against health care providers and corrections employees alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs. During litigation, Appellant's motions for recruitment of counsel were denied. Only once the defendants filed a summary judgment motion was Appellant's motion for recruitment of counsel granted. This trial court did not properly assess Appellant's competence to litigate his claims, which was only exacerbated by his incarceration. In addition, the factual and legal complexity of the claims necessitated the appointment of counsel in this case.

13. United States v. Glover, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's motion to suppress guns, drugs, and paraphernalia seized from his home pursuant to a search warrant was improperly denied. The search warrant had no information regarding the informant's credibility, which undermined the magistrate's ability to be a neutral arbiter of probable cause. The complete absence of that information was sufficient to raise an inference of reckless disregard for the truth, which warranted reversal.

14. United States v. Johnson, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's special condition of supervised release which required him to participate in sex offender treatment was not supported. Appellant's only sex-related offense was a misdemeanor conviction fifteen years before sentencing in the immediate case. That condition of supervised release was therefore vacated.

15. United States v. Nelson, Eighth Circuit: Appellant's currency was seized pursuant to a lawful traffic stop, where Appellant was found to be carrying a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia. Appellant had gathered the currency in advance of a road trip from his own savings account, stock dividends, and family. Despite the legitimate sources of the currency, the government instituted a forfeiture proceeding claiming that the currency was substantially connected to drug trafficking. The trial court's ruling allowing the forfeiture was reversed because the Government failed to prove that Appellant was planning to purchase and transport large amounts of drugs and other evidence indicated that Appellant was not engaged in trafficking.

16. United States v. Aguilera-Rios, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for illegal reentry was reversed. The Ninth Circuit found that Appellant's removal order was invalid because it was based on a conviction under the California Penal Code which was not a categorical match for the federal firearms aggravated felony.

Defense Attorney: Kara Hartzler

17. United States v. Jackson, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit reversed Appellant's conviction for unlawfully manufacturing or possessing an identification card of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States. No rational fact-finder could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the fake card Appellant was "of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States," because the card was created by the maintenance center at a Marine Corps base and Appellant created a copy of the card previously issued to him because he constantly lost his actual card.

Defense Attorney: Davina T. Chen

18. Boyd v. United States, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant's fourth §2255 motion was dismissed as successive. That dismissal was reversed because the term "successive" does not refer to all habeas petitions filed second or successively in time. Instead, it bars only motions which could have been raised in a claim for relief in an earlier motion but were not. Appellant's three previous §2255 motions did not render the fourth successive because the wrong which he now asserts was not obvious until 2003 and the first §2255 motion was in 2001. The second and third §2255 motions were not decided on the merits and therefore did not make this motion successive either.

19. United States v. Dougherty, Eleventh Circuit: Two Appellants' sentences of 428 months were vacated. The trial court improperly applied six-level sentencing enhancements for assaulting a police officer during immediate flight from an offense. The Eleventh Circuit determined that "immediate flight" did not encompass the assault on a police officer which occurred eight days after the flight began. That is, continuing flight does not qualify as immediate flight.

June 16, 2014

Short Wins - The Immunity Edition

Today's featured defense victory is United States v. Barefoot, which deals with a kind of surprising course of conduct in the Fourth Circuit. In Barefoot, a person gave information to the government to help them investigate other crimes. The information was given on the condition that the information not be used to prosecute him. The government broke that condition.

Happily though, the Fourth Circuit enforced it.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Guzman-Montanez, First Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 60 months imprisonment after being convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm in a school zone. The latter conviction was reversed because the government's evidence was insufficient to prove that Appellant knew or should have known he was in a school zone. Even though the parties stipulated the distance between the location of Appellant and the school, the distance alone is insufficient to establish knowledge.

Defense Attorneys: Víctor J. González-Bothwell, Héctor E. Guzmán-Silva, Jr., Héctor L. Ramos-Vega, and Liza L. Rosado-Rodríguez

2. United States v. Barefoot, Fourth Circuit: Two of Appellant's six convictions were reversed. In a prior case, Appellant provided the government information as part of a plea agreement. In return, the government promised not to use that information in any subsequent prosecution against Appellant, but it did just that. The convictions on those charges were therefore reversed.

Defense Attorney: Joseph Edward Zeszotarski, Jr.

3. United States v. Hairston, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to possession with intent to distribute narcotics and sentenced to 324 months imprisonment. In calculating the guidelines, the court determined Appellant had a category IV criminal history. Subsequent to the conviction, one of Appellant's prior convictions was vacated and Appellant filed a habeas corpus petition. That petition was dismissed by the district court because Appellant had previously filed other habeas petitions. That decision was reversed on appeal because this new motion was not successive and should therefore be considered.

Defense Attorneys: Stephanie D. Taylor and Lawrence D. Rosenberg

4. United States v. Martin, Fourth Circuit: After pleading guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Appellant was sentenced to 77 months in prison. That sentence is vacated because the district court erred in calculating the sentence. Appellant's prior conviction for fourth-degree burglary should not constitute a crime of violence under the sentencing guidelines.

Defense Attorneys: Paresh S. Patel. (go Paresh!)

5. United States v. Saafir, Fourth Circuit: Appellant entered a conditional guilty plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. That plea was reversed and vacated because the probable cause on which the search was based was tainted. Appellant's statements which provided probable cause were elicited in response to an officer's manifestly false assertion that he had probable cause and that the search would proceed with or without Appellant's consent.

