Results tagged “Eleventh Circuit” from The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog

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

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.

April 23, 2014

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

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

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

To the victories!

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Jerome Kaplan

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

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

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

Defense Attorneys: Ann Loraine Hester and Henderson Hill

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

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

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

Defense Attorney: Allison L. Ehlert

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

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Jess R. Marchese

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

Defense Attorney: Gary P. Burcham

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

Defense Attorney: James H. Locklin

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Katherine L. Hart

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

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

April 7, 2014

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

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

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

Amazing stuff.

To the victories!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Andrea Renee St. Julian

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

Defense Attorney: Jill E. Thorpe

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

Defense Attorney: Davina T. Chen

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2014

Short Wins - The Money Laundering Leadership Edition

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

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

To the victories!

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

Defense Attorney: Raymond L. Sanchez Maceira

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

Defense Attorneys: Sarah S. Gannett and Christy Unger

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

March 4, 2014

Short Wins - The "A U.S. Attorney in California Does the Right Thing Edition"

There are two interesting opinions I'd like to highlight from this crop.

First, there's United States v. Prado from the Seventh Circuit. Every now and again, in sentencing, a district court will say it can't consider something. It seems to me that whatever that something is, these days, a district court can probably consider it. Prado is another example of that proposition.

More sensationally, check out the Ninth Circuit's opinion in United States v. Maloney! Laura Duffy, the AUSA for the Southern District of California, watched the en banc argument in this case, decided the government's position was wrong and asked the Ninth Circuit to vacate the conviction. Nice.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Fish, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of being in possession of body armor after having been convicted of a crime of violence. The conviction was reversed because none of Appellant's previous convictions qualifies as a crime of violence.

Defense Attorney: Thomas J. O'Connor, Jr.

2. Kovacs v. United States, Second Circuit.pdf: The Eastern District of New York denied Appellants' petition for writ of error coram nobis. The Second Circuit reversed and granted the writ after it found that Appellant's lawyer rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant's lawyer gave erroneous advice regarding deportation after pleading guilty.

Defense Attorney: Nicholas A. Gravanta, Jr.

3. United States v. Maynard, Second Circuit: Appellants were convicted after a series of bank robberies and ordered to pay restitution. Because the amount of restitution included bank expenses beyond the amount taken, the Second Circuit vacated and remanded for a new determination of restitution.

4. United States v. Salazar, Fifth Circuit: After violating the terms of his supervised release, Appellant was sentenced to prison and an additional period of supervised release, including special conditions. The Fifth Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by ordering imposing the special condition without demonstrating that the condition was reasonably related to statutory factors.

5. United States v. Urias-Marrufo, Fifth Circuit: The district court denied Appellant's motion to withdraw her guilty plea. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded because the district court did not properly consider the merits of Appellant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

6. United States v. Adams, Seventh Circuit: Two of the appellants received sentencing enhancements for maintaining a "stash house" after being convicted of drug offenses. Because the sentencing guideline provision which allowed that enhancement was not in place at the time of the offense, their sentences were reversed and remanded.

7. United States v. Maloney, Ninth Circuit: The United States Attorney moved to vacate the sentence and remand the case after reviewing a video of the en banc oral argument. The court agreed that the prosecutor had made references during rebuttal that were inappropriate and granted the motion to vacate.

8. United States v. Harrison, Tenth Circuit: After being convicted by a jury for a drug conspiracy charge, Appellant was sentenced to 360 months in prison. The sentence was vacated and remanded because the court improperly adopted the calculation in the presentence report showing that Appellant was responsible for more than 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine.

Defense Attorneys: O. Dean Sanderford and Raymond P. Moore

9. United States v. Jones, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 180 months for being a felon in possession of a firearm. After the Supreme Court ruling in Descamps, it is clear that Appellant's prior convictions cannot serve as an Armed Career Criminal Act predicate offense. Because a sentencing enhancement was incorrectly applied, the sentence is vacated and remanded.

10. United States v. Baldwin, Second Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 87 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. During sentencing a two-level enhancement for distribution of child pornography was imposed. The sentence was vacated because there was no finding of knowledge as required to impose that two-level enhancement.

11. United States v. Lagrone, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was charged with two felony theft counts and sentenced to two concurrent terms of 45 months' imprisonment. Because each of the two theft offenses involved Government property with a value less than $1,000, she could not be convicted of more than a single felony count. The case was therefore vacated and remanded.

12. United States v. Prado, Seventh Circuit: After pleading guilty to one count of extortion, Appellant asked the district court, during sentencing, to consider a similar case and the sentence imposed during that case. The court did not allow that information to be introduced. Appellant's sentence was reversed and remanded because the court erred in not understanding that it had discretion to hear Appellant's argument and that error was not harmless.

13. United States v. Shannon, Seventh Circuit: One of Appellant's special conditions of supervised release was that he could not possess any sexually explicit material. This condition was not discussed by anyone prior to its imposition. Based on that lack of findings or explanation on the lifetime ban, the condition was vacated.

