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

November 18, 2014

Short Wins - the Dramatic Catch-Up Edition

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

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

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

To the Victories!

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

Defense Attorney: Judith H. Mizner

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Rafael F. Castro Lang

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

Defense Attorney: James L. Sultan

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

Defense Attorney: Yuanchung Lee

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Sarah S. Gannett

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

Defense Attorneys: Joshua B. Carpenter and Ross Hall Richardson

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

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

Defense Attorney: Kevin M. Schad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Charles M. Sevilla

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

Defense Attorney: Eric Weaver

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

Defense Attorney: Kara Hartzler

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

Defense Attorney: Gregory Charles Link

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Lynn T. Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorneys: Rich Curtner and Noa Oren

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

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

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

Defense Attorneys: Gretchen Fusilier and Thomas Paul Slesinger

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Brooke A. Tebow

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

Defense Attorney: Ty Gee

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

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

August 27, 2014

Short Wins - The Late August Edition

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

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

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

To the victories!

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

Defense Attorney: William W. Fick

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

Defense Attorney: Steven A. Feldman

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Candace Cain

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

Defense Attorney: Pamela L. Colon

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: David L. Doughten

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Valentine C. Darker

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

Defense Attorney: Christopher Keleher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Tony Faryar Farmani

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Keith J. Hilzendeger

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

Defense Attorney: Mace J. Yampolsky

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

Defense Attorney: Joseph Alexander Little, IV

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

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.

May 21, 2014

Short Wins - the Expert Testimony Edition

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

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

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

To the victories!

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

Defense Attorney: Jonathan G. Mermin

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

Defense Attorneys: Martin G. Weinberg and Kimberly Homan

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

Defense Attorney: Heather Golias

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

Defense Attorney: Irma R. Valldejuli

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Peter A. Levin

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Richard Croutharmel

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

Defense Attorney: Todd Michael Brooks and Erek L. Barron

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

Defense Attorneys: Matthew Scott Owen and Daniel S. Epps

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

Defense Attorney: Cameron Jane Blazer

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

Defense Attorney: William G. Brown

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: John Ward

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

Defense Attorneys: Randolph Fiedler and Debra A. Bookout

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

Defense Attorney: Erik B. Levin

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

Defense Attorney: C. Renee Manes

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

Defense Attorneys: Keith Swisher

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

Defense Attorney: Caitlin E. Howard

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

Defense Attorney: Devin Burstein

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

Defense Attorney: Deborah Roden

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Thomas D. Haney

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

April 23, 2014

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

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

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

To the victories!

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Jerome Kaplan

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

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

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

Defense Attorneys: Ann Loraine Hester and Henderson Hill

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

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

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

Defense Attorney: Allison L. Ehlert

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

Defense Attorney: Laura E. Davis

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Jess R. Marchese

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

Defense Attorney: Gary P. Burcham

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

Defense Attorney: James H. Locklin

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Katherine L. Hart

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

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

March 12, 2014

Short Wins - The Aggravated Identity Theft, 18 U.S.C. § 1028A, and Stacking Edition

Aggravated identity theft - charged under 1028A - seems like it's getting more and more popular among federal prosecutors. It does come with massive leverage in plea negotiations; a conviction for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A carries a mandatory 2 years in prison, consecutive to any other count of conviction. I'm starting to see these in cases beyond the garden variety identity fraud gift card cases - like tax and health care fraud.

The statute says that for subsequent 1028A convictions, a district court has discretion whether to stack them. And United States v. Chibuko addresses exactly that issue and the importance of reading a statute.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Chibuko, Second Circuit: Appellant was convicted of various fraud crimes, including three counts of aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. Although sentences under § 1028A usually carry a two-year sentence, each to run consecutive to each other, Appellant's charges are part of the same scheme involving the same victim. Because the district court did not appreciate its ability to have those sentences run concurrently, the case is remanded for resentencing.

2. United States v. Taylor, Second Circuit: Appellants' convictions for robbery of a pharmacy were vacated. Statements from Taylor were used during trial against all appellants, but those statements were found to be involuntary because Taylor had ingested a large number of pills as he was arrested. Admitting those statements against each of the Appellants was not harmless error, so their convictions were vacated and the cases remanded for new trials.

Defense Attorneys: Kelley J. Sharkey, Jillian S. Harington, and Colleen P. Cassidy

3. United States v. Strayhorn, Fourth Circuit: Appellants were convicted on a number of robbery charges. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that a partial fingerprint found on duct tape was insufficient evidence to convict Janson Strayhorn of robbery. The court also held that Jimmy Strayhorn's sentence must be vacated because the district court failed to instruct the jurors, for the brandishing charge, that they needed to find Jimmy Strayhorn had brandished a gun.