Defense Attorneys: John Archibald Dusenbury, Jr. and Louis C. Allen

6. United States v. Garcia-Figueroa, Fifth Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated because the district court erred in its application of the grouping guidelines. Appellant's convictions for conspiracy to bring an alien into the United States and for bringing aliens into the United States were grouped, but a third count--illegal reentry of a deported alien--was not grouped. The Fifth Circuit determined that those offenses should be grouped because all are immigration crimes and the victim is therefore the same.

7. United States v. Hill, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was arrested while sitting in his car in front of his girlfriend's apartment. A police convoy drove through the parking lot and noticed Appellant's girlfriend get out of the car and walk briskly toward her apartment. These facts do not present articulable facts which would allow the officer to suspect that Appellant was engaged in criminal activity. The conviction and sentence were vacated because the seizure violated the Fourth Amendment under Terry v. Ohio, and the firearm should have been suppressed.

8. United States v. Jones, Fifth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for escaping from a halfway house was determined to be a crime of violence under the sentencing guidelines. The Fifth Circuit vacated Appellant's sentence because, unlike some other escape charges, leaving a halfway house does not require overcoming physical barriers or evading security, for example, and therefore does not present a serious potential risk of physical injury to others.

9. United States v. Wright, Fifth Circuit: On remand from the Supreme Court, the court vacated and remanded three cases because the restitution amount must comport with the relative role of the individual in the causal process that underlies the victim's general losses.

10. United States v. Davis, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 262 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to distribution and possession of child pornography. In calculating that sentence, the trial court erred by applying mandatory statutory minimums. The trial court found that Appellant's 2002 conviction for attempted pandering triggered a sentencing enhancement. The sentencing enhancement is only triggered if the prior crime related to the possession or distribution of child pornography, and Appellant's conviction for attempted pandering did not qualify.

Defense Attorney: Jennifer E. Schwartz

11. United States v. Payton, Sixth Circuit: Appellant's 540-month sentence was vacated as unreasonable. The trial court's sentence was 23 years above the guidelines and 20 years above the government's recommendation. The Sixth Circuit reversed the sentence, citing the goal of reducing recidivism in conjunction with Appellant's age, and determined that the trial court did not provide an adequate explanation for such a departure.

Defense Attorney: Jeffrey P. Nunnari

12. Grandberry v. Smith, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's good time credits were reinstated because there was no evidence that he used prison computers without authorization. All of the work he performed was either at the direction of prison employees or with permission of an appropriate staff person.

13. United States v. Garcia, Seventh Circuit: Appellants were charged with violations under RICO. Appellant Zamora's case was remanded for resentencing because the trial court did not discuss the calculation of the sentencing guidelines nor did it provide an explanation for departing above the guidelines. Appellant Gutierrez's sentence was vacated because the trial court erred by failing to give Appellant credit for acceptance of responsibility.

14. United States v. McGill, Seventh Circuit: A jury found Appellant guilty of both distributing and possessing child pornography. At trial, an entrapment instruction was not provided to the jury. Appellant was charged after his friend, who was arrested for his involvement with child porngraphy, became an FBI informant. After weeks of pestering, Appellant allowed his friend to bring a USB flash drive and copy child pornography from Appellant's computer. Because of those facts, an entrapment instruction was necessary, so the case was reversed and remanded.

15. United States v. Purham, Seventh Circuit: The trial court improperly considered conduct, which occurred outside the charged date range, as relevant conduct during sentencing. The sentence was reversed and remanded for resentencing.

16. United States v. Siegel, Seventh Circuit: Appellants both challenge certain discretionary conditions of their supervised release. The cases were remanded for reconsideration of the overbroad and vague conditions. The Seventh Circuit used these cases as an opportunity to address broad issues with conditions of supervised release. A list of best practices was included in the opinion, which requires probation officers to provide thoughtful justification for each condition, judges to come to an independent conclusion about each condition, and extra clarity in defining the contours of each condition.

17. United States v. Collins, Eighth Circuit: After pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, Appellant was sentenced to 100 months' imprisonment. That sentence was vacated because the sentencing enhancement for assaulting a police officer was inappropriate. The court required that the assault occurred during the course of the offense or immediate flight therefrom. Appellant's attempt to stab a police officer with a pen after his arrest while being interviewed did not meet that requirement, so the case was remanded for resentencing.

18. United States v. Volpendesto, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of a number of racketeering and conspiracy crimes and was sentenced to prison. The court also entered a forfeiture judgment and ordered Appellant to pay $547,597 in criminal restitution. While his appeal was pending, Appellant died. Recognizing a split in other circuits, the Seventh Circuit joining the Fifth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, decided that Appellant' death mooted his case and abated the restitution order.

19. Roundtree v. United States, Eighth Circuit: The case was remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on Appellant's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence based on ineffective assistance of counsel. An evidentiary hearing is required unless the record conclusively establishes that the attorney's performance was not deficient or that Appellant suffered no prejudice from a deficient performance by the attorney. The Eighth Circuit found that the record was inconclusive about the quality of the trial attorney's performance, so an evidentiary hearing was required.

