November 18, 2014

Short Wins - the Dramatic Catch-Up Edition

And, after a really long break, we're back. Apologies. This day job has been very busy lately.

And, of course, if you ever find yourself jonesing for my writing, you can always check out my stuff on Above the Law.

You saw our guest post on Hite last week - it's a great case that bears a close read.

To the Victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Barnes, First Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to distribution and conspiracy to distribute 50kg of marijuana. At sentencing, the district court attributed 3,000kg of marijuana to Appellant after a judicial finding of that quantity by a preponderance of the evidence. After Alleyne, drug quantities must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The First Circuit held that this error was harmful because the government did not provide an explanation that proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the error in attributing a larger quantity of drugs did not "contribute" to the complained-about sentence, and therefore vacated the sentence.

Defense Attorney: Judith H. Mizner

2. United States v. Prange, First Circuit: The trial court erred in calculating the loss amount attributable to Appellants when it relied on the PSR, which recommended loss amounts unsupported by law. Appellants were entitled to have the loss amount lowered when the stocks they sold had some value when it was sold. The cases were remanded so the district court could make factual findings as to the value of the shares acquired by the government during the sting.

Defense Attorneys: Steven N. Fuller, Allen Fuller, and Inga L. Parsons

3. United States v. Sevilla-Oyola, First Circuit: After an initial plea hearing and sentencing, Appellant filed a motion challenging his sentence. A number of hearings were held after, during which the trial court lowered the sentence each time. The trial court, however, did not have authority for his actions during a majority of the proceedings. The variety of motions filed by Appellant could not be considered a Section 2255 motion because Appellants only gets one complete round of collateral review and none of the parties had considered Appellant's motions to be a habeas petition. All of the convictions were vacated and remanded for one final resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Rafael F. Castro Lang

4. United States v. Starks, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm after a police officer stopped him in a car his son had rented. The district court held that Appellant did not have standing to challenge the stop because Appellant was not the authorized driver of the rental car. But because a mere passenger in a car has standing to challenge the constitutionality of the stop, the First Circuit held that Appellant's status as an unlicensed, unauthorized driver was no less than that of a passenger and therefore he had standing. This required the conviction to be vacated and remanded for an evidentiary hearing.

Defense Attorney: James L. Sultan

5. United States v. Zhyltsou, Second Circuit: A jury found Appellant guilty of the unlawful transfer of a false identification document. During trial, the court admitted as evidence a printed copy of a social media webpage which the government claimed was created by Appellant. The government did not satisfy the authentication requirement because it did not prove that it was Appellant's profile page rather than a page on the internet that was about Appellant but which Appellant did not create or control. The conviction was vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorney: Yuanchung Lee

6. United States v. Bui, Third Circuit: Appellant's petition for habeas corpus should have been granted because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant pled guilty only after his trial counsel provided him with incorrect advice regarding the availability of a sentencing reduction pursuant to the "safety valve." Although trial counsel filed a motion for such a reduction, he withdrew it after realizing Appellant was ineligible. This amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.

Defense Attorneys: Maria K. Pulzetti and Brett G. Sweitzer

7. United States v. Paladino, Third Circuit: Appellant challenged the district court's judgment revoking Appellant's supervised release and imposing a prison sentence. The judgment was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing because Appellant was denied the right to allocute at sentencing when the court did not address Appellant personally or permit him to speak or present information in mitigation of the sentence.

Defense Attorney: Sarah S. Gannett

8. United States v. Catone, Fourth Circuit: A jury convicted Appellant of one count of making a false statement in connection with his receipt of federal workers' compensation benefits and was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment and to pay $106,411.83 in restitution. The sentence must be vacated because the jury did not make a finding that the offense led to more than $1,000 in falsely obtained benefits, so Appellant could only be given a maximum 12-month, misdemeanor sentence. The loss calculation was wrong because it should have reflected the difference between the amount of benefits that he actually received and the amount that he would have received but for the false statement. Instead, restitution was vacated because the loss amount was calculated as the full amount Appellant had received in workers' compensation during that time period.

