It’s a good week for violent crime in the federal circuits – a robbery case from the First Circuit and an assault in Indian country winding up in the Ninth Circuit. And both resulted in a defendant-friendly remand. Go federal appeals courts!
Though I suppose the big news from last’s week’s defense wins in the federal appeals courts is the Third Circuit’s United States v. Reynolds. There, the Third Circuit struck down a conviction for failing to register as a sex offender because the Attorney General’s rule that applied SORNA (the federal statute that federalizes sex offender registry – because Congress thinks there simply cannot be enough federal criminal statutes) wasn’t totally compliant with notice and comment rulemaking, in as much as there wasn’t an opportunity for notice and comment on the rule before it was made.
It’s a great issue – kudos to the Third Circuit for thinking the APA is the law even when it applies to people accused of crimes.
To the victories!
1. United States v. Almeida, First Circuit: Appellant was indicted and convicted of burglary. The court applied a robbery sentencing guideline, resulting in a sentence about twice what it would have been under the burglary guideline. Note 1 to guideline § 1B1.2 and the guidelines’ Statutory Appendix provide that where the guidelines specify more than one offense guideline for an offense and no plea agreement agrees to a more serious offense, the court must pick the most appropriate guideline based only on the conduct in the indictment. Because the court picked a guideline that wasn’t based on bank burglary, appellant’s sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.
2. United States v. Alvirez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of assault resulting in serious bodily injury on an Indian reservation. Because Indian tribes aren’t listed among the groups that may produce self-authenticating documents, the court abused its discretion in admitting an unauthenticated Certificate of Indian Blood as evidence that appellant has recognition as an Indian. Because the error wasn’t harmless, appellant’s conviction was reversed and the case remanded.
3. United States v. Reynolds, Third Circuit: Appellant was convicted of sexual assault and required to register as a sex offender. Years later, the Sex Offender and Registration Notification Act (“SORNA”) was passed, which required sex offenders to comply with certain registration requirements. A rule was passed that made SONRA applicable to pre-SONRA offenders like appellant, but didn’t provide a period for notice and comment on the rule. Because the Attorney General didn’t have good cause to waive the notice and comment, the lack of good cause prejudiced appellant. As a result, appellant’s conviction for failing to register was vacated.
4. United States v. Williams, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute oxycodone. Because the district court erred in applying a two-level enhancement for obstructing justice under § 3C1.1, appellant’s sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.