20. United States v. Aguilar, Eighth Circuit: Appellant's conviction was reversed and remanded because an alternate juror had been present during deliberations. After an initial remand to the trial court to inquire into the alternate's actual participation, the Eighth Circuit found that the alternate's participation prejudiced Appellant. This required reversal and further proceedings.

21. Dixon v. Williams, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's habeas corpus request challenging a jury instruction on self-defense should have been granted. The inaccurate jury instruction said that an honest but "reasonable" (instead of "unreasonable") belief in the necessity for self-defense does not negate malice and does not reduce the offense from murder to manslaughter. That error was not harmless because it reduced the State's burden.

Defense Attorneys: Randolph Fiedler, Debra A. Bookout, and Rene L. Valladares

22. George v. Edholm, Ninth Circuit: The district court's summary judgment in favor of the police officers was reversed. A doctor, forcibly and without Appellant's consent, removed a plastic bag containing cocaine base from plaintiff's rectum. A reasonable jury could conclude that police officers gave false information about Petitioner's medical condition with the intent of inducing the doctor to perform the search, so summary judgment was inappropriate. Further, if the procedures used by the doctor violated the Fourth Amendment, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity.

Defense Attorneys: Michael B. Kimberly and Charles Alan Rothfeld

23. United States v. Goldtooth, Ninth Circuit: Appellants' convictions for aiding and abetting a robbery on the Navajo Nation were reversed and remanded. The Ninth Circuit held that no rational juror could find that Appellants had the requisite advance knowledge that the robbery was to occur because the government presented no evidence that that taking of tobacco from the victim was anything but a spontaneous act. The government also did not prove the specific intent element for attempted robbery.

Defense Attorneys: Tyrone Mitchell and James S. Park

24. United States v. Guerrero-Jasso, Ninth Circuit: After pleading guilty to an information alleging that he reentered the country without authorization after being removed, Appellant received a 42-month sentence. The sentence was vacated and the case remanded because the trial court impermissibly relied on a fact that was neither admitted by the Appellant or found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This violated Apprendi and required resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Cynthia C. Lie

25. United States v. Brooks, Tenth Circuit: The trial court applied a sentencing enhancement for Appellant being a career offender. This enhancement was based on classifying a prior state conviction as a felony because it was punishable by more than one year in prison. Such a classification was abrogated by the Supreme Court in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, so the sentence was reversed and remanded.

26. United States v. Davis, Eleventh Circuit: The trial court improperly applied a sentencing enhancement for brandishing a firearm. The jury found that Appellant had possessed a firearm--which requires a mandatory 5-year sentence--but the trial court imposed a mandatory minimum 7-year sentence for brandishing the firearm. Since possessing and brandishing are not one in the same, the case was remanded for resentencing.

27. United States v. Feliciano, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant's conviction for using a gun during a bank robbery was reversed. There was no witness testimony or other evidence about a gun being used during that bank robbery. The insufficient evidence required reversal.

June 5, 2014

Short Wins - the Forfeiture Chart Edition

It's a been a relatively quiet week in the federal circuits. Which is one reason I think this week is a nice one to share this very cool graphic on how forfeiture laws are hurting people in these United States.

Forfeiture is insane. It reminds me too much of the California prison industry lobbying for tough on crime laws - the incentives simply line up wrong (it's a long chart - the short wins are at the bottom).

Here's the chart:

Please include attribution to ArrestRecords.com with this graphic.

Civil Forfeiture, an infographic from ArrestRecords.com

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Ferguson, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was deemed to have violated his supervised release based on possession of marijuana. Because the district court based that finding in part on a laboratory report that was prepared by a forensic examiner who did not testify, the sentence was vacated and remanded.

Attorneys: Nia Ayanna Vidal and Michael S. Nachmanoff

2. United States v. Villegas Palacios, Fifth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to reentry of a deported alien. He was denied a one-level reduction in the sentencing guidelines because he refused to waive his right to appeal. An amendment to the sentencing guidelines became effective after Appellant's sentencing but pending appeal. Those guidelines apply and require the one point reduction.

3. Vega v. Ryan, Ninth Circuit: The court reversed a denial of Petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging a conviction for sexual abuse. Trial counsel was ineffective when he failed to review the Petitioner's file and interview a witness who would say the victim recanted the allegations. This was objectively unreasonable and had a reasonable probability of affecting the result of the proceedings.

Attorney: Patricia A. Taylor

4. United States v. Isaacson, Eleventh Circuit: After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of conspiring to commit securities fraud. His sentence included 36 months' imprisonment and $8 million in restitution. The sentence was vacated and the case remanded because the government did not carry its burden in attributing losses to Appellant's participation in the conspiracy. This affected both a sentencing enhancement for loss amount as well as the amount of restitution owed.

May 21, 2014

Short Wins - the Expert Testimony Edition

In this edition, I think the most interesting case (of a number of interesting cases) is United States v. Garcia.

There, the government had an agent testify as an expert. The Fourth Circuit reversed, because the agent's "expert testimony" exceeded the bounds of what counts as expert testimony.