Defense Attorneys: Joshua B. Carpenter and Ross Hall Richardson

9. United States v. Randall, Fifth Circuit: Although Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, the factual basis on which his plea was based and the PSR found that Appellant was only responsible for less than 200 grams of cocaine. Appellant's sentence, which was based on his liability for five kilograms of cocaine, was vacated and remanded because Appellant should be sentenced based only on the facts adopted by the court--that is, the amount attributable only to him and not to the conspiracy as a whole--and that amount did not require a mandatory minimum sentence.

10. United States v. Snelling, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion and sentenced to 131 months in prison. In determining the sentencing guidelines range, the court failed to take into account sums paid back to the Ponzi scheme's investors in the course of the fraud. This resulted in a higher loss value, and therefore a larger sentencing enhancement. The sentence was therefore vacated and remanded for recalculation.

Defense Attorney: Kevin M. Schad

11. Swisher v. Porter Co Sheriff's Dept., Seventh Circuit: Appellant brought a §1983 complaint based on a pretrial denial of medical care for a bullet wound to his abdomen. Appellant had not exhausted all administrative remedies, so the district court dismissed his complaint. The denial was reversed because Appellant had not been advised of the grievance procedure and was told by the Warden not to file a grievance.

12. United States v. Bowling, Seventh Circuit: Appellants convictions for making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm were reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. The Seventh Circuit held that Appellant had to be given the opportunity to present a mistake of fact defense because, although he was charged with a felony at the time, he was also aware that the plea deal offered was for a misdemeanor. The Court held that Appellant should not have to testify in order to present the defense, but instead can cross-examine other witnesses.

13. United States v. Hinds, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's case was remanded for resentencing because the district court improperly imposed two special conditions of supervised release. The condition requiring Appellant to pay for a portion of his court-ordered substance abuse treatment and drug testing was in error because the district court expressly found that Appellant lacked the ability to pay the interest requirement on the restitution and the court did not order a fine based on the same inability to pay. And the condition requiring Appellant to submit to suspicionless searches and seizures was also in error, and the government conceded at oral argument that this invasive condition has already been banned by the court.

14. United States v. Myers, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of several identity theft-related crimes and sentenced to 132 months imprisonment. The sentence was vacated because the six-level enhancement for 250 or more victims violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. The guidelines in place at the time of the crime would not have characterized many of the individuals as victims.

15. United States v. Reid, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, which carries a ten year maximum sentence. The court found that Appellant's prior conviction qualified him under the Armed Career Criminal Act to a guidelines range of fifteen years to life imprisonment. Because Appellant's prior conviction was not a violent felony, as required by the Armed Career Criminal Act, his sentence was vacated.

16. Deck v. Jenkins, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's writ of habeas corpus should have been granted where the prosecutor, in closing argument, negated an essential element of the intent to commit a lewd act upon a child. The prosecutor argued that the intent element could be proven if Petitioner intended to commit the act not on the day of his arrest, but at some point in the future. This prosecutorial error was not harmless where the jury was confused, a corrective instruction was not given, and the written jury instructions did not address the subject of the jury's confusion.

Defense Attorney: Charles M. Sevilla

17. Sessoms v. Grounds, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's writ of habeas corpus should have been granted because a reasonable law enforcement officer should have understood Petitioner's statements as an unambiguous request for counsel. In light of Salinas v. Texas, the requirement of an unambiguous invocation of the right to counsel applied to pre-Miranda statements like Petitioner's.

Defense Attorney: Eric Weaver

18. United States v. Aguilera-Rios, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's conviction for illegal reentry was reversed because his prior removal order was invalid. The removal order was based on a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm. The statute criminalizing that conduct did not have an antique firearms exception and therefore was not a categorical match for the Immigration and Nationality Act's firearm offense. Since there was no categorical match, the removal order was invalid.

Defense Attorney: Kara Hartzler

19. United States v. Bell, Ninth Circuit: After being convicted of making false, fictitious, and fraudulent claims to the US treasury, filing false tax returns, contempt, and mail fraud, Appellant was sentenced and, as part of supervised release, required to undergo substance abuse treatment and abstain from consuming alcohol. That condition was vacated and the case remanded because the record contained no evidence showing that Appellant abused any substance.