14. United States v. Howard, Eighth Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing because one of his prior convictions no longer qualified as a "violent felony" under the Armed Career Criminal Act after the Supreme Court's decision in Descamps v. United States, ____ U.S. ____, 133 S.Ct. 2276 (2013).

February 12, 2014

Short Wins - We Aren't Dead Edition

Gentle readers,

The Courts of Appeal have been more diligent in issuing opinions than we've been in posting them. Apologies. As those of you who do trial work can understand, sometimes it's really hard to do anything other than eat and sleep when there are witnesses to prepare for and arguments to make. Alas.

That said, wow, these are a bunch of cases that a scholar of sentencing and supervised release law would love. Enjoy!

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Pena, First Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and also to possession with intent to distribute a drug and was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment. Because the plea proffer did not contain an admission that Appellant's actions resulted in the death of a person, and the government did not prove that element beyond a reasonable doubt, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorney: Robert L. Sheketoff

2. United States v. Rodriguez-Santana, First Circuit: Appellant challenged the special sex-offender conditions of his supervised release. The First Circuit vacated the special condition that Appellant permit monitoring of any device with internet access or data or video storage or sharing capabilities because the government conceded that this condition may not be justified.

Defense Attorneys: Thomas J. Trebilcock-Horan, Hector E. Guzman, Jr., Liza L. Rosado-Rodriguez

3. United States v. Williams, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to identity theft-related crimes and was sentenced to 56 months' imprisonment. That sentence was calculated using sentencing guidelines in effect at the time of sentencing, rather than at the time the crimes were committed. Because this resulted in higher sentencing guidelines, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

4. United States v. Maynard Williams, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated the district court's order revoking Appellant's supervised release. Appellant had entered an Alford plea. The Ninth Circuit held that such a plea is insufficient to prove commission of a state crime for purposes of a federal supervised release violation because the state itself does not treat such a plea as probative of the Appellant's guilt.

Defense Attorney: Alison K. Guernsey

5. U.S. v. Benns, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of making false statements on a credit card application. His sentence was reversed and the case remanded for resentencing because the district court improperly calculated the loss amount attributable to him.

6. U.S. v. Robinson, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of child pornography charges and sentenced to 720 months in prison. On appeal, the sentence was vacated and remanded because the trial court did not appreciate its authority to consider evidence of the Appellant's cooperation during sentencing.

7. U.S. v. Wooley, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment during a probation violation hearing. The trial court stated that it imposed that sentence because of the court's belief that Appellant had an untreated drug problem. The sentence was reversed because a sentencing court is prohibited from increasing or lengthening a prison sentence to promote rehabilitation.

8. U.S. v. Whitlow, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted and sentenced for drug-related offenses. The Seventh Circuit remanded to allow the trial court to exercise discretion on whether to give credit for eight months Appellant spent in in pretrial custody.

9. U.S. v. Rouillard, Eighth Circuit: Appellants conviction for sexual abuse of an incapacitated person under 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2) was reversed and remanded. The Eighth Circuit, en banc, recently clarified the mens rea requirement of 18 U.S.C. §2242(2) and this development requires remand in this case because the Appellant's request for a jury instruction on his knowledge of the incapacity of the person was denied.

10. U.S. v. Mathauda, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of various mail and wire fraud charges and sentenced to 252 months' imprisonment. The sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing because the district court erred in adding a sentence enhancement for Appellant's alleged violation of a prior court order.

11. U.S. v. Hagman, Fifth Circuit: After pleading guilty to two firearms charged, Appellant challenged a four point sentencing enhancement for bartering 8 to 24 firearms. The Fifth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded because the government failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Appellant had possessed or unlawfully sought to obtain that many firearms.

12. U.S. v. Adkins, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to receipt of child pornography and was sentenced to 210 months in prison and a number of special conditions. The Seventh Circuit vacated Appellant's sentence and remanded the case because one special condition - to not view or listen to any pornography or sexually stimulating material or sexually oriented material or patronize locations where such material is available - was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.

13. U.S. v. Jordan, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 24 months in prison for violating terms of his supervised release. On appeal, he challenged the revocation of his supervised release arguing that the district court erred by considering hearsay evidence without first making the "interest of justice' finding required when the defendant was denied the right to question an adverse witness under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Seventh Circuit agreed, and reversed and remanded.

14. U.S. v. Tucker, Eight Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing because the elements under the Nebraska statute, under which Appellant was convicted, do not ordinarily encompass conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another. Therefore Appellant inappropriately received an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

15. U.S. v. Ransfer, Eleventh Circuit: After a jury trial, Appellants were convicted of sixteen counts involving robbery, conspiracy, and using and carrying firearms. The Eleventh Circuit found that there was no evidence that one appellant, Lowe, took any action in furtherance of one of the robberies. His conviction was vacated on those related counts and the case remanded for sentencing.

December 30, 2013

Short Wins - Last Post Of The Year Edition

It's generally a slow time of year between Christmas and New Year's, but the federal circuits have been busy. But who wouldn't want to start the year with a remand in a criminal case (other than the government)?

Since we were off last week, here are the wins from the last two weeks in the federal circuits.

Happy New Year!