The way agents get qualified as experts is, often, nuts. It's good to see the Fourth Circuit rolling it back.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Jones, First Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to two life sentences, as well as various other 10-to-40 year sentences, related to child pornography and child sex act charges. The First Circuit found that Appellant's prior conviction did not require proof that he acted with the intent to degrade, humiliate, or arouse the victim and therefore did not qualify as a predicate offense requiring a life sentence. Because the sentences for the other charges were impacted by the two life sentences, the case was remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Jonathan G. Mermin

2. United States v. Lucena-Rivera, First Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 220 months in prison. Because the trial court did not make sufficient findings of facts regarding the sentencing enhancement for being "in the business of laundering funds" the case was remanded for factual findings.

Defense Attorneys: Martin G. Weinberg and Kimberly Homan

3. United States v. Santiago-Burgos, First Circuit: After pleading guilty to a drug conspiracy charge, Appellant was sentenced to 97 months' imprisonment. Appellant argued, and the government conceded, that two criminal history points were improperly assessed. The First Circuit therefore remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Heather Golias

4. United States v. Sepulveda-Hernandez, First Circuit: The First Circuit held that a statute which doubles the maximum available penalty for drug distribution in close proximity to a youth center is an independent offense and not just a sentence-enhancing factor. The evidence at trial was not sufficient to support a conviction for that offense, so the conviction was vacated.

Defense Attorney: Irma R. Valldejuli

5. United States v. Gill, Second Circuit: Appellant's collateral challenge to his order of deportation was denied by the district court, which relied on the fact that §212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act had been repealed. The repeal of §212 effectively eliminated statutorily-provided discretionary relief from deportation to a class of non-citizens, including Appellant. Allowing deportation of Appellant would have an impermissible retroactive effect on those who relied on §212 when they were tried and convicted. The case was therefore remanded.

6. United States v. Pena, Second Circuit: During sentencing, Appellant received a sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice based on written statements he made in support of a motion to suppress. In denying the motion to suppress, the trial judge found Appellant's statements not credible. The sentencing judge then applied a sentencing enhancement based on the trial judge's finding of falsity in Appellant's statements. The Second Circuit found that the district court committed clear error in determining that Appellant willfully made false statements and remanded for resentencing.

7. United States v. Smith, Third Circuit: As part of Appellant Smith's sentence for bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, he was ordered to pay restitution of $68,452. The case was remanded once prior, and Appellant's restitution amount was increased to $77,452. Because the district court exceeded the scope of remand by revisiting the restitution amount, the additional $9,000 in restitution was vacated.

Defense Attorney: Peter A. Levin

8. Barnes v. Joyner, Fourth Circuit: Petitioner, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, appeals the denial of his writ of habeas corpus. Because the post-conviction court failed to apply a presumption of prejudice and also failed to investigate the alleged juror misconduct which led to the petition, the case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing.

Defense Attorneys: Milton Gordon Widenhouse, Jr. and George B. Currin

9. United States v. Blackledge, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. During the commitment hearings, Appellant's lawyers had twice moved to withdraw as counsel, but both motions were denied. The Fourth Circuit found that it was abuse of discretion to deny the motions to withdraw because the trial judge did not engage in an adequate inquiry as to the substance of the motion to withdraw. The district court erred in failing to examine the length of time Appellant and his attorney had ceased communication and trial preparation. The judgments on the motions to withdraw were vacated and the case remanded for further consideration.

Defense Attorney: Richard Croutharmel

10. United States v. Garcia, Fourth Circuit: After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of narcotics trafficking. Those convictions were vacated because the trial court abused its discretion by allowing an FBI agent to testify as both an expert and lay witness. The court's cautionary instruction to the jury and sustaining some objections was not sufficient to mitigate the risk of prejudice.

Defense Attorney: Todd Michael Brooks and Erek L. Barron

11. United States v. Ocasio, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted by a jury for extortion under the Hobbs Act and was ordered to pay restitution to Erie Insurance as part of his sentence. The Fourth Circuit vacated the restitution order because Erie Insurance was never proven, or even alleged, to be a victim of the conspiracy, and restitution awards must be tied to the loss caused by the convicted offense.

Defense Attorneys: Matthew Scott Owen and Daniel S. Epps

12. United States v. Ramirez-Castillo, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 33 months' imprisonment after a jury determined that two objects he made while in prison were weapons and violated a federal statute prohibiting the possession of those weapons. The convictions were vacated because the jury was never asked whether Appellant was guilty, but only whether the first object was a weapon and whether the second object was possessed by Appellant.

Defense Attorney: Cameron Jane Blazer

13. United States v. Sadler, Sixth Circuit: Appellants, a husband and wife, were convicted of various crimes associated with operating pain-management clinics. One of Mrs. Sadler's convictions - for wire fraud - was not supported by the evidence so the conviction was reversed. The wire fraud statute does not punish those who simply use a scheme to defraud, but instead only those who use a scheme to defraud with the intention of depriving others of money or property. The government did not prove Mrs. Sadler's intent to defraud others of money or property.

Defense Attorney: William G. Brown

14. Avila v. Richardson, Seventh Circuit: The Court reversed the denial of habeas relief and remanded for further proceedings because the state court applied a rule of law contrary to controlling precedent of the Supreme Court. Appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was wholly denied because the court said such an appeal was waived by his plea. However, the Supreme Court has held that a guilty plea can be challenged if the plea itself was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel.

15. United States v. Ford, Eighth Circuit: On remand from the Supreme Court following United States v. Burrage, the Eighth Circuit held that the government had not proven at trial that the drugs Appellant sold were a but-for cause of death of a buyer. The conviction and sentence were vacated.