Defense Attorneys: James B. Craven III and Tony E. Rollman,

4. United States v. Debenedetto, Seventh Circuit: After being arrested, Appellant was found mentally incompetent and was committed for further evaluation, including an order for involuntary treatment with psychotropic medications. The Seventh Circuit vacated the commitment order because the hearing and written findings of the district court failed to comply with Sell v. United States by not considering less intrusive measures.

5. United States v. Poulin, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty and received 115 months' imprisonment for possession of child pornography. The sentence was vacated and remanded because the court made not harmless procedural errors, imposing both a sentence and special conditions without providing adequate reasons.

6. United States v. Woodard, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was charged with health care fraud and sentenced to 80 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty. This sentence violated the ex post facto clause because she was sentenced under the wrong version of the sentencing guidelines.

7. United States v. Burrage, Eighth Circuit: On remand from the Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit reversed Appellant's conviction of distribution of heroin resulting in death. The jury instruction was improper because it did not require the jury to find that the heroin was the proximate cause of the death.

8. Clabourne v. Ryan, Ninth Circuit: The district court denied Appellant's habeas corpus petition which claimed ineffective assistance of counsel at resentencing. The Ninth Circuit issued a certificate of appealability and vacated the denial of relief because there was potential merit to the claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the sentencing court's consideration of a 1982 confession.

Defense Attorney: S. Jonathan Young

9. United States v. Tanke, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit held that it was plain error to include restitution amounts that were not part of the offenses of conviction and therefore vacated and remanded for resentencing.

January 21, 2014

Short Wins - The First Post of 2014 Edition

There's been a lot of action in the federal circuits these first few weeks of the year, and here, in one post we have a lot of it.

One shout out in particular is U.S. v. Aparicio-Soria. The Fourth Circuit weighs in on resisting arrest. Is it always a crime of violence? Surely not, but, well, it takes a while for things to get to that point.

Congratulations Sapna Mirchandani for a nice win!

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. U.S. v. Jones, Third Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment following a guilty plea to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The Third Circuit vacated the sentence finding that the District Court erred in applying a sentencing enhancement for assault of a police officer. Since the officer was unaware that the Appellant was attempting to withdraw a gun, the officer had not been assaulted.

Defense Attorneys: Thomas W. Patton

2. U.S. v. Guzman, Fifth Circuit: Appellant, who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, appeals his conviction and sentence because the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence. Because the District Court expressly declined to make factual findings that may have had a determinative impact on the outcome of the suppression hearing, the Fifth Circuit vacated the conviction and sentence. The case was remanded to ascertain whether the police officer asked Appellant for consent to search his car.

3. U.S. v. Shepard, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was found guilty of three counts of receipt of visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and one count of attempted receipt. Appellant appealed his convictions and sentence because one juror, prior to the commencement of trial, contacted the court and expressed his inability to view any pictures or video because of the content of those materials. The Sixth Circuit remands for retrial, finding that it was an abuse of discretion to not excuse the juror.

Defense Attorney: Gregory A. Napolitano

4. U.S. v. Currie, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm following a felony conviction and was convicted to 121 months imprisonment. At the time of sentencing, the district court believed the mandatory minimum for Appellant to be ten years. The Seventh Circuit remanded for the purpose of ascertaining whether the district court would be inclined to sentence the Appellant differently knowing that Appellant is subject to the lower statutory minimum of five years.

5. U.S. v. Spencer, Seventh Circuit: The Seventh Circuit vacated Appellant's sentence because the district court improperly included a sentencing enhancement. Because one of Appellant's prior convictions did not qualify as a "serious drug offense", the sentencing enhancement should not have been applied when calculating his sentence.

6. U.S. v. Toledo, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. During trial the court denied Appellant's request for self-defense and involuntary manslaughter jury instructions. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial finding that the evidence warranted self-defense and involuntary manslaughter instruction s so that the jury could make factual findings once properly instructed.

Defense Attorney: Marc H. Robert

7. U.S. v. Clark, Second Circuit: After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance. On appeal, the conviction for possession of a controlled substance was reversed. The Second Circuit held that there was insufficient evidence for that conviction such that no jury could reasonable find beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened.

8. U.S. v. Vasquez Macias, Second Circuit: Appellant was found guilty by a jury of being a previously-deported alien "found in" the United States. The Second Circuit reversed because Appellant had left the United States, seeking entry into Canada, when he was detained. Appellant was returned to the United States in custody and, although previously had been voluntarily in the United States, he was not "found in" the US at that point.

Defense Attorneys: Jayme L. Feldman and Tracey Hayes

9. U.S. v. Aparicio-Soria, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to one count of unlawful reentry of a deported alien after sustaining an aggravated felony conviction. During sentencing, an enhancement was applied for the use of force because of a previous conviction for resisting arrest. The Fourth Circuit held that the Maryland crime of resisting arrest does not categorically qualify as a crime of violence within the meaning of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and therefore vacated and remanded for resentencing.

Defense Attorneys: Sapna Mirchandani and James Wyda

10. U.S. v. Freeman, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of obstructing federal bankruptcy proceedings and ordered to pay $631,050.52 in restitution to the victims. The Fourth Circuit vacated the order of restitution because that loss was suffered during conduct for which Appellant was not charged or convicted.

Defense Attorney: Nancy Susanne Forster

11. U.S. v. Simpson, Fifth Circuit: Simpson's conviction for registration of a false domain name was overturned on appeal because the domain was registered in October 2004 and the relevant law was not enacted until December 2004 and there was no proof that Simpson falsely registered a domain after December 2004. Simpson's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

12. U.S. v. Seymour, Sixth Circuit: Seymour appealed his sentence of 100 months' imprisonment following a conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing because the district court inappropriately applied a firearm sentencing enhancement.

Defense Attorney: Jeffrey F. Kelleher

13. UU.S. v. Cureton, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of two counts of using a firearm in connection with a violent felony. On appeal, one of those convictions was vacated because both arise from the same conduct.

14. U.S. v. Washington, Seventh Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to attempting to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute and was sentenced to 97 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit found that the trial court's explanation for the sentence imposed was insufficient. The trial court only said that it had considered all factors under the law and that the crime was serious. This insufficiency required the sentence to be vacated and the case was remanded for resentencing.

15. U.S. v. Boose, Eighth Circuit: Appellant's 120-month sentence was vacated. During sentencing, an enhancement was applied for a career offender, but the Eighth Circuit held that Appellant does not meet the definition of a career offender.

December 17, 2013

Short Wins - It's White-Collar Week In The Federal Circuits

It's white-collar week here at the federal criminal appeals blog. Two big wins in white collar cases - a price fixing conspiracy case in U.S. v. Grimm and a sentencing win in a securities fraud case in U.S. v. Simmons.

It warms your heart right before the holidays.

This is also the last week to vote for this blog on the ABA Blog 100. Here's the link - scroll down to the criminal justice blogs and you'll find us.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. U.S. v. Grimm, Second Circuit: Three co-defendants were tried and convicted of violating the general federal conspiracy statute for charges arising from the fixing of below-market interest rates paid by General Electric to municipalities. Finding that the continued payment of depressed interest to municipalities did not constitute overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, the Second Circuit held that the statute of limitations had run. The convictions were reversed and the case remanded to the district court for dismissal of the indictment.

Defense Attorneys: Howard E. Heiss, Jonathan D. Hacker, Anton Metlisky, Deanna M. Rice, James R. Smart, Walter F. Timpone, David C. Frederick, Brendan J. Crimmins, Emily T.P. Rosen, Andrew Goldsmith, John S. Siffert, Daniel M. Gitner.

2. U.S. v. Simmons, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of securities fraud, wire fraud, and two counts of money laundering. Both money laundering convictions were reversed because the transactions prosecuted as money laundering constituted essential expenses of the underlying fraud claims and therefore merged with those charges. Appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Joshua B. Carpenter, Henderson Hill, Ann L. Hester.

December 5, 2013

In a Child Porn Case, the Fourth Circuit Clarifies Who's Opinion About Custody Matters, and Worries about the Government Having a 'Heavy Foot'

In many ways, Faisal Hashime's case is a typical child pornography case. A government agent was on the internet looking at child pornography. He saw an email address. He emailed that address and the person who answered agreed to send some child pornography to him.

red-symbols-3-1092769-m.jpgAgents traced the IP address for the email that was sent, and it led to the Hashime residence. There, 19 year old Faisal Hashime lived with his family while he went to community college in Northern Virginia. The agents got a search warrant, as they almost always do in child pornography cases.

Armed with a battering ram, a search warrant, and a phalanx of officers, they stormed into the Hashime residence one morning.

They ordered Faisal and the rest of his family outside. Like many college students, Faisal had been up until 5 a.m. He was wearing his boxer shorts and was forced to stand with the rest of his family in the front yard where the neighbors could see him. It was a chilly morning in this Washington, D.C. suburb, but the family was forced to stand outside in the cold.

Eventually, the family was taken back inside. They weren't allowed to move around their home. They were then taken into their living room. Faisal asked to go to the bathroom but was refused. His mother, who was recovering from brain surgery, asked to lie down, but was not allowed to.

Finally, Faisal was taken to an unfinished part of the basement and interrogated for three hours. He was told he could leave and that he didn't have to make a statement, but he was also told by the officers that they needed to get the truth from him, and that they couldn't leave him there alone.

His mother told the agents that they shouldn't talk to him without a lawyer, but they ignored her and wouldn't let her near Faisal.

At one point, he asked if the interrogation was being recorded. The lead agent told him he wasn't recording the conversation. One of his colleagues, though, was.

He wasn't given Miranda warnings until the end. But before those warnings, he gave a lengthy confession.

He was indicted for possession of child pornography, receipt, distribution, and production.

He filed a motion to suppress his statement, saying that it was custodial and he wasn't given Miranda warnings.

The district court in the Eastern District of Virginia listened to the tape. She said that Faisal sounded calm, so he couldn't have thought he was in custody. The motion was denied.

The Fourth Circuit, in a surprisingly strong opinion by Judge Wilkinson in United States v. Hashime, overturned the district court.

The Fourth Circuit pointed out that here, the agent's action looked like this was custodial. Yet Faisal's demeanor looked like he didn't think this was custody (as far as one could tell from the tape).

But, while the district court relied on Faisail's demeanor, the Fourth Circuit pointed out that it should have, instead, focused on the agents' conduct.

Whether a person is in custody depends on whether a reasonable person in that situation would think she isn't free to leave. It's a classic objective test.

So, the Fourth Circuit pointed out - things from the point of view of the person being interrogated kind of don't really matter. The question isn't what that guy thought, but what someone in his position should have thought.

So the case was remanded for a new trial.

But that's not the only thing interesting about this case.

Faisal decided to plead guilty to the charge of possession and receipt. The receipt of child pornography charge alone carried a mandatory minimum term of five years.

The government, wanting to push forward for even more time, went to trial on the production and distribution charge. The production charge is perhaps the most disturbing - Faisal "produced" child pornography by convincing boys on the internet to send him naked pictures of themselves.

He was convicted, and a fifteen year mandatory minimum applied.

Looking at this, the Fourth Circuit said,

Our reversal of the conviction makes it unnecessary to address any sentencing questions. It suffices to note that, in line with our own review of the custody issue and the district court's comments at sentencing, this was a case in which both police and prosecution applied a heavy foot to the accelerator. We do not doubt for an instant that the defendant's conduct here was reprehensible and worthy of both investigation and punishment, as the guilty plea attests. But attention to balance and degree often distinguishes the wise exercise of prosecutorial discretion from its opposite. For now we leave to the reflection of the appropriate authorities whether it was necessary to throw the full force of the law against this 19-year-old in a manner that would very likely render his life beyond repair.

This is not your father's Fourth Circuit

November 6, 2013

Short Wins - Overcriminalization and Prison Costs Head to Congress

Congress these days seems to have noticed that we have too many federal criminal laws - which is a good thing (the Congressional notice, less the excessive criminal laws).

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on overcriminalization of regulatory crimes. The Hill has a nice write-up in "Regulation horror stories for Halloween."

Here's the intro:

Joyce Kinder was fined $5,000 and sentenced to three years probation for unknowingly catching protected paddlefish in the Ohio River.

Lawrence Lewis was arrested for violating the Clean Water Act after he disposed of sewage from a Washington, D.C., retirement home. He thought it would drain to a water treatment plant, but it instead went into Rock Creek.

Lewis and Kinder are both victims of overenforcement of regulations, according to lawmakers from both parties who say agencies should not threaten to jail people for violating regulations they don't even know exist.

Next week, the Senate is having a meeting on "Oversight of the Bureau of Prisons and Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism." It seems that folks have noticed that the Fair Sentencing Act and Holder's recent announcement about charging policies aren't actually going to help the folks who are already in prison get out sooner.

Here's hoping something comes out of these.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Bethea, Second Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to one count of cocaine distribution in 2010 and was sentenced to 80 months' imprisonment. Although this sentence was outside of the 60-71-month guidelines range and new guidelines would require only a 60-month sentence, Bethea's motion for sentencing modification was denied. Bethea's sentence was vacated and the case remanded to the district court to determine the impact of the new guidelines on his sentence.

2. United States v. Hemingway, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition and was sentenced to 15 years based on a mandatory minimum statute. The judgment was vacated and the case was remanded for sentencing because the mandatory minimum statute is only controlling when certain prior crimes were committed and Hemingway's prior crimes did not fall within that statute.

3. United States v. McManus, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 72 months' imprisonment. Finding that the district court improperly interpreted statutory language and therefore applied the wrong sentencing enhancement, and that this error was not harmless, McManus' sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

4. United States v. Hashime, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of multiple counts related to child pornography. His conviction and sentence were reversed because Hashime was in custody, the agents did not read Hashime his Miranda rights, and the statements made by Hashime during that interrogation were not properly suppressed at trial. The case was remanded for further proceedings so the court did not address whether mandatory minimums were appropriate in this case.

5. United States v. Miller, Sixth Circuit: A jury found Appellant guilty of two counts of making false statements to a bank and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The court reversed both aggravated identity theft convictions because Miller did not "use" the identities as required by statute. The court also reversed one of the false statements convictions because the document did not contain false statements as the term is statutorily defined.

6. United States v. Lyons, Seventh Circuit: Lyons appealed his conviction of possession of a firearm as a felon and the imposed 210 month sentence. Although the conviction was affirmed, the case was remanded for resentencing because the district court committed two procedural errors. First, it failed to state the reasons supporting the sentence and, second, the court incorrectly believed it was required to impose a five-year period of supervised release.

7. United States v. Kyle, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to aggravated sexual abuse of a child and was sentenced to 450 months' imprisonment. The guilty plea and sentence were vacated because the district court participated in plea negotiations by prematurely committing itself to a sentence of a specific severity. Because this prejudiced Kyle, the case was remanded with instructions for reassignment to a different judge.

September 3, 2013

Definitely Not Short Wins

On this, the Monday after Labor Day, I suspect many of us have the feeling that work piles up when you leave the office. And, with last week off from Short Wins, that's definitely what happened here.

Without further ado, to the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. Miller v. United States, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. For appellant's two prior convictions (upon which the instant offense was based), he was sentenced to 6 to 8 months for each offense. He filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence, arguing that his prior convictions were not qualifying predicate convictions. The court agreed, vacated appellant's conviction, and remanded for the petition to be granted.

Attorney: Ann Loraine Hester for Appellant.

2. United States v. Avila, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. After his motion to suppress was denied, he entered an unconditional guilty plea to the charge. Because the district court informed appellant that he would retain a right to appeal following the entry of his plea without ensuring he understood that the plea might limit that right, the plea was not knowing and voluntary. Appellant's conviction was vacated and the case remanded with instructions for the court to allow appellant to withdraw his guilty plea.

Attorney: Kari S. Schmidt for Appellant.

3. United States v. Booker, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession of a five-ounce rock of crack cocaine, which he had hidden in his rectum. The police took appellant to an emergency room doctor who, using a procedure appellant did not consent to, removed the rock. The court attributed the doctor's actions to the state for Fourth Amendment purposes. Because the unconsented procedure shocks the conscience and violates due process, the crack rock should have been excluded. Appellant's conviction was reversed.

Attorney: Robert L. Jolley, Jr. for Appellant

4. United States v. Cabrera-Umanzor, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to unlawful reentry. At sentencing, the court used the "modified categorical approach" to find that appellant's prior state conviction was a "crime of violence," which increased appellant's base offense level by 16. This was error, as the categorical approach should have been used, which would have resulted in a finding that the prior conviction was not a crime of violence. The case was remanded for resentencing.

Attorneys: Joanna Beth Silver, James Wyda for Appellant

5. United States v. Evans, Ninth Circuit: In two cases, appellant was charged with being an alien in the U.S. after deportation and misrepresenting his identity and citizenship to fraudulently obtain social security benefits, food stamps, make a claim of citizenship, and apply for a passport. His primary defense was that he was a citizen. His primary evidence to support the defense was a delayed Idaho state birth certificate. The certificate was excluded before trial because the court ruled it was "substantively fraudulent." This violated appellant's Fifth Amendment due process right to present a defense. The error was not harmless. Appellant's convictions were vacated and the case remanded for new trials.

Attorney: Stephen R. Hormel

6. United States v. Flores, et al., Ninth Circuit: Appellants pled guilty to conspiring to possess an unregistered firearm arising out of their purchase of a grenade launcher and ammunition for the launcher. At sentencing, the court enhanced appellants' sentences 15 levels after finding that the offense involved a missile under Guideline § 2K2.1(b)(3)(A). This was error because the ammunition did not qualify as missiles. The sentences were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Attorneys: Richardo M. Gonzalez for Appellant Alfredo Lara; Barbara M. Donovan for Appellant Arturo Lara; Frederick Carroll for Appellant Flores.

7. United States v. John Doe, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to two counts of distributing over 50 grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 130 months after a downward departure was applied. The Fair Sentencing Act was passed four years later, substantially reducing the mandatory minimum and advisory range applicable to appellant's offense. Because appellant's original sentence was based on an advisory range which was subsequently lowered, and because the reduction is consistent with the Sentencing Commission's policy statement in § 1B1.10, he was eligible for a sentence reduction. The sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

Attorney: Melissa M. Salinas

8. United States v. McKye, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiring to commit money laundering and securities fraud. At trial, the court refused to give an instruction appellant tendered that would have permitted the jury to decide whether the investment notes at issue constituted securities. Instead, the court instructed the jury that the term "security" includes a "note." Because whether a note is a security is a mixed question of law and fact, the court erred in giving that instruction. The government failed to show the error was harmless. Appellant's conviction was reversed.

Attorneys: Howard A. Pincus, Raymond P. Moore, for Appellant

9. United States v. Sedaghaty, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiring to defraud the United States and filing a false return on behalf of a tax exempt organization. Several errors were made below that, cumulatively prejudiced appellant: the government violated its obligations under Brady v. Maryland by withholding significant impeachment evidence; the court erred in approving an inadequate substitution for classified material in violation of the Classified Information Procedures Act; and the government's search of appellant's hard drives went far beyond the scope of the warrant. The case was remanded for a new trial.

Attorneys: Steven T. Wax, Lawrence Matasar

10. United States v. Swor, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to investment fraud and was ordered to pay restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. The court abused its discretion by including in the restitution order losses suffered by victims of an investment scheme that began two months after, and was separate from, the scheme in which appellant was involved. These losses were too attenuated to impose liability on appellant. Appellant's sentence was vacated with regard to the amount of restitution order and remanded to reduce the restitution amount.

11. United States v. Thompson, et al., Ninth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of bank larceny and their sentences were enhanced because they were convicted of using a thermal lance to open the back of an ATM to steal the money inside. Their sentences were enhanced under 18 U.S.C. § 844(h)(1), which imposes a mandatory 10-year consecutive sentence (in addition to the underlying felony) on anyone who "uses fire . . . to commit any felony." Because the enhancement does not apply to the use of a thermal lance, the case was remanded for resentencing.

Attorneys for Appellants: Mark Yanis; Gretchen Fusilier; Sean K. Kennedy; Samuel A. Josephs.

12. United States v. Tragas, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of offenses arising out of her involvement in an international credit and debit card fraud conspiracy. She was sentenced to 300 months in prison. Because the district court used an incorrect version of the Guidelines when sentencing appellant, appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Attorneys: Erik W. Scharf, Wayne R. Atkins

July 22, 2013

Short Wins

It's been a busy week in the federal circuits - lots of good wins to check out.

Also, while I'm shamelessly pimping, please check out an article I wrote for the National Law Journal here about DOJ prosecutions, pleas, and why the law ought to be clearer.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1.United States v. Adams, et. al, Sixth Circuit: Appellants were convicted office RICO and related offenses arising out of their alleged participation in a vote-buying scheme in Kentucky. Because of cumulative error from the district court's evidentiary rulings, including the admission of an Inside Edition video, evidence of witness intimidation, the use of an inaccurate transcript, and state election records, among other evidence, appellants' convictions on all counts were vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

2. United States v. Botello-Rosales, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to drug and firearm charges after his motion to suppress statements he made to police after his arrest was denied. Because the Spanish-language warning administered to appellant failed to reasonably convey to appellant his Miranda rights, the district court erred in denying the motion to suppress. As a result, the district court's order denying the motion was reversed, appellant's conviction vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings.

3. United States v. Daniels, et. al, Fifth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of conspiring to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Because there was insufficient evidence to support the finding as to the quantity of drugs, the court reversed as to that finding only, vacating appellants' sentences and remanding for the district court to resentence appellants for the drug conspiracy pursuant to a statutory provision associated with a lesser quantity of drugs.

4. United States v. Garcia, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The involuntary manslaughter jury instruction was defective because it failed to tell the jury that "gross negligence" was required for a conviction. Because the jury wasn't properly instructed, appellant's conviction was reversed.

5. United States v. Lanning, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of disorderly conduct arising out of his brief touching of an officer's fully-clothed crotch, which was done in response to a police officer in a sting operation's deliberate attempt to convince appellant he would have sex with him. Because no rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant's actions were "physically threatening or menacing" or "likely to inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace," and because the term "obscene" was unconstitutionally vague as applied to appellant, appellant's conviction was reversed and the case remanded for a judgment of acquittal.

6. United States v. Perez-Valencia, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine after the court denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained by a wiretap. The wiretap application was filed by an assistant district attorney. Because the record was insufficient to determine the precise nature of the attorney's authority when he applied for the wiretap, the case was remanded to develop the factual record. Further, on remand, if the court determines that the attorney lacked the authority to apply for the wiretap, it was instructed to consider whether the evidence subject to the motion to suppress is so attenuated from the statutory violation that it need not be excluded.

July 19, 2013

It Is Not A Federal Crime To Touch Someone Who Says They Want To Have Sex With You, Even If You're Gay

John Doe (not his real name - but the guy shouldn't be singled out any more than he already has been. If you really want to see his name, it's on the opinion from the Fourth Circuit) wanted to have gay sex with a stranger.

Instead of going online like a normal person, he went to a national park in North Carolina. Mr. Doe was in his sixties - apparently baby boomers don't use Grindr.

Mr. Doe was not the only person in the park looking for men who were looking to have sex with strangers. In response to a complete absence of real crime anywhere in North Carolina, law enforcement was there too.

The law enforcement officer Joseph Darling was on patrol. Darling saw Mr. Doe on a trail hiking toward him. As they passed each other, Darling said hello. Doe grabbed his groin.

1426349_balanced_rock.jpgA few minutes later, Darling saw Doe again on an unofficial trial. They talked about the weather for a few minutes. Then Darling told Doe that Asheville - which they were near - was an open community that is accepting of gay folks.

Mr. Doe said that he "wanted to be F'ed."

Darling indicated that he would be into that. (the record says that Darling said that he replied "okay or yes, or something to that affirmative")

As Darling described it later, he "gave [Doe] every reason to believe that [Darling] was good to go."

Mr. Doe then turned around - they were three feet or so away from each other - and backed into Darling.

With his left hand, Darling reached back and "very briefly" touched Darling's fully-clothed crotch.

Darling responded, "Police officer, you're under arrest."

Mr. Doe was charged with disorderly conduct. He was convicted by a magistrate judge and sentenced to 15 days in jail, along with a fine and a bar on going in a national park for two years.

Disorderly conduct for these purposes is defined by 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(2) (some CFR provisions establish federal crimes in national parks - see 16 USC § 3) and has three elements:

(1) using language, an utterance, or a gesture, or engaging in a display or act; (2) that is obscene, physically threatening or menacing, or done in a manner likely to inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace; and (3) having the intent to cause or knowingly or recklessly creating a risk of public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy, or violence.

The Fourth Circuit vacated this conviction, holding that there's no notice to Mr. Doe, or anyone else, that brief clothed touching of someone's body who says that they want to have sex with you is obscene.

Which is fair enough. The Fourth Circuit made two other great points though.

First, in response to an argument from the government that really this was a prosecution for Mr. Doe wanting to have sex right there on the unofficial trail, the court of appeals noted:

Defendant's conviction was for disorderly conduct--not disorderly thoughts or desires. And it is undisputed that Defendant's actual conduct never went further than his backing up to Darling and very briefly grabbing Darling's clothed crotch. Moreover, even Darling agreed that, "for all [he] knew, [Defendant] could have very well intended for [the intercourse] to happen at [Defendant's] house." J.A. 88. And such private sexual conduct would, of course, have been perfectly legal. As the Supreme Court pronounced a decade ago, "[l]iberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct" and "allows homosexual persons the right to" engage in consensual intimate conduct in the privacy of their homes. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 567 (2003).

Finally, the Fourth Circuit said the whole point of the notice requirement was so that the government can't just make up crimes to punish people for. (for an excellent National Law Journal article on this, go here)

Yet this looks like exactly what you'd expect can happen from government enforcement of loosely defined laws - the government uses them to bully unpopular groups.

the facts of this case illustrate the real risk that the provision may be "arbitrar[ily] and discriminator[ily] enforce[d]." Hill, 530 U.S. at 732. The sting operation that resulted in Defendant's arrest was aimed not generally at sexual activity in the Blue Ridge Parkway; rather, it specifically targeted gay men. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the all-male undercover rangers arrested only men on the basis of disorderly homosexual conduct.

The Fourth Circuit also shot down a government argument that this was motivated not by hatred of gay people, but by citizen complaints:

If the public is . . . not similarly troubled by a woman propositioning her boyfriend for sex and then briefly touching his clothed crotch, there would exist no citizen complaint and no related sting, even for otherwise identical heterosexual conduct. Simply enforcing the disorderly conduct regulation on the basis of citizen complaints therefore presents a real threat of anti-gay discrimination.

Also the Fourth Circuit determined that touching someone who says they want to have sex with you is not physically menacing - the other prong of the disorderly conduct regulation.

July 5, 2013

Short Wins - Fourth of July Week Edition

Today's featured case is United States v. Hampton for a few reasons.

First, it's from the DC Circuit, and my office is in DC - our Circuit's pro-defendant decisions are particularly exciting (to me).

Second, it involves law enforcement agents offering expert testimony. Law enforcement testimony is massively frustrating - it feels, at times, that there no bounds to what an FBI Agent will testify about.

Third, it comes out of a retrial. Who doesn't love a retrial?

Though, I should say, there are plenty of other great cases in this week's Short Wins.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Buffer, Sixth Circuit: The district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress evidence gathered from a search warrant and arrest because it incorrectly determined that (1) the warrant was supported by probable cause and (2) even if the warrant wasn't supported by probable cause, the good faith exception to the warrant requirement applied. Because of these errors, the appellate court reversed the order denying appellant's motion, vacated appellant's conviction, and remanded for further proceedings.

2. United States v. Davis, Fourth Circuit: Appellant received a consolidated sentence for several state law violations. The court counted the sentence as at least "two prior felony convictions" under the Sentencing Guidelines career offender enhancement provision. Because appellant's consolidated sentence was a single sentence for purposes of the career offender enhancement, the court vacated appellant's sentence and remanded for resentencing.

3. United States v. Galpin, Second Circuit: Appellant moved to suppress evidence of child pornography. The court agreed with appellant that the search warrant that led to the discovery of this evidence was overbroad and that the officers lacked probable cause to conduct it. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the warrant was severable and that the images found would have been in plain view during a properly limited search. This ruling was error: because the record as to whether the warrant was severable and whether the images were in plain view was deficient, the trial court's order denying the motion to suppress was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings.

4. United States v. Hampton, D.C. Circuit: Appellant was convicted of drug conspiracy charges after a mistrial and re-trial. At the re-trial, the district court allowed an FBI agent to give lay-opinion testimony about his understanding of recorded conversations played for the jury. Because the court failed to enforce the boundaries for this type of evidence in Federal Rule of Evidence 701, the court denied the jury the information it needed to assess the agent's interpretations. Appellant's conviction was vacated.

5. United States v. Tien, Second Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to bribery of a public official and forgery of a passport at separate conferences held 16 months apart. In both pleas, the court plainly erred when it violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, which sets forth the requirements the court must follow in determining whether a plea is voluntary. Because the pleas weren't knowingly and voluntarily entered, both were 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.

May 6, 2013

Short Wins - And More on Jury Nullification

Six new cases from the federal circuits this week. My favorite - a subjective measure, I know - is United States v. Ramirez. Any time a court, even the Ninth Circuit, vacates a drug conspiracy conviction for insufficient evidence it's worth a read.

Last week I posted about a First Circuit case that raised, I thought, a specter of support for jury nullification. Lots of folks responded to that - it turns out that nullification is a popular topic.

On Twitter, I was directed to this recent opinion out of New Mexico on nullification. If you have time, I highly recommend it. It canvasses the history of nullification as an important part of what our criminal justice system is built on then says, basically, no.

I also exchanged a few emails about nullification with a prosecutor friend of mine (yes, I have prosecutor friends, don't tell). He pointed out, rightly, that nullification is not your friend if you're thinking of, say, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of DOJ going into, say, Alabama, to prosecute hate crimes. Or almost any public corruption trial of a very popular politician. It's a fair point. The interplay between popular sentiment and the rule of law is complicated. And, as soon as cases that raise those kinds of concerns are the majority of the criminal trials in the country, perhaps prohibiting nullification would clearly be good.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Davis, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession of a stolen firearm and was ordered to pay restitution to reimburse the homeowner from whose home he broke into for the value of the unrecovered firearm and damage caused by the break-in. Because the homeowner is not a victim under the Victim and Witness Protection Act, and because appellant's plea agreement did not include an explicit agreement to pay restitution to a person other than a victim of the offense of conviction, there was no basis to order restitution. This plain error required reversal of the restitution order.

2. United States v. Luna-Acosta, Tenth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to illegal re-entry into the United States. At sentencing, the district court orally announced a sentence of one year in prison. Five months later, a written judgment was filed imposing a 33-month sentence. Because the court lacked jurisdiction to alter the sentence, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for the court to enter a new judgment with a one-year sentence.

3. United States v. Mackay, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of unlawfully prescribing controlled substances and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Although the total sentence was below the advisory guidelines range, it exceeded the statutory maximum sentence on nine counts. Because the judgment was unclear whether the court intended to impose a 20-year sentence on each count, which would have been illegal, the case was remanded to allow the court to clarify the sentence for the record.

4. United States v. Mancuso, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession and distribution of cocaine, as well as two counts of maintaining a drug-involved premises. The distribution conviction was vacated because it joined two or more distinct and separate offenses into a single count. The convictions for maintaining a drug involved premises were vacated because the district court committed plain error by utilizing a "significant purposes" instruction rather than a "primary or principal use" instruction.

5.United States v. Patrick, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to drug and firearm charges. At the plea hearing, the judge did not state the mandatory minimum penalty for the firearm charge. Because the court's failure to ensure that appellant understood that he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for the firearm charge affected his substantial rights, the plea was vacated to allow appellant to withdraw his plea.

6. United States v. Ramirez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of distribution, possession with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to distribute meth. When viewing the evidence on the conspiracy charge in the light most favorable to the government, the government failed to present sufficient evidence showing that appellant had an agreement with another to distribute meth. As a result, the conspiracy conviction was vacated and the case remanded for the district court to grant a judgment of acquittal on that count and to conform the sentence accordingly.

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).