To the victories:

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. U.S. v. Duron-Caldera, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of illegal reentry. The conviction was vacated and the case remanded because the government should not have been allowed to admit an affidavit by the appellant's grandmother. The use of the affidavit violated the Confrontation Clause.

2. U.S. v. Doss, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted and sentenced for a variety of identity fraud and identity theft charges. Finding that a sentencing enhancement was improperly applied, the Seventh Circuit vacated the sentence.

3. U.S. v. DeJarnette, Ninth Circuit: DeJarnette appealed his conviction for failure to register as a sex offender. The Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction because the Attorney General has not validly specified if the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) applied to those already under sex offender restrictions when SORNA was enacted.

Defense Attorney: Mark D. Eibert

4. U.S. v. Timmann, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit vacated the convictions because the trial court improperly denied the Appellant's motion to suppress evidence collected from a warrantless search. Because there was no urgent, ongoing emergency, the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement should not have applied, and therefore the evidence collected should have been suppressed.

5. U.S. v. Pole, D.C. Circuit: Appellant was convicted of five counts of wire fraud and one count of theft. Because Appellant's claim for ineffective assistance of counsel was colorable, they were remanded. Further, because the trial court did not make the proper factual findings regarding restitution, the restitution order was vacated and remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Beverly G. Dyer, A.J. Kramer, and Tony Axam, Jr.

6. U.S. v. Rushton, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering and received a 4-level enhancement at sentencing for commodity pool operator fraud as well as a 2-level enhancement for abuse of a position of trust. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded because the abuse of trust enhancement is barred if the enhancement for being a commodity pool operator applies; therefore, Appellant's sentence was not calculated correctly.

7. U.S. v. Caceres-Olla, Ninth Circuit: After pleading guilty to unlawful reentry into the United States, Appellant was sentenced to 46 months in prison. The court applied a sentencing enhancement based on a prior crime. However, the Ninth Circuit held that a prior felony conviction under Florida Statute §800.04(4)(a) does not qualify as a crime of violence and therefore vacated and remanded for resentencing.

8. U.S. v. Lin, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted under 18 U.S.C. §1546(a) for fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents. The panel from the Ninth Circuit remanded because §1546 does not prohibit the mere possession of an unlawfully obtained driver's license issued by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Instead, §1546 targets different documents, but the government did not prove that Appellant possessed any such document.

Defense Attorney: Mark B. Hanson

9. U.S. v. Eiland, D.C. Circuit: Eiland and Miller were convicted of various narcotics-related offenses. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit vacated Miller's conviction for participation in a continuing criminal enterprise because the government failed to produce sufficient evidence that Miller acted as an organizer, supervisor, or manager to five or more individuals. Thus, the government did not establish all elements of the crime. The Court also vacated the fine imposed on Eiland and remand for reconsideration of that portion of the sentence because the district court vacated the conviction for which the fine was imposed.

Defense Attorneys: Eric H. Kirchman, Kenneth M. Robinson, Dennis M. Hart, and Frederick Miller

10. U.S. v. Miller, D.C. Circuit: This case is related to the above case, U.S. v. Eiland. In this related opinion, the D.C. Circuit vacates a number of convictions because the district court's responses to jury notes impermissibly interfered with the jury's independent role as fact-finder. The trial court abused its discretion by directing the jury to evidence previously unidentified by the jury as supporting a charge in the indictment. The Court also vacated Thomas' life sentences for narcotics conspiracy and RICO conspiracy and remanded for resentencing because those sentences violated Apprendi.

Defense Attorneys: Dennis M. Hart and David B. Smith

September 10, 2013

Short Wins - Sleepy Time In The Circuits

It's a sleepy week in the Circuits last week - a resentencing and a restitution remand.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Daniels, et al., Fifth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. The finding as to drug quantity was vacated because there was insufficient evidence to support it. Appellants' sentences were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing for the court to recalculate appellants' Guidelines range calculations, which were driven by the conspiracy's vacated five kilogram finding.

2. United States v. Edwards, et al., Eleventh Circuit: Appellants were convicted of wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering, and ordered to pay over $6 million in restitution. Because the government had no evidence to demonstrate that five of the alleged victims were entitled to restitution, the court clearly erred in awarding restitution with respect to these victims. The restitution order was vacated and the case remanded for a hearing on whether the five individuals at issue are entitled to restitution.

August 19, 2013

Short Wins - 9th and 11th Circuit edition

There are some great cases from the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits this week - especially United States v. Ermoian on obstruction of justice. Good times.

And, of course, the big news of last week was Eric Holder's recognition that there are a lot of people in federal prison. I'm skeptical that a policy that lets folks with one or two criminal history points avoid a mandatory minimum is going to do much to reduce our prison population, as I told some folks last week, but if the Attorney General is going to pay lip service to an idea, I suppose I'm glad it's an idea that I agree with.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. Spencer v. United States, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of distributing crack and sentenced to 151 months based in part on his designation as a career offender. Appellant argued at sentencing and on appeal that one of his predicate felony convictions upon which the career offender status was based no longer qualified as a predicate crime of violence. The court ruled that appellant could use a timely filed motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to pursue that argument when an intervening case from the Supreme Court validated the argument and applies retroactively. Because appellant correctly argued that one of his predicate convictions no longer qualified as a predicate crime of violence, the district court's denial of the § 2255 motion was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

2. United States v. Acosta-Chavez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty in 2005 to Illinois aggravated criminal sexual abuse and was removed from the country. After he reentered illegally, he was indicated on that basis, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. His sentence was based in part on the court's designation of the 2005 crime as a "crime of violence." This was error. Because the error was not harmless, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Attorney: David W. Basham, for Appellant.

3. United States v. Edwards, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 46 months in prison. At sentencing the district court found that appellant's prior conviction for attempted burglary under Nevada law was a "crime of violence" using the modified categorical approach. In this case, applying that approach was error. Appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing without the "crime of violence" enhancement.

Attorney: Chad A. Bowers, for Appellant.

4. United States v. Ermoian, et al., Ninth Circuit.pdf: Appellants were convicted of obstructing justice arising out of their alleged conduct during an FBI investigation. Because an FBI investigation is not an "official proceeding" under the federal obstruction of justice statute, the jury instruction identifying it as such was erroneous. The government conceded that, if an FBI investigation wasn't an official proceeding, the obstruction of justice charges could not have been sustained on evidence presented at trial. For these reasons, appellants' convictions were reversed and retrial was barred.

Attorneys: for Mr. Ermoian, John Balazs; for Mr. Johnson, Jerald Brainin.

5. United States v. Madden, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was indicted for, among other things, knowingly using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and knowingly possession a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. At trial, the court's instructions to the jury constructively amended this charge by using different and confusing language. He was convicted on this charge. Because the amendment was plain error, appellant's conviction was reversed and the case remanded.

August 12, 2013

Short Wins - Attorney General Holder Wants Fewer People In Prison And We Add Attorney Names

It's been a busy week in the circuits. But first, two news items.

Eric Holder Walks Back The War On Drugs

Today, as has been widely reported, Eric Holder will announce that "widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable." Here's coverage at the Wall Street Journal.

This is good news, though, of course, it could have been better news. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world. We're spending way too much money to destroy families and communities for no good law enforcement reason. I can't help but wonder how many pointless years of prison time were imposed while Holder lead the Department of Justice before he made these changes.

It looks like Holder's proposals are (1) aimed at trimming a little bit of the horribleness of the war on drugs and (2) making it easier for folks to get released from prison early in some limited circumstances.

The devil, as always, will be in the details. We'll see. And, of course, this does nothing for the other areas of the law -- like fraud and child pornography possession -- where the sentences are also unconscionably high.

Attorney Names

In other news, we're adding a new part of Short Wins today. In the past, we've just published a short description of the case, and longer write-ups have come out during the week.

Today, in response to emails from some readers, we'll start to add the name of the lawyer who argued the case.

This has two goals. First, it will congratulate our fellow members of the bar who should be congratulated. Second, my friends in federal public defender offices have asked what percentage of wins are from the FPD community. I don't keep track, but this will make that a little easier to see.

Sadly, some circuits don't list the attorney who argued a case in the opinion. For the lawyers who won cases in those circuits, I'm sorry to say we won't be digging through Pacer to find your names.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Fries, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of transferring a firearm to an out-of-state residence when neither he nor the buyer was a licensed firearms dealer. Because the evidence at trial did not prove that appellant sold a weapon to a person who wasn't a licensed firearms dealer - an essential element of the offense - appellant's conviction was reversed with instructions for the trial court to enter a judgment of acquittal.

2. United States v. Hughes, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was charged with one count of conspiring to distribute crack and four counts of using a phone to facilitate the commission of a drug crime. At his plea hearing, the government informed the court that, in exchange for appellant's guilty plea to the drug conspiracy count, the government would move to dismiss the remaining charges at sentencing. Appellant pled guilty to all five counts. Although the government reminded the district court of the agreement to drop four of the five counts, the court sentenced appellant on all five counts. The court abused its discretion in sentencing appellant on all five counts because it provided no reasoning justifying its refusal to dismiss the four counts, and because the government did not argue that dismissing the counts would have been "clearly contrary to manifest public interest."

3. United States v. Lee, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and a forfeiture count. For three years after her guilty plea, appellant substantially assisted the government's investigation and prosecution of a drug network in which she had been involved. She was then sentenced to 96 months in prison. Her sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing because of three errors: the district court (1) failed to use the Guidelines as a starting point; (2) incorrectly calculated the Guidelines range; and (3) failed to determine a revised minimum sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), as it was required to in considering appellant's substantial assistance.

Mark Eibert, Half Moon Bay, California, for Defendant-Appellant.

4. United States v. Nelson, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. At trial, the court admitted testimony from police regarding an anonymous 911 caller's description of appellant, which was hearsay evidence admitted to prove that appellant possessed a gun. The evidence shouldn't have been admitted because it went directly to the key issue for jury resolution, wasn't necessary for the government to provide the jury with a coherent narrative, and was too prejudicial for the harm to be cured without a limiting instruction. The error wasn't harmless because it was more probable than not that it had a material impact on the verdict. For these reasons, the judgment was vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

Erik R. Herbert, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

5. United States v. Thomas, Ninth Circuit: Marijuana was found in a toolbox in appellant's car as a result of a search conducted by a drug dog and the dog's handler. Appellant was subsequently indicted for possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and, more than a year later, with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. Appellant filed a motion to suppress the marijuana, which was denied. This was error, which was not harmless, as the government failed to disclose adequate evidence of the drug dog's and his handler's proficiency and experience to justify the search that led to the drugs.

Brian I. Rademacher, Assistant Federal Public Defender, District of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, argued the cause and filed the briefs for the appellant.

August 7, 2013

Marriage Fraud Does Not Wait On Lying To Immigration Officials

Does marriage fraud happen in the marriage, or at the wedding? As it happens, marriage fraud, at least according to the Eleventh Circuit, is a bit of a misnomer - it's really better thought of as wedding fraud.

The statute is 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c). It says that it's a marriage fraud whenever "[a]ny individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws." The case is United States v. Rojas.

2.jpgYunier Rojas and Soledad Marino were friends. Good friends, but just friends. Apparently not even friends with benefits. Just friends.

Ms. Marino is an Argentinian who had overstayed her nonimmigrant visa. Mr. Rojas, as a friend, married her so that she could stay in the country.

The happy day was April 23, 2007.

Two years later, Ms. Marino sent in an application to adjust her status, as a result of her marriage. She sent in a marriage license from April 2007, as well as a list of addresses where she had lived with Mr. Rojas as a married couple.

Folks from Immigration and Customs Enforcement - ICE - interviewed the couple, together.

The interview didn't go well. As a result of discrepancies between what they said, the interviewers decided to interview the couple separately. The two gave different answers about their marriage. One suspects that they were more substantive than whether her favorite flavor of ice cream was really pistachio.

Finally, the ICE agents told the couple that they thought the marriage was a fraud. Both Mr. Rojas and Ms. Marino admitted that it was.

Mr. Rojas signed a statement saying that he and Ms. Marino were just friends - and that he married her so she could stay in the country.

As often happens when folks volunteer information about their own criminal conduct, law enforcement responded charitably - the government indicted Mr. Rojas.

The indictment came on April 27, 2012.

This was, of course, five years and four days after April 23, 2007 - the day the couple were married.

Mr. Rojas filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which was denied.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit, per curiam, in an opinion that didn't require argument, held that the crime of marriage fraud is completed on the day that the couple enters into the marriage.

This is because the criminal conduct is "knowingly enter[ing] into a marriage" that's a sham to defeat immigration laws.

The government argued that the crime of immigration fraud was not complete until the couple lied to the government about the purpose of the marriage. That, after all, is when the government first learned that a crime had happened.

Since the purpose of entering in a sham marriage - according to the government - is to lie to immigration, the couple has to actually finish lying to immigration for the crime to be done.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected this argument.

To prove marriage fraud, the government must show that (1) the defendant knowingly entered into a marriage (2) for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws.2 See 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c). It is undisputed that Rojas and Marino married on April 23, 2007. It is likewise undisputed that Rojas, at the time he entered into the marriage, did so for the purpose of violating the immigration laws--namely, using the marriage to adjust Marino's immigration status. Filing for immigration benefits may serve as circumstantial evidence of the defendant's unlawful purpose and may lead, as it did in this case, to charges and prosecution for making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement to DHS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). The plain language of the marriage fraud statute, however, cannot plausibly be read to require that a defendant take the additional step of filing for immigration benefits in order for the crime to be complete.

The district court abused its discretion by holding otherwise.

So, Mr. Rojas is free to go. Though I suspect that the statute of limitations on lying to the ICE investigators may not have run yet.

June 28, 2013

Short Wins - Immigration Fraud and Bad Prosecutor Edition

I'm writing this from the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference. Here's my brief recap.

Today, Brian Stevenson, a tremendously cool death penalty lawyer told the assembled group that justice for poor folks and people of color is going to be more likely if decision makers are in closer proximity to poor folks and people of color.

Yesterday, there was a talk about how to improve your home security, to keep any one who wants to get in proximity to you from doing so.

There's something for everyone.

Anyway, it's been a good week in the circuits.

Here are my two favorite cases from the last week:

In United States v. Tavera the Sixth Circuit had some trouble disclosing statements that tended to show that the defendant was not actually guilty. Here's the quotable gem: "This case shows once again how prosecutors substitute their own judgment of the defendant's guilt for that of the jury."

Also, in United States v. Rojas the Eleventh Circuit kicked a marriage fraud conviction on statute of limitations grounds.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Gillenwater, Ninth Circuit: The district court erred in finding appellant incompetent to stand trial because, at the competency hearing, appellant was denied his constitutional right to testify. This error was not harmless because the court did not know what the appellant would have testified about.

2. United States v. Hernandez-Meza, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for illegal reentry was dismissed because it was in violation of the Speedy Trial Act. Further, the court abused its discretion when it let the government reopen its case-in-chief to present evidence that had not been produced in discovery to rebut appellant's defense. The case was remanded for a hearing to determine whether the prosecution willfully failed to disclose the evidence and, if so, to impose sanctions.

3. United States v. Rojas, Eleventh Circuit: The trial court abused its discretion in denying appellant's motion to dismiss his marriage fraud indictment on statute of limitations grounds. Because that crime is complete on the date of the marriage, the government's indictment was barred by the five-year limitations period. The trial court's ruling was reversed and the case remanded.

4. United States v. Tang, Fifth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to failing to register as a sex offender after traveling in interstate commerce. He appealed some conditions of his supervised release, including a ban on Internet use and a restriction on dating people with minor children. The internet restriction was vacated because it was not reasonably related to the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and involved a greater deprivation of liberty than reasonably necessary. The dating restriction was vacated because that restriction from the written judgment was not part of the oral pronouncement of sentence.

5. United States v. Tavera, Sixth Circuit: Appellant, along with a co-defendant, was convicted of participating in a drug conspiracy. During plea negotiations, the co-defendant told the government's lawyer in appellant's case that appellant had no knowledge of the conspiracy. The prosecutor never disclosed these statements to appellant. The prosecutor's failure to disclose the statements resulted in a due process violation. As a result, the court vacated the conviction and remanded for a new trial.

6. United States v. Valerio, Eleventh Circuit: The trial court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress evidence that led to his arrest for growing marijuana because the officers' Terry stop and subsequent seizure was unauthorized by the Fourth Amendment. Appellant's conviction was vacated.

7. United States v. Vazquez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and sentenced to 144 months. He received an additional point in his guidelines range calculation based on his conviction for "driving while license suspended." That conviction should not have been counted because he was not sentenced to probation for more than one year or to prison for at least 30 days. The sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

June 17, 2013

Short Wins - Forced Medication and Discovery Issues Edition

There's a great diversity of cases where defendants won in the federal circuit's last week.

Probably the most significant - in terms of it's implication for other cases, is the discovery dispute in United States v. Muniz-Jaquez from the Ninth Circuit.

Though, of course, it's still from the Ninth Circuit.

And there's now interesting pro-defendant competency and forced medication law from the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Chatmon

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Chatmon, Fourth Circuit: After he was indicted for conspiracy to distribute crack and heroin, appellant was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and deemed incompetent to go to trial. Later, the court granted the government's motion to forcibly medicate appellant to restore him to competency. This was error because the court did not discuss any less intrusive alternatives in granting the motion. The order was vacated and the case remanded.

2. United States v. Malki, Second Circuit: After appellant was convicted of retaining classified documents without authorization and sentenced to 121 months in prison, he successfully appealed and was resentenced. At resentencing, the court erred by engaging in a de novo resentencing. Because the remand was for limited, not de novo, resentencing, the case was remanded again for resentencing.

3. United States v. Muniz-Jaquez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of being a deported alien in the United States. The trial court abused its discretion in excluding dispatch tapes that could have assisted in appellant's defense or could have helped him challenge adverse testimony at trial. Appellant's conviction was reversed and the case remanded for the tapes to be produced and for the court to address any motions the tapes may generate.

4. United States v. Rothstein, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant, who was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme through his law firm, placed the fruits of his scheme into his firm's bank accounts, where they were commingled with the firm's receipts from legitimate clients. The court erred in ordering the forfeiture of some of the accounts as proceeds of the scheme because the commingled proceeds could not be divided without difficulty, and forfeiture should have been sought under substitute property provisions. Further, the court erred in forfeiting to the government other properties without resolving the issue of whether the illicit funds were used to acquire them. Remand was required to resolve that issue.

5. United States v. Windless, Fifth Circuit: Appellant knowingly failed to register as a sex offender and pled guilty to the same. He was sentenced to supervised release and two conditions were imposed: (1) participation in a mental health treatment program; and (2) no direct or indirect conduct with children under 18. The court erred in relying at sentencing on three "bare arrest records" - records that did not contain any information about the underlying facts or conduct that led to the arrest - in imposing the conditions. Also, the second condition was overly broad. For these reasons, the first condition was vacated and the second reversed, and the case remanded for resentencing.

June 13, 2013

Short Wins - Assault on An Officer and the Ex Post Facto Clause

There were three wins in the federal circuits last week, discussed below. The most interesting is probably United States v. Zabawa which gives a fair shake at sentencing to someone who assaulted an officer (who headbutted him).

It reminds me of a joke Bill Clinton liked to tell during the impeachment:

A kid comes home from school with a black eye. His mom asked what happened. The kid says, "Mom, it all started when the other guy hit back."

Probably the bigger news, though, is the Supreme Court's decision on Monday in Peugh v. United States.

The short version - the Ex Post Facto clause applies to the sentencing guidelines.

For the longer version, please check out my coverage on Above the Law here.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Reed, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of trafficking in counterfeit goods. After voluntarily dismissing his appeal, he filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion seeking to vacate his conviction and sentence for ineffective assistance of counsel, among other grounds. The district court denied the motion and denied a certificate of appealability. On appellant's motion, the Fifth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability only on the issue of whether the district court erred in denying, without having an evidentiary hearing, appellant's ineffective assistance claim. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's order on that issue only and remanded for a hearing.

2. United States v. Whatley, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of robbing several banks. During his sentencing, the district court erred when it applied a four-level enhancement for abduction of the bank employees because appellant ordered them to move around to different areas within the banks. The case was remanded for resentencing with instructions for the court to apply the two-level enhancement for physical restraint of the employees.

3. United States v. Zabawa, Sixth Circuit: While in federal custody, appellant assaulted an officer, who responded by headbutting appellant, which left the officer with a cut over his eye. As a result of this interaction, appellant was convicted of assaulting a federal officer under 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) and (b). Because § 111(b) specifies that the person must "inflict[]" the predicate injury to the officer, rather than cause it, appellant's conviction under (b) was improper: the officer himself admitted that his injury might have resulted from his headbutt to appellant, rather than from any force appellant applied to him. As a result, appellant's conviction under § 111(b) was reversed.

April 29, 2013

Short Wins - Resentencing Mania Sweeps The Federal Appeals Courts

There are a handful of resentencing remands in the federal courts last week.

Perhaps most interesting is United States v. Francois, remanding because the sentence imposed exceeded the statutory maximum. One doesn't see that too often (though it's preserved in even the most aggressive appeal waivers - I think of it as a theoretical thing rather than a real meaningful risk, but, hey, last week was the week.).

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Allen, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the mandatory minimum at the time he committed the offense. Before he was sentenced, the Fair Sentencing Act ("FSA") was passed, which raised the drug quantities that triggered mandatory minimum sentences for certain crack offenses. Because the FSA was passed before appellant was sentenced and appellant didn't possess the amount of crack necessary to trigger the mandatory minimum under the FSA, his sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

2. United States v. Dotson, Sixth Circuit.pdf: Appellant was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison to be followed by a 20-year term of supervised release, which carried with it many conditions. Because the district court did not articulate a rationale for imposing some of the conditions of supervised release, the judgment was vacated as to those conditions and the case remanded for further proceedings.

3. United States v. Francois, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of four counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, one count of possession a firearm with an obliterated serial number, and 12 counts stemming from his use of a stolen identity to purchase those firearms. For these offenses, he was sentenced to 164 months in prison. Because appellant's sentences for some of the offenses related to his use of a stolen identity exceeded the statutory maximum, the case was remanded for resentencing.

4. United States v. Hamilton, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute 5 grams or more of crack cocaine and other drug offenses and was sentenced to 262 months. Appellant made two motions under 18 U.S.C.§ 3582(c)(2) to reduce his sentence based on Amendment 750 to the sentencing guidelines, which lowered the base offense levels applicable to crack offenses. It was error to deny the second motion because (1) the government's and probation's memos contained inaccurate or incomplete information about the drug quantity findings at sentencing and (2) the district court did not determine accurately the drug quantity.

5. United States v. Savani, et al., Eighth Circuit: Three appellants were separately convicted of crack cocaine-related offenses. In each case, appellants were sentenced below the statutory mandatory minimum. Shortly after appellants were sentenced, the FSA became law, and Amendment 750 was approved. In light of this amendment, appellants moved to further reduce their sentences. Because they were not barred for policy reasons from seeking a further sentencing reduction under § 3582(c)(2), the courts' orders denying appellants' motions were vacated and the cases remanded for further proceedings.

6. United States v. Washington, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to four fraud offenses and was sentenced to 105 months in prison. The sentence was based in part on the court's ruling that 250 or more people or entities were victimized by the fraud scheme. Because the government failed to present any evidence that there were 250 or more victims, appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for the court to resentence appellant using a two-level, rather than six-level, enhancement for the number of victims under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2)(A).

April 15, 2013

Short Wins - Is It Unseemly That DOJ Asks For New Prosecutors While Federal Defenders Are Being Laid Off?

Three opinions are in this week's "short wins" - on restitution calculation, competency in a bank robbery case, and the Fair Sentencing Act.

And, in federal public defender budget news, the New York Times had an editorial last week calling for more sensible funding of the government services required by the Constitution. Here's the best bit:

The right to counsel is already badly battered in state courts, largely because most states grossly underfinance the representation of impoverished defendants. Indigent defense in federal criminal cases has served as an admirable contrast because of the high quality and availability of federal defenders. Now this system is in peril. Federal defenders will not be able to take the time to visit clients in prison or search for facts that could raise doubts about clients' guilt.

Budget cuts hit every part of the federal government, as we know. Which is why the Department of Justice last week asked to hire an additional 100 lawyers next year over what they had this year.

As the Legal Times reports it,

The U.S. Department of Justice's budget request for 2014 seeks to add dozens of attorney positions, boosting efforts to combat cybersecurity, prosecute financial and mortgage fraud and combat international piracy of intellectual property.

For those of you keeping score at home, the federal public defender is laying off people - including at least one Federal Public Defender himself - furloughing others, and otherwise scrambling to deal with the 5% budget cut that went into effect in February. Meanwhile, DOJ is staffing up.

Apparently a change in tide does not affect all boats equally.

Should DOJ worry that they won't find enough harried, underpaid public defenders to be on the other side of the the cases that their fancy new prosecutors will be bringing?

And, with that, to the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1.United States v. Fareri, D.C. Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to mail fraud, was sentenced to 105 months in prison, and ordered to pay restitution. Remand was required for the district court to correct the specific amounts owed to appellant's victims, as the list of payments due to each victim exceeded the amount identified in the court's oral pronouncement and written judgment. Though the district court's total restitution amount was binding, remand was required to reapportion the payments between victims. [Note - Matt Kaiser was trial counsel in this case.]

2. United States v. Grigsby, Sixth Circuit: The district court issued an order allowing the government to medicate appellant, a pretrial detainee diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, in an effort to restore appellant's mental competency so that he could be prosecuted on bank robbery charges. Because appellant's liberty interest in avoiding involuntary medication outweighed the government's interest in prosecution, the order was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

3. United States v. Hinds, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. He was later resentenced to a reduced term of 120 months. The acts giving rise to the conviction occurred before the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act ("FSA"), though appellant was re-sentenced after the Act. The FSA raised the drug quantities required to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for certain crack offenses. Because appellant was re-sentenced after the FSA was enacted, his sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

April 14, 2013

Not All Violations Of Laws Are Crimes; The Eleventh Circuit Vacates A Conviction For An Illegal Food and Drug Practice That You Can't Be Convicted For

United States v. Izurieta is an odd opinion. Turns out the Eleventh Circuit was a very good defense attorney in this case.

Two brothers - Yuri and Anneri Izurieta - ran an import/export business. They brought food into the United States from Central America.

999830__3.jpgThey were charged with not following FDA procedures when they brought food into the country that - according to a trial stipulation - contained e coli and salmonella.

They were convicted at trial.

They appealed and raised some interesting issues - a Confrontation Clause challenge, a challenge to some of the prosecutor's statements during the trial, and an issue about how the sentence was calculated.

Everyone showed up for oral argument ready, presumably, to talk about these issues. The briefs had been filed. The issues were clear. I'd like to think the defense lawyer was wearing a new suit.

Then, at oral argument, the Eleventh Circuit panel asked whether the indictment in the case actually set out something that is a violation of the criminal law of the United States.

As it happens, it didn't.

So, there's a practice pointer for defense lawyers - check to make sure that an indictment accuses the person charged with something that is actually a crime.

Here are the details.

The brothers were charged with seven counts:

Count 1 charged a conspiracy to unlawfully import in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Counts 2 - 7 charged the Izurietas with the failure "to redeliver, export, and destroy with FDA supervision" five shipments.

More specifically, Counts 2 through 7 charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 545, which says,

Whoever fraudulently or knowingly imports or brings into the United States, any merchandise contrary to law, or receives, conceals, buys, sells, or in any manner facilitates the transportation, concealment, or sale of such merchandise after importation, knowing the same to have been imported or brought into the United States contrary to law . . . Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

So the "contrary to law" part is really important.

Here, the brothers violated an FDA regulation which provided for civil, but not criminal penalties. Does section 545 convert the violation of that regulation into a crime?

The Ninth Circuit had previously weighed in on this in 2008 in United States v. Alghazouli, 517 F.3d 1179, 1187 (9th Cir. 2008) and found that section 545 doesn't do the alchemy of converting not criminal regulations into criminal ones.

There, relying in part on an 1892 Supreme Court case that held that "[i]t is necessary that a sufficient statutory authority should exist for declaring any act or omission a criminal offence" in the course of striking down a conviction for violating a bookkeeping regulation under the Oleomargarine Act (which, seriously, sounds insane. You should read more about it here and here).

The Fourth Circuit, on the other hand, held in United States v. Mitchell, 39 F.3d 465 (4th Cir. 1994), that section 545 criminalizes the violation of otherwise noncriminal regulations when the underlying regs are "legislative" in nature because, really, we're not going to lead the world in prison population without everyone doing their part.

The Eleventh Circuit ragged a bit on the Ninth Circuit's opinion, then noted that

lenity remains an important concern in criminal cases, especially where a regulation giving rise to what would appear to be civil remedies is said to be converted into a criminal law.

Because of ambiguity about whether the regulations that these brothers violated could be prosecuted criminally, the Eleventh Circuit held that, under the rule of lenity, they couldn't be.

The indictment, then, didn't allege a violation of the criminal law. And the brothers' convictions were vacated.

Gentle reader, you may be wondering whether, procedurally, this is kosher. Can it be that an appellate court can first raise whether the indictment charges a violation of the law at oral argument?

It can, because the issue is jurisdictional. If there's no adequate allegation of a crime, then the court of appeals doesn't have jurisdiction to hear the case. So, if there's a jurisdictional error, that can be raised at any point.

As the Eleventh Circuit noted,

In Seher, we held that this court is required to raise sua sponte the jurisdictional issue of whether the indictment sufficiently alleges an offense in violation of the laws of the United States provided the mandate has not issued on direct appeal. Seher, 562 F.3d at 1359.

Also, the opinion was written by Judge Jane Restani, a judge on the United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation on the Eleventh Circuit. You don't see that very often.