16. United States v. Shaw, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 378 months' imprisonment after the court determined a mandatory-minimum 7-year sentence was required for brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense. Because the jury had not made a specific finding about the firearm, the sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing.

17. United States v. Stokes, Eighth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute. The sentencing judge based the sentence in part on the idea that Appellant's long-term unemployment was indicative of being a drug dealer. The Eighth Circuit found that this determination was clearly erroneous because the facts in the records only supported the fact that Appellant had previous used drugs. The case was remanded for reconsideration of Appellant's request for a downward variance.

18. Butler v. Long, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of an untimely habeas petition. Petitioner was not provided an opportunity to amend the previously-field habeas petition and so was entitled to equitable tolling from the date of the first dismissal until the filing of the current petition.

Defense Attorney: John Ward

19. Dixon v. Williams, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition challenging the jury instruction on self-defense. Because the trial court's instruction was inaccurate--asking for an honest but "reasonbale" (instead of "unreasonable) belief in the necessity for self-defense--and it lowered the State's burden of proof, the writ of habeas corpus must be granted.

Defense Attorneys: Randolph Fiedler and Debra A. Bookout

20. Frost v. Boening, Ninth Circuit: The writ for habeas corpus should be granted because the trial court infringed on Petitioner's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when it precluded counsel from making a reasonable doubt argument to the jury. The Ninth Circuit held that Petitioner was deprived of his right to demand that the jury find him guilty of all elements of the crime and that the burden of proof had shifted.

Defense Attorney: Erik B. Levin

21. United States v. Brooks, Ninth Circuit: The district court failed to set time limitations on an involuntary medication order. Because over a year had passed from the order, the Ninth Circuit ordered a new inquiry pursuant to Sell v. United States.

Defense Attorney: C. Renee Manes

22. United States v. Preston, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial because the trial court improperly admitted a confession by the Appellant. Taking into consideration the particular circumstances of the Appellant, the Ninth Circuit held that the confession was involuntary because the tactics used by law enforcement, along with Appellant's intellectual disability, created a coercive interrogation and an involuntary confession.

Defense Attorneys: Keith Swisher

23. United States v. Ramirez-Estrada, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's convictions for attempted entry after deportation and making a false claim to United States citizenship were reversed. The Ninth Circuit held that Appellant's post-invocation silence was improperly used to impeach him at trial.

Defense Attorney: Caitlin E. Howard

24.United States v. Thum, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's supervised release was revoked by the trial court after it found him guilty of encouraging or inducing an illegal alien to reside in the United States. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded with instruction to dismiss the petition because merely escorting an alien from a fast food restaurant near the border to a nearby vehicle does not violate the statute.

Defense Attorney: Devin Burstein

25. United States v. Castro-Perez, Tenth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to distributing cocaine and was sentenced to 63 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release. Under the sentencing guidelines, Appellant received a two-level enhancement for committing a drug crime while possessing a dangerous weapon. The Tenth Circuit held that there was no physical relation between the weapon and the drug trafficking activity as required for the sentencing enhancement and therefore remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Deborah Roden

26. United States v. Hill, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of charged related to a bank robbery. During trial, an FBI agent was allowed to testify as an expert about his interrogation of Appellant and about Appellant's credibility. The Tenth Circuit found that it was plain error to allow expert testimony opining on the credibility of a witness, including the Appellant, and that this error affected Appellant's substantial rights. The convictions were reversed.

Defense Attorneys: Howard A. Pincus and Warren R. Williamson

27. United States v. Thomas, Tenth Circuit: After a jury trial, Appellant was found guilty of two drug charges and sentenced to 130 months in prison. Appellant's sentence was vacated because the district court erred during sentencing by applying harsher guidelines based on six prior convictions. The government's evidence had only addressed one of the six convictions, so it was improper for the sentencing court to rely on the other five.

Defense Attorney: Thomas D. Haney

28. United States v. Harrell, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to robbery charges and received an agreed-upon sentence of 25 years. This conviction was vacated because the trial court was improperly involved in plea negotiations. The trial court instigated and orchestrated the plea negotiations, commenting on the potential sentences both after trial and after a plea. This seriously affected the integrity and fairness of the judicial proceeding, so Appellant must be allowed to withdraw the guilty plea.

April 23, 2014

Short Wins - the "Venue in a Federal Criminal Case Is Not Infinite" Edition

There's a lot in this week's edition of Short Wins, but my favorite is United States v. Aurenheimer.

Federal venue is a broad thing. It's nice to see a circuit push back a little on just how broad it can be.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Millan-Isaac, First Circuit: Appellants pled guilty to aiding and abetting a robbery and possession of a firearm. On appeal, the First Circuit held that the district court erred in sentencing both Appellants. During Appellant Cabezudo's sentencing, the court erred by failing to calculate or discuss the appropriate sentencing guidelines range. During Appellant Millan's sentence hearing, the court considered new information for which Appellant did not have notice. Therefore both sentences are vacated and remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Megan Barbero, Gregory P. Teran, Rachel I. Gurvich, and Julie Soderlund

2. United States v. Aurenheimer, Third Circuit: Appellant's conviction was vacated because the district court did not have proper venue. For a cybercrime conspiracy case, proper venue exists only where one accessed information without authorization or obtained information, neither of which occurred in New Jersey.