Defense Attorney: Gregory Charles Link

20. United States v. Brown, Ninth Circuit: A case arising from a Ponzi scheme and bankruptcy fraud was remanded for resentencing. The sentencing court erroneously imposed an enhancement for endangering the solvency or financial security of 100 or more victims where the government did not provide evidence of the impact of the crimes on the requisite number of victims. In addition, Appellant Eddings' sentence also included an erroneous leadership role adjustment because the trial court noted that it wasn't clear whether Eddings controlled a particular participant, and the record does not indicate that he controlled any other criminally responsible participant in the scheme. Further, it was error to apply a sentencing enhancement for having 250 or more victims when the district court relied on 148 victims who were not included in the loss calculation.

Defense Attorneys: Heather Williams, David M. Porter, Rachelle Barbour, and John Balazs

21. United States v. Bryant, Ninth Circuit: Appellant moved to dismiss the indictment charging him with two counts of domestic assault by a habitual offender. Appellant was previously convicted in tribal court of domestic abuse, which the government used to establish the element of a prior offense. The Court held that only tribal court convictions obtained when Appellant had a right to counsel which is, at a minimum, coextensive with the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, can be used in a subsequent prosecution. Because Appellant did not have such a right to counsel during his tribal court convictions, they could not be used against him in this case and the indictment should have been dismissed.

Defense Attorneys: Steve C. Babcock and Anthony R. Gallagher

22. United States v. Castro-Ponce, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's sentence enhancement for obstruction of justice was vacated because the trial court did not explicitly find that Appellant's false testimony was also willful and material.

Defense Attorney: Lynn T. Hamilton

23. United States v. Heredia, Ninth Circuit: The government made repeated and inflammatory references to Appellant's criminal history throughout its sentencing memorandum. Because those references served no practical purpose but to argue implicitly for a higher punishment than it had agreed to recommend, Appellant's sentence was vacated and remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Sean K. Kennedy and Jonathan D. Libby

24. United States v. Hernandez, Ninth Circuit: As part of Appellant's sentence for illegal reentry, the district court added a sentencing enhancement for Appellant's prior conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm under the California Penal Code. Because that statute does not include an antique-firearm exception, it is not a categorical match for the federal firearms offense. Therefore the enhancement was improper and the case was remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorneys: Sean K. Kennedy and James H. Locklin

25. United States v. Mavromatis, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for being in possession of a firearm after being committed to a mental institution. This conviction was barred by double jeopardy because Appellant was previously acquitted on a charge based on the same incident of possession.

Defense Attorneys: Rich Curtner and Noa Oren

26. United States v. Melot, Tenth Circuit: Appellants were held in contempt and sanctions imposed after the district court believed the Appellants fraudulently intervened in the foreclosure of their properties. The sanctions were reversed because Appellants only had notice that the court was considering contempt. The lack of notice of sanctions or the opportunity to be heard was a denial of due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Katherine L. Melot and Billy R. Melot proceeded pro se.

27. United States v. Reyes Vera, Ninth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of a drug conspiracy and the use of a minor to commit a drug trafficking offense. During trial, a police officer was called as an expert to explain the drug jargon used in wiretapped phone calls. The Ninth Circuit held that this testimony was a mix of lay and expert opinion, and the trial court's failure to explain that distinction to the jury was in error. Because this error affected the drug quantities found by the jury in a special verdict (which itself impacted the mandatory minimum sentences), the case was remanded for proper determination of drug quantity.

Defense Attorneys: Gretchen Fusilier and Thomas Paul Slesinger

28. Williams v. Swarthout, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's writ of habeas corpus should have been granted where the trial court made a misstatement immediately before trial that Petitioner had pled guilty, and that misstatement was not corrected until the jury began to deliberate. This deprived Petitioner of the presumption of innocence and violated his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury because the error was not rendered harmless by curative instructions.

Defense Attorneys: William J. Capriola and John P. Ward

29. United States v. Bear, Tenth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to failing to register or update a registration as a sex offender. The special condition of supervised release restricting Appellant's contact with his children was reversed. Any condition that interferes with the right of familial association can do so only in compelling circumstances, and here the government did not present evidence that Appellant displayed a propensity to commit future sexual offenses or exhibited any proclivity toward sexual violence, nor has he shown any display of danger to his own children.

Defense Attorney: Brooke A. Tebow

30. United States v. Powell, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of numerous counts related to making, uttering, or possessing a forged security after he altered payee information or forged endorsements and then deposited checks stolen from the United States mail into his bank accounts at various banks. That crime requires the government to prove that the security (including checks) belonged to an organization (such as a bank). His convictions were vacated because proof that the checks were deposited into a federally insured bank was not proof that the checks were "of" the depository banks.

Defense Attorney: Ty Gee

31. United States v. Hite, DC Circuit: Appellant's conviction for attempting to persuade a minor to engage in unlawful sexual activity was vacated. Although it is not necessary for the communication to be directly to a minor, the government must prove that the communications with an intermediary are aimed at persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing the minor. The jury instructions did not reflect such an understanding and require Appellant's conviction to be vacated. In addition, Appellant should have been permitted to introduce expert evidence about Appellant's lack of sexual interest in children since that question is relevant to proving intent.

Defense Attorneys: Lawrence S. Robbins, Barry J. Pollack, A.J. Kramer, Jonathan Jeffress, and Rosanna M. Taormina

November 14, 2014

The D.C. Circuit Makes It Harder to Prosecute Someone For Enticing A Minor

Editor's Note - We've never had a guest post before, and normally I give a blanket no to a request for one. But, Assistant Federal Public Defender extraordinaire Jon Jeffress wrote a great piece about the D.C. Circuit's recent decision in United States v. Hite that I'm very pleased to publish here.

If you're looking at this as a precedent for other guest posts, please know that if you are an AFPD or credible attorney working in the federal system on criminal cases, I'd be happy to look at anything. Otherwise, no.

Finally, I should say that the opinions here are solely Jon's, not those of his office or anyone else. Except where he's quoting the D.C. Circuit - those are the opinions of the Circuit.

D.C. CIRCUIT ISSUES IMPORTANT DECISION REGARDING SCOPE OF ONLINE ENTICEMENT STATUTE, 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b)

The federal statute criminalizing the online enticement of minors, 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), contains a severe penalty. Individuals who violate § 2422(b) -- even first time offenders -- are subject to a ten-year mandatory minimum and a life maximum. Congress legislated this severe penalty to deal with a particular kind of offender: the online predator who uses the Internet to reach into a home and befriend a child for sexual purposes.

And yet, the above scenario represents only a small fraction of prosecutions the government brings under § 2422(b). What one sees equally often is undercover law enforcement agents aggressively pursuing defendants who are using the Internet to find other consenting adults for sexual encounters. The agents will contact these individuals over the Internet and begin flirting, failing to even reveal the purported age of the minor they are portraying until late in the communications. In addition, there are numerous cases involving defendants who are talking about sex with minors with someone they believe to be another consenting adult, with no clear intention of ever doing anything in the real world. Neither of the foregoing scenarios is what Congress envisioned when it enacted § 2422(b) and included its severe penalty.

For anyone defending enticement cases in federal court, the D.C. Circuit's opinion in United States v. Hite, DC, --- F.3d ---, 2014 WL 5343626 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 21, 2014) , should be a welcome development. In Hite, the court brought badly needed clarity to the proper use of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). And more importantly, the court took an important step towards eliminating the large number of dubious yet life-ruining prosecutions the government brings under this statute.

In Hite, Dr. Hite, an anaesthesiologist, was convicted of enticing a minor based on communications he had with an undercover police officer who was pretending to be another adult with sexual access to two minors. As one sees frequently in such cases, the undercover office aggressively pursued Dr. Hite, encouraging him to travel from Richmond, Virginia (where Dr. Hite lived) to Washington, D.C., where the undercover purported to live, for a sexual encounter with the undercover and the fictitious minors. Although the two adults engaged in numerous appalling communications, Dr. Hite at no time accepted the undercover officer's invitation to travel to D.C. to meet with him. And yet, based exclusively on Dr. Hite's communications with a person he believed to be another adult, Dr. Hite was convicted under § 2422(b) and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Again, the court imposed that lengthy sentence notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Hite: (1) never communicated with someone he believed to be a minor; and (2) never went anywhere with the intention of engaging in an illegal sexual encounter.

In reversing Dr. Hite's conviction, the D.C. Circuit clarified the scope of § 2422(b) in several important ways. As an initial matter, the court rejected Dr. Hite's argument that a defendant must communicate directly with a minor (or a person he believes to be a minor) in order to violate the statute. Dr. Hite (here) and FPD (as amicus, here) had argued that the statute only applied to those who communicate directly with minors. While the D.C. Circuit held against Dr. Hite on this point, this argument is strongly supported by the plain text of the statute. It therefore remains an argument that practitioners should preserve in the district court and on appeal, as the Supreme Court may ultimately adopt this position when it finally addresses the scope of § 2422(b).

The good stuff starts with the paragraph beginning "By the same token, we reject the Government's argument that § 2422(b) does not require the defendant to attempt to transform or overcome the minor's will." Id. at *6. Here, the court definitively rejected the government's theory that a defendant violates the statute merely by "arranging" with another adult to have underage sex (which the jury instructions in Hite also described as "persuad[ing] another adult to cause a minor to engage in sexual activity"). In the critical paragraph rejecting the district court's jury instruction, the court stated:

In the case at bar, the jury instructions defining the requisite intent did not fully comport with the interpretation of the statute we announce today. Over defense objection, the District Court instructed the jury that "[d]irect communications with a child" are not necessary for a jury to find a violation of § 2422(b), and that the "government must only prove that the defendant believes that he was communicating with someone who could arrange for the child to engage in unlawful sexual activity." The instructions further provided that "the government must prove only that the defendant intended to persuade, or induce, or entice, or coerce a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, or intended to persuade an adult to cause a minor to engage in unlawful sexual activity." As discussed supra, the preeminent characteristic of the conduct prohibited under § 2422(b) is transforming or overcoming the minor's will, whether through "inducement," "persuasion," "enticement," or "coercion." Although the word "cause" is contained within some definitions of "induce," cause encompasses more conduct; simply "to cause" sexual activity with a minor does not necessarily require any effort to transform or overcome the will of the minor. Similarly, rather than focusing on transforming or overcoming the will of another person, "arrange" means to "put (things) in a neat, attractive or required order" or to "organize or make plans for (a future event)." Thus although much of the instruction was correct, the additional language that the "government must only prove that the defendant believe that he was communicating with someone who could arrange for the child to engage in unlawful sexual activity" was erroneous.
Id. at *9 (citations omitted) (emphasis in original).

Notably, the above holding creates a clear circuit split between the D.C. Circuit and the Eleventh (e.g., United States v. Murrell, 368 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2004)), and probably more (see, e.g., United States v. Douglas, 626 F.3d 161, 165 (2d Cir. 2010) (noting that the required "assent might be obtained, for example, by persuading a minor's adult guardian to lead a child to participate in sexual activity")). In addition, the Hite court's plain meaning interpretation of the statute's verbs "persuade," "induce," "entice," and "coerce" will help defendants not only in cases involving an "adult intermediary," such as Hite itself, but also in those cases where the defendant is communicating directly with someone he believes to be a minor. In either situation, the jury must find that the defendant is "seek[ing] to transform or overcome the will of a minor," and not merely agreeing or even arranging to have sex.

The Hite court's rejection of the government's "arranging" theory of § 2422(b) - particularly if accepted in other Circuits, or even better by the Supreme Court - will be very helpful to those litigating enticement cases with relatively mild facts. The reality of these cases is that while "arranging" for underage sex sounds bad enough in the abstract, the ways in which U.S. Attorney's Offices around the country are utilizing this statute demonstrate the injustice of applying § 2422(b) and its 10-year mandatory minimum to "arrange" situations. This statute should not apply where undercover law enforcement agents have aggressively pursued a defendant who, left to his own devices, would not have sought out a minor for sex. When measured against the human cost to the defendant and his loved ones, it is exceedingly difficult to see how anyone is benefitting from such prosecutions, except perhaps for the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces, whose budgets are dependent on the number of cases the task forces generate. The Hite opinion should help bid good riddance to these dubious cases, which are not what Congress had in mind when it enacted § 2422(b) and included its 10-year mandatory minimum.

The Appellant's brief is here and the Federal Public Defender's amicus brief in support of the appellant is here.

October 4, 2014

The Government Gets Slapped Back to District Court in a Fake Stash House Robbery Case

Fake stash house robbery cases are an embarrassment to a civilized society.

Here's what happens. An undercover ATF agent finds a guy and does some deals with him. He then tells the guy he knows of a stash house where there are a lot of drugs and guns. Probably money too. Maybe a unicorn. Whatever it takes to get the guy interested.

The guy gets some other guys involved. They get weapons and gear up for this robbery of someone they believe is a drug dealer.

Then, with the undercover, they suit up, grab their guns, and plan to rob the stash house. All of this is on video. Then they're arrested (the agents make sure there are no bullets in the guns).

There is so little real crime in the world, the ATF has to make fake crime to investigate.

Law enforcement is often criticized for going after only the low hanging fruit. The clever folks at the ATF are taking it a step further and making up their own fruit to go after - they're going after synthetic fruit.

Ok, so these cases are a moral abomination and they're completely stupid. That said, prosecutors have a lot of discretion to prosecuted stupid cases. And judges generally can't dismiss a case because of stupidity.

An Awesome Discovery Request

One of these cases, though, wound up with the extremely clever people at the University of Chicago's federal criminal clinic.

There, the government indicted seven folks for conspiracy to possess the cocaine that didn't exist in the stash house that the government knew they were never going to rob.

The folks at Chicago's federal criminal clinic decided that, while they couldn't explore the stupidity of the program directly, they could make a preliminary showing that these are discriminatory - that black folks are prosecuted more than others - and get some really good discovery from the government. So they requested the following documents:

  • a complete listing of stash-house cases initiated by the United States Attorney with the involvement of the ATF or the FBI in the Northern District of Illinois from 2006 forward, along with disclosure of the race of each defendant charged in these cases;
  • the factual basis for the decision to initiate or pursue an investigation against the defendants named in the cases identified by the defense;
  • disclosure of any prior criminal contact between the defendants in each case and the agency responsible for investigating the case;
  • internal ATF and FBI manuals, correspondence, and other documents addressing fictitious stashhouse scenarios, including the protocols and directions to agents and informants with respect to such scenarios; and
  • any documents addressing how supervisory personnel are to ensure that individuals in such scenarios are not targeted on the basis of race, color, ancestry, or national origin.

And the district court said yes - the defense gets these documents.

The Government Wants Appellate Review

The government said that it really didn't want to turn over these documents. Instead, it wanted the Seventh Circuit to review the district court's decision.

So they asked the district court to dismiss the case without prejudice so they could appeal.

But a funny thing happened on the way to appellate review in United States v. Davis. The Seventh Circuit held that this trick - getting review by getting a district court to dismiss without prejudice - doesn't make the decision appealable. Because the dismissal is only without prejudice, the government can just re-indict. And because they can just re-indict, the decision isn't a final one. And because it isn't a final one, it can't be reviewed.

Grand Jury Indictments Are A Bother

Perhaps my favorite part of this case is where the government argues that the burden of securing a whole new indictment is so high that a dismissal without prejudice is really quite final for purposes of appeal.

This is really very precious. The government has to go into a grand jury that's probably on a whole different floor from their office and put an agent on for maybe an hour. That walk and hour of testimony is wearying, to say nothing of the .00001% chance that the grand jury will decline to indict.

The Seventh Circuit took no time slapping this down:

it seems safe to say that the likelihood of a grand jury reindicting the defendants is high and the difficulty of presenting the case a second time to the grand jury is minimal, given that the government's own undercover agent was a witness to most of the key events in the charged conspiracy.

The decision is a must read for anyone who is deep in the woods of finality and appealability. The rest of us will, I suspect, just have to wait to learn what was in that discovery that the government wanted to hide.

Or, better, maybe the government will get out of the business of prosecuting fake crime.

September 22, 2014

Short Wins - The "Silence is Golden" Edition

The most interesting case in the last two weeks, I think, is United States v. Shannon. There, the person accused of a crime simply didn't feel like talking to law enforcement - because, really, who would. The government crossed him on his decision not to talk and asked why he didn't come forward with his exculpatory testimony sooner.

The Third Circuit reversed because this violated his Fifth Amendment rights - there's really no point in having a right not to talk if you hold it against a person when she doesn't talk.

To the Victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Santaigo, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender and the terms of his supervised release included a number of special sex offender conditions. One condition, which was not articulated by the judge at the sentencing hearing but only added in the written judgment, must be vacated because it was imposed in Appellant's absence.

Defense Attorneys: Liza L. Rosado-Rodríguez, Héctor E. Guzmán-Silva, and Héctor L. Ramos Vega

2. United States v. Cuti, Second Circuit: After being convicted of making false statements and securities fraud, Appellant was ordered to pay restitution. The court vacated the restitution order and remanded for the trial court to determine what expenses incurred are "necessary" under the Victim and Witness Protection Act. The court held that legal expenses incurred in connection with civil arbitration were not undertaken or pursued in the aid of prosecution and therefore were improperly included in the restitution order.

Defense Attorneys: Brian C. Brook and Matthew J. Peed

3. United States v. Shannon, Third Circuit: Appellant's conviction was vacated because the government cross-examined Appellant during trial about his post-arrest silence. The government violated Appellant's Fifth Amendment rights when it questioned him about failing to come forward earlier with his exculpatory version of the facts.

Defense Attorney: Paul D. Boas

4. United States v. Farah, Sixth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for refusing to testify in the criminal prosecution of thirty gang members was in violation of the double jeopardy clause. The underlying criminal investigation was, in part, for the sex trafficking of minors and Appellant was convicted of both willfully disobeying an order requiring his testimony and of obstructing or attempting to obstruct the child sex trafficking laws. Those convictions require proof of the same elements, requiring the willfully disobeying conviction to be vacated.

Defense Attorney: James Mackler

5. United States v. Brewer, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender and Registration Notification Act (SORNA). Appellant, who was convicted prior to the enactment of SORNA, challenged the Attorney General's interim rule that made registration requirements to all pre-Act offenders. Because that rule was set without the required period for notice and comment, and without good cause, and that rule prejudiced Appellant, SORNA did not apply to Appellant and his conviction must be vacated.

6. United States v. Thornton, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to the 15-year mandatory minimum for being an armed career criminal. That sentence was vacated because two of his prior convictions did not qualify as the three predicate offenses necessary to be considered an armed career criminal. First, the government admitted that a Missouri burglary conviction for which Appellant received a suspended sentence could not be a predicate offense. Second, Appellant's Kansas burglary conviction was under a statute which criminalized both violent and non-violent conduct. It could not be considered a predicate offense because the government did not prove that Appellant was convicted under the subsection criminalizing violent conduct.

7. Castellanos v. Small, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner's application for habeas relief should have been granted where the government exercised four peremptory strikes against Hispanic venirepersons. The Ninth Circuit found that the government's reason for striking one person because she did not have children was pretextual.

Defense Attorneys: Gia Kim and Sean K. Kennedy

8. Gibbs v. LeGrand, Ninth Circuit: The district court improperly dismissed Appellant's petition for habeas corpus. Because Appellant had repeatedly requested updates from his attorney about his state post-conviction proceedings, and counsel had pledged to update Appellant. Counsel, however, did not tell Appellant his stat post-conviction proceedings had ended, causing Appellant to miss the deadline for his federal habeas petition. That misconduct was an extraordinary circumstance requiring an extension of time for filing the habeas petition.

Defense Attorneys: Megan C. Hoffman, Debra A. Bookout, and Ryan Norwood

9. United States v. Dreyer, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's convictions for child pornography were reversed because the trial court should have excluded where a military agent turned over the fruits of his investigation to local law enforcement. The court held that it is improper for a military special agent to investigate conduct by anyone in the state of Washington, not just those connected with the military. Such investigation violates the regulations and policies proscribing direct military enforcement of civilian laws.

Defense Attorney: Erik V. Levin

10. United States v. Meyer, Ninth Circuit: In California, the one-year statute of limitations in which to file a §2254 habeas petition begins to run once 1) the California Supreme Court denies the state habeas petition; and 2) the United States Supreme Court denies certiorari or the 90-day period for filing a petition for certiorari expires. Petitioner here filed his habeas petition within one year of the denial of his state habeas, and it was only at that point that he had exhausted state remedies and the statute of limitations began to run.

Defense Attorney: Charles Marchand Bonneau II

11. United States v. Heineman, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted after a bench trial of one count of sending an interstate threat. That conviction was reversed because the court did not make a finding that Appellant intended the recipient to feel threatened. The Ninth Circuit held that the First Amendment requires the government to prove in any true-threat prosecution that the accused intended the recipient to feel threatened.

Defense Attorneys: Benjamin McMurray and Kathryn Nester

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.