Defense Attorneys: Tor B. Ekeland, Mark H. Jaffe, Orin S. Kerr, Marcia C. Hofmann, and Hanni M. Fakhoury

3. United States v. Velazquez, Third Circuit: Appellant's motion to dismiss should have been granted because his right to speedy trial was violated. The government tried for nearly five years to apprehend Appellant by running his name through the NCIC database, but other leads were also available. Those standard practices for finding a wanted person should have been attempted.

Defense Attorney: Jerome Kaplan

4. United States v. White, Third Circuit: Appellant's conviction was vacated because the court improperly denied Appellant's motion to suppress. A search of Appellant's house, which had turned up guns, was unlawful because Appellant was arrested outside of the house. The district court should have considered whether there was an articulable basis for the protective sweep of the home.

Defense Attorneys: Leigh M. Skipper, Brett G. Sweitzer, Sarah S. Gannett, and Keith M. Donoghue

5. United States v. Whiteside, Fourth Circuit: The Court held that federal inmates may use a federal habeas corpus motion to challenge a sentence that was based on the career offender sentencing guidelines enhancement when case law has determined that the enhancement was inapplicable to the Appellant. The court therefore vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorneys: Ann Loraine Hester and Henderson Hill

6. United States v. Barbour, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to a federal firearms defense. At sentencing the government argued that two previous robberies - which had occurred on the same night at the same gas station - constituted two offenses. The Sixth Circuit held that the government has the burden of showing the offenses were committed on different occasions from one another and the government failed to meet that burden here so the case was remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

7. United States v. Kamper, Sixth Circuit: Appellant Head's sentence was vacated because the district court erred in applying sentencing enhancements for obstruction of justice and playing an aggravating role as manager or supervisor of a conspiracy. The Court explained that telling an obvious lie under oath is insufficient to support a sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice when the trial court did not make factual findings regarding the elements of perjury including materiality and intent. Without determining the proper standard of review, the Court held that the aggravating role enhancement was improper because it requires management of participants, not merely management of the criminal scheme.

Defense Attorney: Allison L. Ehlert

8. United States v. Kilgore, Sixth Circuit: Appellant challenged a four-level sentencing enhancement for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Appellant became a felon when he stole two unloaded firearms from a police station, and because he had stolen firearms, was "in possession" of them. However, the Sixth Circuit held that the sentencing enhancement can only be applied to those whose offense triggering application of the enhancement is separate and distinct conduct from the underlying offense. In this case there was not "another felony offense" so the sentence was vacated.

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

9. United States v. Farano, Seventh Circuit: Appellants were convicted by a jury of mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and theft of government funds. The order for restitution was vacated and remanded so the district judge could consider evidence on whether the refinancing banks had based their decision in whole or in part on fraudulent representations by the Appellants.

10. United States v. Martins, Eighth Circuit: The case was reversed because the district court improperly denied a post-trial motion to suppress evidence. The Eighth Circuit found that there was not probable cause for the traffic stop because the officer's inability to read a license plate controls, not a post-arrest determination regarding the percentage or portion of the text covered. The trial court therefore erred by not suppressing the evidence because the office stated he was able to read the license plate within 100 feet of the car.

11. United States v. Anthony Fast Horse, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of one count of criminal sexual conduct. The jury instruction during trial failed to require the jury to find that Appellant had knowledge that the victim lacked the capacity to consent to the sexual conduct. The conviction was reversed and remanded for a new trial.

12. United States v. Curtis, Eighth Circuit: After being found incompetent to stand trial, Appellant was required to take medication involuntarily. In ordering the involuntary medication, the trial court failed to consider all the circumstances relevant to Appellant and the consequences and purposes of that medication required by Sell v. United States. The case was remanded for further findings.

13. United States v. Christian, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of two counts of transmitting threats through interstate commerce. The Ninth Circuit vacated both convictions because the district court abused its discretion by excluding Appellant's expert solely because the expert examined Appellant for competency rather than diminished capacity and would testify regarding diminished capacity. The district court should have evaluated whether the substance of the testimony would help the jury make a determination of Appellant's ability to for the specific intent of the crime. A new trial was required.

Defense Attorney: Jess R. Marchese

14. United States v. Dominguez-Maroyoqui, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated and remanded because the trial court imposed a sentencing enhancement based on Appellant's 1996 conviction for assaulting a federal officer under 18 U.S.C. §111(a). The Ninth Circuit held that a conviction under §111(a) is not categorically a crime of violence and does not require, as a necessary element, proof that Appellant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use physical force.

Defense Attorney: Gary P. Burcham

15. United States v. Emmett, Ninth Circuit: The district court denied Appellant's motion for early termination of supervised release. That order was vacated and remanded for further proceedings because the trial court denied the motion without a hearing or any response from the government or probation office. The trial court's only reasoning was that Appellant had not demonstrated undue hardship caused by supervised release, but that was not an adequate basis for denying Appellant's motion.

Defense Attorney: James H. Locklin

16. United States v. French, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted by jury of two money laundering convictions. Both convictions were reversed because there was insufficient evidence to support them. The trial court also erred by failing to define "proceeds" as "profits" during jury instructions.

Defense Attorneys: Michael J. Kennedy, Rene Valladares, and Dan C. Maloney

17. United States v. Harrington, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit reversed Appellant's conviction for refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test in a national park. It was a violation of due process to convict Appellant when park rangers told him three times that his refusal to submit to the test was not a crime itself, even though it was.

Defense Attorney: Katherine L. Hart

18. United States v. Brown: A magistrate judge ruled on Appellants motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. §2255. The Eleventh Circuit held that a §2255 motion is not a civil matter and magistrate judges only have statutory over civil matters under the Federal Magistrate Act of 1979. The motion was therefore vacated and remanded.

19. United States v. Ransfer, Eleventh Circuit: A jury convicted Appellants of multiple counts of robbery, conspiracy, and firearm charges. The Eleventh Circuit vacated convictions for Appellant Lowe arising out of one robbery because there was no evidence that he took any action in furtherance of that crime. The case was remanded for resentencing.

April 7, 2014

Short Wins - The "the victims a person is convicted of defrauding have to be the same ones as the ones he was indicted for defrauding" edition

Last week was a busy week in the federal circuits. There's a lot there to be interested in, especially if you have a case at the intersection of mental health issues and the law.

If, however, your interests are a bit more prosaic, you might want to read United States v. Ward. There, the person accused was convicted of defrauding different people than the indictment alleged he defrauded.

Amazing stuff.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. Davis v. Humphreys, Seventh Circuit: The Seventh Circuit indicated that mental incompetence can justify tolling the statute of limitations for a motion under 28 U.S.C. §2244 in certain situations. Because the district court did not conduct proper fact finding to determine Appellant's mental limitations here, the Court chose to remand and did not yet articulate the standard it will use in these situations.

2. United States v. DeBenedetto, Seventh Circuit: The district court's commitment order was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings because the hearing and written findings were inadequate. To require a person to undergo involuntary mental health treatment, there are four findings that the district court must make, but failed to do so. On remand, the district court is required to make explicit findings about each of the factors.

3. United States v. Long, Seventh Circuit: One Appellant must be resentenced under the Fair Sentencing Act, which is applicable to any person sentenced after the Act was enacted, regardless of when the underlying conduct occurred. The district court had applied the pre-FSA mandatory minimum based on findings which would not be enough under the Fair Sentencing Act.

4. United States v. Burrage, Eighth Circuit: On remand from the Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit reversed Appellant's conviction for one count - the distribution of heroin resulting in death - based on improper jury instructions. The case was remanded to the district court to enter a conviction for the lesser-included offense of distribution of heroin because the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for distribution resulting in death.

5. United States v. Emly, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of one count of receipt of materials involving sexual exploitation of children and three counts of possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of children. The three possession counts are multiplicitous - the possession of copies of several different files on separate devices constitutes only a single violation. The case was remanded with instructions to vacate all but one of the possession charges.

6. Albino v. Baca: The Court held that the appropriate procedural device for a pretrial determination of whether administrative remedies have been exhausted under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act is a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment should have been granted for Appellant because he satisfied the exhaustion requirement because no administrative remedies were available at the jail where Appellant was confined.

Defense Attorney: Andrea Renee St. Julian

7. United States v. IMM, Juvenile Male, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for child sex abuse was reversed and remanded because Appellant was not Mirandized and was in custody when he made inculpatory statements. This violation of Appellant's Fifth Amendment requires suppression of the statements.

Defense Attorney: Jill E. Thorpe

8. United States v. Ward, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's convictions for two counts of aggravated identity theft were reversed. The district court improperly allowed the jury to convict Appellant of stealing identities of victims who were not the specific victims named in the indictment.

Defense Attorney: Davina T. Chen

9. United States v. Feliciano, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of bank robbery charges and use of a firearm. There was insufficient evidence of one gun charge. The evidence was that an accomplice never saw Appellant with a gun and knew Appellant did not have a gun at one robbery. This required reversal of the conviction.

10. United States v. Grzybowicz, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant's conviction for distribution of child pornography. The court determined that distribution required delivery or transfer to another person and Appellant had only emailed images to himself. Because the evidence was insufficient to convict Appellant on this charge, the conviction was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

11. United States v. Clark, D.C. Circuit: Appellant was convicted of bank and wire fraud. The district court applied Sentencing Guidelines, which were not published until after the crimes. This retroactive application violated the Ex Post Facto Clause and required remand for resentencing.

Defense Attorneys: Jessica L. Ellsworth, Peter S. Spivack, and Matthew J. Iaconetti

April 1, 2014

Short Wins - The Forfeiture Order Gets Reversed Version

There were a handful of good wins in the federal circuits last week. Notably, United States v. Annabi, pushed back on a government forfeiture because the language in the indictment was inadequate. Forfeiture is a huge issue in criminal cases in federal court these days - it's good to see the home team winning in this area.

Also of note is In re Joannie Plaza-Martinez dealing with a sanction of an AFPD. It's sad to see a criminal defense lawyer sanctioned, especially an AFPD. So it's nice to see that sanction reversed.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. In re Joannie Plaza-Martinez, First Circuit: Appellant is an Assistant Federal Public Defender who was sanctioned by the trial judge for asking to postpone a sentencing in one case because she was starting a trial in another case. Finding an abuse of discretion, the First Circuit vacated the sanction.

Defense Attorneys: Hector E. Guzman, Jr., Hector L. Ramos-Vega, and Patricia A. Garrity

2. United States v. Annabi: Appellant was convicted of three counts of mortgage fraud and the trial court ordered forfeiture for all three counts. The indictment for one of those counts did not use the properly statutory language to allow for forfeiture, so that forfeiture was vacated and remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Edward v. Sapone and Paula Schwartz Frome

3. United States v. Vargem, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's sentence was miscalculated under the sentencing guidelines. The court erred in applying a six-level enhancement based on weapons found in Appellant's home and also miscalculated the base offense level.

Defense Attorneys: Steven G. Kalar, Candis Mitchell, and Steven J. Koeninger

4. Davis v. Walker, Ninth Circuit: The district court denied Appellant's request to appoint a guardian ad litem and instead stayed Appellant's civil rights case until Appellant was restored to competency. The Ninth Circuit held that the indefinite stay was a final appealable decision. The stay was vacated because it failed to adequately protect Appellant's rights.

Defense Attorney: Kayvan B. Sadeghi

March 28, 2014

Short Wins - The Smurfing Edition

The big news in this edition of Short Wins is United States v. Abair - a simply crazy Seventh Circuit.

I already wrote about it for a general legal audience on Above the Law (Inspector Javert Goes Smurfing in Indiana) - for our purposes, the legal issue is whether she was appropriately crossed on statements in her tax returns or student loan applications.

I had a case years ago where the AUSA and I litigated whether he could use similar statements in cross if my client testified. We lost. Happily, we weren't able to appeal the decision, but it's freakin' insane the way this stuff comes in sometimes. Abair is a nice step in moving the law in the right way.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Diaz-Rodriguez, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted at trial of aiding and abetting interference with commerce by threats of violence and one count of using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. Those convictions were vacated because Appellant was denied his Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel when it forbade him from retaining new counsel during trial without inquiring into his conflict with his present counsel.

Defense Attorney: Rafael F. Castro Lang

2. United States v. Abair, Seventh Circuit: During Appellant's trial for structuring financial transactions in order to evade federal reporting requirements, the prosecutor cross-examined Appellant about alleged false statements on a tax return and student financial aid applications. Because the government lacked a good faith basis for believing Appellant had lied on those documents, the Seventh Circuit reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial. The Seventh Circuit determined that the information elicited during that cross-examination was prejudicial and harmful error.

3. United States v. Cabrera-Gutierrez, Ninth Circuit: The Court withdrew its June 3, 2013 Opinion and filed this Amended Opinion. The Court held that the district court erred in sentencing Appellant as a Tier III sex offender based on a prior conviction under an Oregon statute. The district court improperly applied the categorical approach to determine how that prior conviction would impact Appellant's sentencing enhancement, so Appellant's sentence was vacated.

Defense Attorney: Rebecca L. Pennell

4. United States v. Cortes, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was tried for drug conspiracy charges after he was arrested during an undercover reverse sting operation. The conviction was reversed because the district court gave the jury an improper jury instruction on an entrapment defense. In giving the jury instruction, the district court erred in excluding that drugs or any profit from the sale of drugs could be a basis for inducement.

Defense Attorney: Gary P. Burcham

5. United States v. Montes-Ruiz, Ninth Circuit: The district court erred in sentencing Appellant by ordering a sentence which was to run consecutively to an anticipated, but not-yet-imposed, federal sentence in a separate case. Since it is impermissible to impose a sentence which will run consecutively to a hypothetical sentence, Appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Defense Counsel: Devin Burstein

6. United States v. Peyton, D.C. Circuit: The trial court admitted evidence gathered from Appellant's apartment as a part of two separate warrantless searches. Because the first warrantless search was not lawfully permitted, the convictions were vacated and remanded.

March 18, 2014

Short Wins - The Money Laundering Leadership Edition

It's a good week for sentencing remands in the federal circuits. To my mind, the most interesting case is United States v. Salgado, where the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court for considering the person who was being sentenced's role in the underlying offense that money was laundered in connection with, when the person was sentenced for money laundering. When you're figuring out the guidelines, the Eleventh Circuit said you can't do that.

Mr. Salgado was a leader in the drug operation in the case, but he wasn't a leader in the money laundering. It turns out there's an application note that says leadership on one offense doesn't translate into leadership for the other.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Aviles-Santiago, First Circuit: At his sentencing, the district court increased Appellant's sentence based on information the court knew only from sentencing Appellant's wife in an earlier case. Because Appellant was not given notice of that issue, and because the information was not supported by the record, Appellant's sentence was vacated.

Defense Attorney: Raymond L. Sanchez Maceira

2. United States v. Ortiz-Vega, Third Circuit: The Third Circuit decided, as an issue of first impression, that sentence modifications for crack cocaine offenses under 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(2) are retroactive. Appellant's request for modification, which was denied at the district court, is granted, and the case remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Sarah S. Gannett and Christy Unger

3. United States v. Salgado, Eleventh Circuit: In calculating the guidelines range for a money laundering offense, the district court considered both the money laundering offense and Appellant's role in the drug conspiracy which generated the money laundering. Because the sentencing guidelines do not allow consideration of the underlying offense, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded.