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

April 1, 2014

Short Wins - The Forfeiture Order Gets Reversed Version

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

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

To the victories!

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

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

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

Defense Attorneys: Edward v. Sapone and Paula Schwartz Frome

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Kayvan B. Sadeghi

March 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.

March 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

To the victories!

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Nicholas A. Gravanta, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

November 18, 2013

Short Wins - the Greg Poe Vindicates An AFPD's Reputation Edition

Last week's wins are below - and there are some great reads.

But today, let's congratulate Greg Poe for his work challenging sanctions imposed on a fine career AFPD in the Sixth Circuit.

Here's a link to the opinion.

Nice work, Greg!

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. U.S. v. Christie, Second Circuit: The district court denied Appellant's motion for a reduction of sentence based on the sentencing guidelines range, even though Appellant was eligible for such a reduction. On appeal, Appellant's case was vacated and remanded to the district court because the court failed to provide an explanation of its decision that was sufficient to permit meaningful appellate review.

Defense Attorney: John W. Brewer

2. U.S. v. Chavez, Tenth Circuit: After being deemed not competent to stand trial, the government won a motion to have Appellant involuntarily medicated. Because the government did not present evidence of an individualized treatment plan for the Appellant, the Tenth Circuit found clear error, vacated the court order, and remanded for further proceedings.

Defense Attorneys: John T. Carlson and Warren R. Williamson

3. U.S. v. Oyegoke-Eniola, Tenth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to mail fraud and making a false statement on an immigration document. Finding that the district court improperly imposed enhancements under the sentencing guidelines, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorneys: Stephen K. Christiansen and Kelley M. Marsden

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.

July 30, 2013

Short Wins - The BOP Makes Prison Harder For Women, and Blog Lobbying

It's a bit of a sleepy week in the circuits, but not too sleepy in the news.

BOP Coverts Danbury to a Men's Prison

In Slate, Yale law professor Judith Resnik wrote about the problems facing female inmates in the Bureau of Prisons (hat tip to Todd Bussert's BOP Blog).

The BOP is converting Danbury to an all-male facility (Danbury is, of course, where Piper Kerman of "Orange is the New Black" fame did her time). This despite years of lobbying to open up more prisons for women closer to where their families are in the Northeast. It'll be harder for lawyers to see their clients, clients to get seen by their lawyers, and women to have visits from their children.

This is not good.

Also, if you're worried about the plight of women in BOP custody, here's a great nonprofit to get involved with.

ABA Blog Voting Time

Unrelatedly, it's now time for folks who are fans of this blog to let the ABA Journal know. I'd be grateful for any props. Here's the link.

Short Wins

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Flores-Cordero, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to illegal reentry and, at sentencing, a 16-level increase was added to his base offense level based on his prior state conviction for resisting arrest. Because appellant's prior conviction did not constitute a "crime of violence" under U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

2. United States v. Hogg, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack and was sentenced to 188 months in prison after two motions to withdraw his plea were denied. Before he was sentenced, the Fair Sentencing Act was passed, enacting more lenient penalties for crack offenses. At his sentencing, the law provided that courts should look to the penalty provisions in effect when the person committed the offense - not to the lesser penalties in the Act. The Supreme Court changed that after appellant was sentenced, ruling that people sentenced after the Act's enactment are entitled to the more lenient penalties. Because the district court and counsel did not correctly anticipate the potential impact of the Act on appellant's sentence (because they were not clairvoyant), appellant was given incorrect advice at his plea hearing. As a result, he should have been permitted to with draw his plea. The case was reversed and remanded.

3. United States v. Juncal, Second Circuit: Appellants were convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud arising out of a scheme to obtain a $3 billion loan to finance the construction of a pipeline across Siberia. Appellants were sentenced to twenty years in prison. Because of procedural errors in appellants' sentencing, including the court's failure to weigh the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors, the cases were remanded for resentencing.

July 16, 2013

Not So Short Wins - The Catch Up Edition

Dear Readers,

Apologies for posting so sparsely lately. Between covering the end of the Supreme Court term for Above the Law (see posts here or here if you'd like) and this day job as a lawyer, I've been remiss in keeping you up to date on what's what in the circuits.

Today, please find the Short Wins for the last two weeks. My personal favorite is United States v. Huizar-Velazquez because there simply isn't enough law on criminal importation of wire hangars.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. In re Sealed Case, D.C. Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. At the time, he was subject to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. He provided substantial assistance to law enforcement, and the government asked the court to sentence appellant below the mandatory minimum. The court did so. Notwithstanding the fact that appellant was sentenced below the mandatory minimum, he was eligible for a sentence reduction under the recent amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines. Therefore, the case was remanded for the district court to consider whether a sentence reduction is warranted.

2. United States v. Cotton, Fifth Circuit: Drugs were seized during a search of appellant's car during a traffic stop. Because appellant limited his consent to a search of his luggage only - where the drugs were not located - the officer's prolonged and more extensive search of the entire car violated appellant's Fourth Amendment right. The drugs should have been suppressed as fruits of the unlawful search. Appellant's conviction was vacated and the case remanded.

3. United States v. Huizar-Velazquez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to importing wire hangers without paying the proper duties. At sentencing, the court applied the wrong sentencing guideline - it should have applied the guideline addressing evasion of import duties by smugglers trying to fool, rather than corrupt, government officials. Similarly, the court calculated the loss amount under the wrong guideline. For these reasons, appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

4. United States v. White Eagle, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of the following offenses, among others: conspiracy to convert tribal credit program proceeds (count I); theft and conversion from an Indian Tribal Organization (count II); concealment of public corruption (count IV); and public acts affecting a personal financial interest (count V). Counts I and II were reversed because the alleged object of the conspiracy - modifying a loan - was not criminal. Therefore, there was no conspiracy. Count IV was reversed because the government did not show that appellant violated a specific duty to report credit program fraud. Count V was reversed because the connection between appellant's alleged financial interest and a Bureau of Indian Affairs administrative officer's fraudulent loans was remote and speculative. Further, the court erred at sentencing in calculating the loss amount, requiring remand.

5. Gonzalez v. United States, Second Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to narcotics and bribery crimes and was sentenced to 210 months in prison. The district court denied appellant's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his conviction and sentence. In the motion, appellant argued that his attorney provided ineffective assistance in connection with the guilty plea and sentencing. Because appellant demonstrated that the attorney's ineffective assistance was prejudicial, the district court's order dismissing appellant's motion was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing with the assistance of competent counsel.

6. United States v. Nicholson, Tenth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to three drug and weapons-related charges after the district court denied his motion to suppress evidence found in his car after a traffic stop. Because the officer pulled appellant over for making a turn that was not illegal, the officer violated the Fourth Amendment. No other legal basis existed for stopping appellant and the good faith exception did not apply. For these reasons, the denial of appellant's motion to suppress was reversed and the case remanded with directions to vacate his convictions.

7. United States v. Thompson, D.C. Circuit: Appellant was found guilty of drug charges. Because the record was insufficient to resolve appellant's claim that his attorney was ineffective in failing to inform him of plea offers from the prosecution before the offers expired, the case was remanded to the district court for whatever proceedings are necessary to determine whether appellant was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel.

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 16, 2013

The Second Circuit On Appointed Counsel And The Perils of Hiring A Lawyer For A Federal Criminal Case

Most people who are accused of a crime in federal court are unable to pay for a lawyer and have one appointed for them.

Which makes sense - a decent lawyer for a federal criminal case is expensive, the need to find a lawyer is urgent, and most people don't have substantial liquid assets to hire one quickly.

Most people, then, are represented by either a federal public defender or an appointed attorney.

The advantage is that they don't have to pay. The disadvantage is that they don't get to choose the lawyer they hire. Maybe the lawyer they get is someone they don't get along with. Maybe the client thinks an appointed lawyer won't work as hard. Maybe, for some lawyers, there's just a different dynamic when the client is paying for the lawyer's services.

In any event, sometimes, when a client has an appointed lawyer, things go poorly with the relationship with that lawyer.

68920_law_education_series_5.jpgThe Second Circuit's opinion in United States v. Barton is an interesting example of what can happen when that relationship breaks bad.

John Barton was accused of doing some illegal things involving meth and a gun. He had an initial appearance - a first hearing in a case shortly after a person is arrested.

At the initial appearance, the judge asked Mr. Barton if he'd like an appointed lawyer or to hire his own lawyer. An assistant federal public defender, Elizabeth Switzer, was with him at the hearing. Normally, if a person wants an appointed lawyer, the person has to complete a financial affidavit so the judge can see if the person really can't afford a lawyer.

Mr. Barton did not fill out a financial affidavit. He told the judge that he wanted to hire a lawyer. The judge gave Mr. Barton several days to find a lawyer.

Hiring a lawyer proved challenging for Mr. Barton. He came back to court three more times, each time with Ms. Switzer, and each time he was unable to hire a lawyer. The court continued to give him time to hire someone.

Finally, Mr. Barton decided to take matters into his own hands. He filed a motion without a lawyer seeking to dismiss the charges against him. As the Second Circuit described the motion:

He argued, among other things, that he was not properly named in the complaint, which was made out against "JOHN BARTON" and not "John Anthony Barton"; that he was legally allowed to possess both marijuana and methamphetamine to treat narcolepsy caused by a head injury he suffered in connection with a car accident; and that New York State is a sovereign territory into which the laws of the United States do not extend.

These are innovative legal theories, to be sure.

Two more hearings were held on whether Mr. Barton would hire a lawyer. Each time, Ms. Switzer appeared with him.

Finally, the judge, concerned about Mr. Barton's head injury and how sometimes he didn't make complete sense when talking during the hearings, decided that Mr. Barton should be evaluated to see if he is competent to stand trial.

The judge asked Ms. Switzer - who had not been appointed - to "remain in the case not as appointed counsel, but to assist Mr. Barton" until the possibly not competent man hired a lawyer. Because federal public defenders, apparently, are really best viewed as social workers.

Ms. Switzer left the federal public defender's office for greener pastures. At Mr. Barton's next hearing, Robert Smith, in the federal defender's office, showed up instead.

Mr. Barton refused to answer any questions from the court about whether he would hire a lawyer. He did mention the issues raised in his motion to dismiss the charges. When the judge said she would give him two more weeks to find a lawyer then appoint Mr. Smith, Mr. Barton's response was "I object."

A few weeks later, at another hearing, Mr. Barton again mainly objected and talked about his motion to dismiss. The court appointed Mr. Smith, since Mr. Barton hadn't found any other lawyer. The next day, the court issued an order finding Mr. Barton competent.

At an arraignment a few weeks later, Mr. Smith entered a plea of not guilty for Mr. Barton. Mr. Barton objected.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Smith soon after that moved to withdraw as counsel for Mr. Barton. Apparently Mr. Barton refused to see Mr. Smith - Mr. Smith thought this was, perhaps, not the best attorney client relationship.

More hearings were held. Mr. Barton did not hire an attorney. He did not complete a financial affidavit. He did, however, press forward about the issues in his motion to dismiss.

Finally, the motion to withdraw was denied. The district court reasoned that Mr. Barton never said he wanted to represent himself, and that "representation by counsel . . . should be the standard, not the exception."

Mr. Smith took an interlocutory appeal, saying that to be forced to represent a client who wouldn't talk to him is inconsistent with his obligations as a lawyer.

The Second Circuit let Mr. Smith out of the case. Since there was no financial affidavit - and Mr. Barton said he was able to hire a lawyer - the district court didn't have the authority to appoint him in the first place. An appointment without a statutory basis is not really much of an appointment at all.

As the Second Circuit summed it up,

We can think of no justification for requiring these unwilling individuals to continue their unauthorized relationship. Accordingly, the district court abused its discretion when it denied Smith's motion to withdraw.

Going forward, here's where the Second Circuit sees things:

Of course, Barton is free to change his mind. Should he succeed in hiring an attorney following remand, that attorney may file an appearance. Alternatively, if Barton asks for appointed counsel, and if he qualifies financially, the district court must appoint counsel. What the district court may not do, however, is foist an unwilling attorney upon an unwilling defendant, who has actively refused the appointment of counsel and declined to demonstrate his financial eligibility under the CJA.

The court, unfortunately, did not rule on whether being forced to represent a client who refuses to talk to you violates your responsibilities as a lawyer.

April 11, 2013

Short Wins - Public Defender Withdrawals of Two Kinds

Last week was an active week in the federal appeals courts.

Perhaps most interesting - especially to those who are concerned about the state of our federal public defenders - is the Second Circuit's opinion in United States v. Barton. There, a federal defender tried to get out of a case but the judge wouldn't let him out.

On those facts, it turns out that was reversible error.

As the federal defender budget crisis gets worse, this kind of opinion may be comforting?

As you may have heard, there's been a lot of coverage of the federal defender budget situation in the press in the last week. The federal defender for the Southern District of Ohio laid himself off rather than do the same to his people. NPR had a big story on the federal defender system which is worth a listen.

What's frustrating about a lot of this coverage is that it blames the whole problem on the sequester. While the sequester is, of course, not helping, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced the budget restructuring on February 14th, before the sequester hit (and, even, before it was clear the sequester was going to hit).

The sequester is bad. And I'm all for getting the word out on that. But it seems that the FPD problem is also the result of something going on that isn't terribly indigent-defense friendly in the AO.

And, with that, to the victories,

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Baird, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession of a stolen firearm. At trial, the court refused to give a jury instruction that would have allowed him to assert the defense of "innocent possession" of the stolen weapon. Because appellant was entitled to that instruction, his conviction was vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

2. United States v. Barton, Second Circuit: An assistant federal public defender made a motion to withdraw from representing a defendant in a criminal case. The court abused its discretion by forcing the attorney to continue the representation because the defendant, after being informed of his right to counsel, refused to recognize the public defender as his attorney, said he didn't want an appointed attorney, and didn't attempt to establish his financial eligibility for appointed counsel.

3. United States v. Benoit, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of receipt and possession of child pornography. Because these convictions arose out of the same depictions, the convictions violated the double jeopardy clause, requiring remand to vacate one of the convictions and sentences. Additionally, because the court did not explain whether the specific losses suffered by the victim were proximately caused by appellant's action, remand for redetermination of the portion of damages attributable to appellant was required.

4. United States v. Doyle, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to failing to register as a sex offender and was sentenced to three years and one month in prison, followed by ten years' supervised release, which was subject to four special conditions. Because the court procedurally erred in failing to explain the reasons for imposing the special conditions, and because the record doesn't otherwise explain the basis for them, the special conditions were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

5. United States v. Fisher, Fourth Circuit.pdf: Appellant pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon. The officer responsible for the investigation that led to the appellant's arrest and guilty plea later pled guilty to defrauding the justice system. In particular, the officer admitted lying in the affidavit underpinning the warrant for appellant's home and car, where evidence forming the basis of the charge to which appellant pled guilty was found. The officer's affirmative misrepresentation, which informed appellants' decision to plead guilty, rendered appellant's plea involuntary and violated his due process rights. As a result, the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to vacate his plea.

6. United States v. LKAV, Juvenile Male, Ninth Circuit: Tribal authorities of the Tohono O'odham nation charged a juvenile with murder in 2009. In 2011, the United States filed its own charge against the juvenile and moved to commit him to an adult medical facility for psychiatric evaluation. Because the district court erred in committing the juvenile under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), rather than § 5037(e), reversal was required.

7. United States v. Logan, Eighth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 156 months in prison, which was later reduced to 120 months based on substantial assistance she provided after sentencing. Later, appellant filed a motion to reduce her sentence based on an amendment to the advisory guidelines that lowered the base offense levels for certain crack offenses. The district court erred in finding appellant wasn't eligible for a sentence reduction under her plea agreement. She was. Consequently, the case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

January 2, 2013

Telling People They Can Use A Drug In A Way Different Than How The FDA Says They Can Use A Drug Is Not A Crime, Says the Second Circuit

Alfred Caronia was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. And, despite what you might think by reading some of the literature, being a pharmaceutical sales rep is not a crime. It's even more emphatically not a crime after the Second Circuit's opinion in United States v. Caronia.

1213599_pills.jpgPart of Mr. Caronia's job was to encourage folks to buy Xyrem.

According to the Second Circuit,

Xyrem's active ingredient is gamma-hydroxybutryate ("GHB"). GHB has been federally classified as the "date rape drug" for its use in the commission of sexual assaults.

Despite Xyrem's dark side, it was approved by the FDA for two uses for folks with narcolepsy.

Mr. Caronia's company thought that perhaps doctors should be prescribing it for an even greater assortment of problems.

Mr. Caronia's job, in part, was to find doctors who would talk to other doctors about the benefits of Xyrem's FDA-approved uses. The doctors did not provide this service for free.

One of the doctors who worked with Mr. Caronia was Dr. Peter Gleason.

And, by way of background - it's ok for a doctor to prescribe a drug for a use that isn't on the label. The FDA doesn't want to get between a doctor's relationship with her patient, even on off-label uses of prescription drugs.

At the same time, it's a crime to "misbrand" a regulated drug. A drug is misbranded if:

its label is false or misleading; the label fails to display required information prominently; its container is misleading; or it is dangerous to health when used in the dosage, manner, frequency, or duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested on the label.

The Wire

The federal government started investigating Dr. Gleason for promoting an off-label use of Xyrem.

The feds wired up a cooperator. The cooperator was another doctor, who called Mr. Caronia and asked about an off-label use of Xyrem.

Mr. Caronia, as only a man paid on commission can, talked up the benefits of the drug for many kinds of maladies - insomnia, Fibromyalgia, restless leg, Parkinsons, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and MS.

He also said it will make you lose weight without dieting or exercise. [that was a joke]

These statements - and other related ones - got Mr. Caronia indicted for conspiracy to commit misbranding.

Indicted For Aggressive Sales

Mr. Caronia said that he was being indicted for commercial speech. There's a line of cases from the Supreme Court that say that even commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment.

The district court agreed. As the Second Circuit said,

The court observed that "the criminal information . . . allege[d] Caronia's promotion of off-label uses of an FDA-approved drug," and concluded that Caronia stood charged with a crime the actus reus of which was First Amendment speech.

But, the district court concluded that the prohibition on commercial speech is reasonably tailored to the objectives of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. So it's ok to charge people criminally for this First Amendment activity.

Mr. Caronia went to trial and was convicted.

The Second Circuit

One big question running through the appeal is whether Mr. Caronia was charged with a crime based on his speech - as the district court determined - or whether he was charged with misbranding and his speech was used as evidence of his other acts that were criminal.

The Second Circuit went through the trial testimony and found that the government's theory here was that Mr. Caronia violated the law by his speech.

So, the government is prosecuting Mr. Caronia's speech. Is that ok?

That's really two questions - first, is Mr. Caronia's conduct covered by the statute and, second, if his conduct is covered by the statute, does it violate the First Amendment.

The Second Circuit let that second question answer the first:

under the principle of constitutional avoidance, . . . we construe the FDCA as not criminalizing the simple promotion of a drug's off-label use because such a construction would raise First Amendment concerns. Because we conclude from the record in this case that the government prosecuted Caronia for mere off-label promotion and the district court instructed the jury that it could convict on that theory, we vacate the judgment of conviction.

So, according to the Second Circuit, promoting the off-label use of a drug is not a crime under the statute. If it were, the courts would have to think about whether such a statute is constitutional.

December 26, 2012

The Second Circuit Reverses A Conviction For Tax Evasion Based On Insufficient Evidence

Five partners at Ernst & Young - Robert Coplan, Martin Nissenbaum, Richard Shapiro, and Brian Vaughn, and Charles Bolton - were charged with a number of tax crimes in federal court in New York, specifically tax evasion, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and lying to the IRS. The Second Circuit said that the government didn't prove that two of the men were guilty and send the case back.

Ernst & Young had developed a number of tax shelters. Tax shelters - to be clear - are not themselves necessarily legal or illegal. As the jury was instructed, "it depends on the facts."

1102930_piggy_bank_1.jpgThere were five tax shelters at issue. The Second Circuit, in United States v. Coplan, described the tax shelter that was the basis of the tax evasion count this way:

The Add-On shelter was a tax strategy marketed as a means to defer indefinitely income tax liability on capital gains, including the capital gains generated in the second year of [another tax shelter involved in the case, which converted ordinary income to capital gains, which are generally taxed at a lower rate for folks who are using tax shelters .] Add-On involved the purchase of offsetting digital option pairs, followed by a series of transactions designed to generate a tax loss. The offsetting options were structured so that there was a "one-pip" gap between their strike prices, so that, in a theoretical "home run" scenario, a taxpayer could make a multimillion dollar profit. [H]owever, there was no reasonable possibility of earning a profit from Add-On apart from the "home run" scenario, since the Add-On fee structure required payments to [Ernst & Young] and the entity acting as general partner that exceeded the potential payoff.

Four of the men - Mr. Coplan, Mr. Nissenbaum, Mr. Shapiro, and Mr. Vaughn - were charged with, and went to trial on, three charges - conspiracy to defraud the United States, tax evasion, and obstructing the IRS. Mr. Vaughn and Mr. Coplan were also charged with making false statements to the IRS. Mr. Bolton pled guilty.

The government's theory, basically, was this:

At trial, the Government sought to demonstrate that the defendants conspired to conceal the true nature of the five tax shelters by creating a variety of "cover stories" regarding the purported business purpose of the shelters, when in fact the shelters were motivated solely by a desire to avoid taxes. In essence, the Government sought to demonstrate that the defendants hid the truth from the IRS by withholding information and making affirmative misstatements.

After the trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts.

Bolton, who had entered a plea, was sentenced to 15 months in prison. The folks who went to trial were sentenced to between 20 months to three years.

The Second Circuit reversed the conspiracy charges against Shapiro and Nissenbaum because there was insufficient evidence to support them.

That's a tough standard, to win a sufficiency challenge you've got to show that at least one juror could have reasonably found the person charged guilty. Worse, in a conspiracy case with multiple objects of the conspiracy - as in this case - to win you've got to show that the person wasn't engaged in any object of the conspiracy. Yet that's what the Second Circuit found happened.

The opinion is 95 pages and summarizes a decent bit of the evidence from a multi-week trial. In essence, there wasn't enough evidence that Mr. Shapiro was familiar enough with the details of the tax shelter that the government alleged caused tax evasion.

Here's the important bit from the opinion that will matter to folks not involved in this case (though, by all means, if you have a tax evasion case involving what happened at a company, read the entire opinion). Basically, the government's case was too thin as to Shapiro (internal citations omitted):

Having reviewed the record and the arguments of counsel, we conclude that the evidence against Shapiro is insufficient to support his conviction on Count One. In reaching this conclusion, we are mindful that the absence of direct evidence is not dispositive, since "the government is entitled to prove its case solely through circumstantial evidence." Nevertheless, "[i]f the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution gives equal or nearly equal circumstantial support to a theory of guilt and a theory of innocence, then a reasonable jury must necessarily entertain a reasonable doubt." In this case, an essential element of the conspiracy charged in Count One required proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Shapiro joined the alleged conspiracy with the "specific intent" to violate the law. The evidence with respect to Shapiro's intent, viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, remains, at best, in equipoise. Because "[i]t would not satisfy the [Constitution] to have a jury determine that the defendant is probably guilty," we conclude that Shapiro's conviction on Count One must be reversed.

It's nice to see a rejection of the idea that someone is "probably" guilty in a Second Circuit opinion.

The court of appeals reached a similar conclusion for Mr. Nissenbaum.

Because the conspiracy conviction fell, the Second Circuit held that the substantive charges of tax evasion also had to be vacated for Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Nissenbaum. Mr. Nissenbaum's conviction for making a false statement to the IRS was also vacated for insufficient evidence.

The district court also imposed a fine on Mr. Bolton in excess of the statutory maximum. That was reversed so it could be reduced to the statutory maximum.

December 10, 2012

Short Wins - Off-Label Drug Use And the First Amendment in the Second Circuit; Machine Guns and Grenades in the Eighth Circuit

It's an odd week for wins in the federal appellate courts.

The Second Circuit ruled that the First Amendment protects (some kinds of) promotional activity for off-label use of drugs. Any time the First Amendment is intersecting with criminal law it makes for good reading - expect fuller coverage later this week.

The Eighth Circuit sent a Fair Sentencing Act case back for resentencing, and there was a bizarre grenade case from the Eighth Circuit as well. Good Times.

Also, the Supreme Court is going to hear a challenge to the Defense Against Marriage Act and California's Prop 8. It's not terribly relevant to what we do on this blog, but everyone else is talking about it, and I'd hate to not be one of the cool kids.

To the Victories:

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Caronia, Second Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to introduce a misbranded drug into interstate commerce because he promoted an FDA-approved drug for "off-label use." Because this conviction violated appellant's First Amendment right to free speech, it was vacated.

2. United States v. Orozco, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possessing cocaine and crack cocaine. The court imposed the ten-year mandatory minimum sentence for the crack conviction. After the acts giving rise to the convictions, but before appellant's sentencing, the Fair Sentencing Act went into effect, which amended the crack sentencing provisions. The case was remanded to the district court to address the applicability of the Act and the possibility of resentencing.

3. United States v. Mann, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of eight offenses arising out of his use of a grenade that cause severe and permanent personal injury. Because Appellant's conviction for possessing a machine gun (count 6) was a lesser-included offense of possessing an unregistered machinegun (count five), these convictions were remanded with instructions to vacate one of the convictions. Additionally, the district court erroneously imposed two sentencing enhancements: (1) an enhancement for directing the assault of a federal inmate under Guideline § 3C1.1 for obstruction of justice; and (2) a firearms enhancement for possession of grenades containing an altered serial number under Guideline § 2K2.1(b)(4). The case was remanded for resentencing on counts 1, 2, 3, and 5 or 6.

December 3, 2012

Short Wins - Remands On The Fourth Amendment, Restitution, Fines, Sales of Parts of Golden Eagles, and What You Need to Know To Help Make Meth

I strongly suspect that many of our nation's circuit court judges worked over the Thanksgiving break, because they're back with nine wins for folks accused of crimes in our nation's federal appellate courts.

It's a potpourri of cases - multiplicity in the sale of Bald Eagle Parts, an innocent spouse issue in a restitution award, the reduction of a fine in an Ernst & Young tax shelter fraud case, and a few Fourth Amendment cases.

Heck, there's even a case on a Rule 41 motion. When's the last time you saw a federal appeals court issue a published opinion on a motion for the return of property?

My great hope for this section of the blog is that it will increase the ease with which folks can monitor cases to send 28(j) letters in federal criminal appeals. This week's list of cases has a lot to offer the criminal appellate advocate. Let's get those 28(j) letters rolling!

To the victories:

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Munguia, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of drug conspiracy and possession. The key issue at trial was whether she knew or had reason to know that the drugs she purchased were being used to manufacture methamphetamine. Given this focus, she requested a jury instruction explaining that "reasonable cause to believe" must be evaluated from her perspective, based on her knowledge and sophistication. Because the district court erred in refusing her request and because the error was not harmless, appellant's conviction was reversed.

2. United States v. Berry, Fifth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possessing more than five grams of crack and was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Although the acts giving rise to this conviction occurred before the effective date of the Fair Sentencing Act, his sentencing occurred after. For the purposes of appellant's case, the Act was significant because it modified the terms of imprisonment and supervised release applicable to simple crack possession. Because appellant's prison and supervised release terms exceeded the maximum terms under the Act, his sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

3. United States v. Wahchumwah, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of offenses relating to the sale of Golden Eagle parts. Counts 2 and 3 were related to the sale of eagle tails and counts 4 and 5 were related to the sale of eagle plumes. Because counts 2 and 3 and 4 and 5, respectively, prohibited the same offenses, and because Congress did not intend to allow multiple punishments for a single tail or plume sale, the case was remanded for the district court to vacate count 2 or 3 and 4 or 5.

4. United States v. Cervantes, Ninth Circuit: Police officers performed a warrantless search of appellant's car that led to the discovery of cocaine. The search was not justified under (1) the automobile exception, which allows officers to search a car and the containers within it where they have probable cause to believe contraband or evidence is contained, or (2) the community caretaking exception, which permits officers to impound cars that jeopardize public safety and the efficient movement of traffic. Because the warrantless search was not justified by an exception to the warrant requirement, the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress the cocaine. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court's denial of the motion and remanded the case.

5. United States v. I.E.V., Ninth Circuit: Appellant was a passenger in his brother's car when they entered a United States Border Patrol checkpoint. At the checkpoint, a police dog alerted that the car contained drugs or concealed people. After a search of the car revealed no contraband, an officer frisked appellant and, without his permission, lifted appellant's shirt and found a brick of marijuana. Because the officer was not justified in frisking appellant, and because the frisk exceeded its constitutional scope, the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress the marijuana. Consequently, the court's decision was reversed and the case remanded with instructions to grant the motion to suppress.

6. United States v. Coplan, et. al, Second Circuit: Five appellants were convicted of fraud-related crimes arising out of their development and defense of tax shelters that were sold or implemented by Ernst & Young. The convictions of appellants Shapiro and Nissenbaum were reversed on counts 1-3 because of the insufficiency of the evidence of appellants' intent. Nissenbaum's conviction on count 4 - obstruction of the IRS - was also reversed because the record reflected that a reasonable jury would have had a reasonable doubt as to whether he corruptly obstructed or impeded the IRS. Finally, the portion of appellant Bolton's sentence imposing a $3 million fine was vacated because it exceeded the statutory maximum. On remand, the fine was to be reduced to the $250,000 statutory maximum.

7. United States v. Duran, Eleventh Circuit: After appellant was convicted of conspiring to defraud Medicare, the government secured a substantial restitution judgment. The government obtained a writ of execution against an apartment that, according to property records, was owned jointly by appellant and his former wife. The former wife argued that because she was the sole owner of the apartment before her former husband's prosecution, the government could not look to the apartment for restitution. The district court refused to adjudicate the wife's motion. This was error. Consequently, the order denying the former wife's motion was vacated and the case remanded.

8. United States v. Delgado, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unregistered firearm were the result of police officers' warrantless search of his apartment. Because the search was not a valid protective sweep and was not justified by the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement, the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress the firearms. For these reasons, appellant's convictions were vacated and the case remanded to the district court with instructions to grant the suppression motion.

9. United States v. Bailey, Eighth Circuit: As a result of appellant's arrest on prostitution-related charges, his property was seized and eventually transferred to a U.S. Attorney's Office. After his conviction was upheld on appeal, he filed a motion for the return of his property under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41. At a hearing, the district court determined that the government no longer possessed the property and denied appellant's motion to convert the action into a civil claim for damages. Under these circumstances, the court was required to give appellant an opportunity to assert such a civil claim. Accordingly, the court's ruling was reversed and the case remanded.

November 16, 2012

The Second Circuit Limits Bank Fraud Prosecutions Where A Check Is Validly Issued (and other facts don't get in the way)

If you're ever involved in a bank fraud case, you should probably read the Second Circuit's opinion reversing Mr. Felix Nkansah's bank fraud conviction. If the government wants to convict someone for bank fraud, the Second Circuit says they've got to show that the person was trying to defraud a bank (as opposed to trying to defraud someone or something else).

The Company You Keep

Felix Nkansah fell in with some bad company.

He worked with a number of other people to steal identity information for people, like names, dates of birth, and social security numbers. Specifically, he stole this information from hospitals, childcare databases, and foster care.

The group then filed false tax returns with the names and social security numbers they had stolen. Cleverly, they didn't file tax returns that showed taxes were owed. Instead, they filed returns that triggered tax refunds.

The fraudulent returns had refunds that totaled more than two million dollars. The group actually received a little more than half a million dollars.

When the refund checks came to a group member, the member would forge a signature on the check and deposit it in a bank account that the group controlled.

Mr. Nkansah was charged with conspiracy to file false claims with the IRS, filing false claims with the IRS, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft in connection with the bank fraud, and identity theft.

He was convicted of all of them at trial.

1390009_dollar.jpgThe Second Circuit

On appeal, though, the Second Circuit reversed his conviction for bank fraud. This was tax fraud, sure. But bank fraud? Nope.

Let's start at the start - with 18 U.S.C. § 1344, the bank fraud statute:

Whoever knowingly executes, or attempts to execute, a scheme or artifice-- (1) to defraud a financial institution; or (2) to obtain any of the moneys, funds, credits, assets, securities, or other property owned by, or under the custody or control of, a financial institution, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises; [is guilty of bank fraud]

Mr. Nkansah argued on appeal that there was a lot of evidence that he intended to defraud the federal Treasury, but there wasn't any evidence that he intended to defraud a bank.

While defrauding the Treasury is really bad, he was convicted of bank fraud. And there wasn't evidence that he committed that crime.

In fact, Mr. Nkansah argued that there was no reason to think that the banks lost money through this whole transaction. As the Second Circuit summarized it:

In essence, he argues that the banks were no more victims of his deceptions than a bank in which someone opens an account under a false identity to conceal funds from a spouse or business partner.

The Second Circuit agreed with the law undergirding the prosecution:

Appellant is correct that the bank fraud statute is not an open-ended, catch-all statute encompassing every fraud involving a transaction with a financial institution. Rather, it is a specific intent crime requiring proof of an intent to victimize a bank by fraud. See United States v. Rubin, 37 F.3d 49, 54 (2d Cir. 1994). "[A] federally insured or chartered bank must be the actual or intended victim of the scheme."

Summarizing all of this,

The government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant intended to expose the banks to losses.

The Evidence Of What Was In Mr. Nkansah's Mind

The government had two kinds of evidence to try to show that Mr. Nkansah intended to defraud the banks. First, they relied on statements made to other folks in the group.

Mr. Nkansah had talked to others about which banks would be least likely to discover the scheme. The Second Circuit rejected these arguments -

While these concerns surely support an inference of an intent to avoid detection, on this record they have no probative value as to an intent to injure the banks.

Second, the government tried to show that because the bank was actually going to suffer a loss - or the bank said it was going to suffer a loss - that was enough to show that Mr. Nkansah thought the bank would suffer a loss.

The Second Circuit has allowed such an inference where a person forged a check and went to the bank to cash it (though, interestingly, the court of appeals said such an inference isn't required). But this isn't such a case - here Mr. Nkansah had a legitimate check (which was issued under false pretenses). That exposes the issuer of the check to a loss, but not, on these facts, the bank.

Because there was no evidence to support the conclusion that Mr. Nkansah intended to defraud the banks - as opposed to the Treasury - his conviction for bank fraud was reversed.

As was his conviction for aggravated identity theft based on the bank fraud.

November 13, 2012

The Second Circuit on Fraud, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and Mass-Marketing

If Mitt Romney is right that 47% of Americans think of themselves as victims, then the Second Circuit's opinion in United States v. Lacy may be deeply unpopular.

Like Mitt Romney, Kirk Lacey and Omar Henry had a vision for the future.

Unlike Mitt Romney, their vision involved short sales, straw buyers, and a little light mortgage fraud.

Like Mitt Romney, Mr. Lacey and Mr. Henry were not able to see their vision realized.

MTC Real Estate, Inc.

Mr. Lacey and Mr. Henry worked at MTC Real Estate.

MTC would buy houses in a short sale, then find a straw buyer who had no intention of making mortgage payments. That person would buy the house at a price higher than the one MTC bought it for. MTC would make the difference, the straw buyer would default, and the bank that loaned the money was left holding the bag.

1400144_vintage_radio_2.jpgTo find enough straw buyers, MTC advertised on the radio. Straw buyers were promised $50,000 for buying a house. Some of the straw buyers were even paid what they were promised.

It was a simple and deeply illegal business.

Sentencing

Mr. Lacey and Mr. Henry - along with eight others - were charged with conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud for this real estate plan.

Mr. Lacey and Mr. Henry - unlike the eight others - went to trial. They lost.

The government, at sentencing, asked for a two-level upward enhancement of their guidelines under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(ii), which says:

If the offense. . . (ii) was committed through mass-marketing, increase by 2 levels;

Mr. Lacey and Mr. Henry argued that this enhancement shouldn't apply - the radio ads were directed at straw buyers who were not victims. The banks were the victims here, not the straw buyers. In fact, the straw buyers even made $50,000 each. Much of the time.

As the Second Circuit put it,

The district court agreed with the government, noting that "the MTC marketing campaign was critical to the success of the fraud" because the marketing was "how MTC found people with distressed properties that could be exploited." The district court therefore held that although the mass-marketing was not directed at the victims of the fraud (that is, the banks that made the mortgage loans), the mass-marketing was still "relevant conduct" to the offense and so the enhancement should apply.

Mr. Henry was sentenced to a year and a day - allowing him to receive good time credit from the Bureau of Prisons. Mr. Lacey was sentenced to 46 months.

The Second Circuit and Fraud Victims

The Second Circuit reversed finding, basically, that

After a careful reading of the Guidelines and other relevant authority, we hold that the mass-marketing enhancement is properly applied only when the targets of the mass-marketing are also in some way victims of the scheme. Because it is not clear on the current record whether the straw buyers who were the targets of the mass-marketing in this case were in some sense victims, we will remand to the district court for further factfinding.

The court of appeals looked at the language of the mass-marketing enhancement and noted that the offense has to be "committed through mass-marketing."

As at least one other Circuit has recognized, an offense is "committed through mass-marketing" when mass-marketing is used to recruit or deceive victims of the offense, not when mass- marketing targeted at audiences other than victims is used in connection with the fraud in some other, more tangential manner. See United States v. Miller, 588 F3d. 560, 568 (8th Cir. 2009).

So, to the Second Circuit's way of looking at this,

It is not enough that a scheme may be advanced by the use of mass marketing techniques; a scheme is committed through mass-marketing only when the mass marketing is directed toward individuals who will be harmed by the scheme.

Indeed, the language surrounding the enhancement for mass-marketing helped the Second Circuit reach this reading:

All the other subsections of § 2B1.1(b)(2) base enhancements on the number of victims. Indeed, the mass-marketing enhancement is posed as an alternative to the smallest number of victims in an escalating series of adjustments based on rising numbers of victims. The pattern thus strongly suggests that the enhancement scheme is designed to measure the scope of the wrong by the number of victims, and that the use of mass-marketing is relevant even when the number of actual victims is small, because fraudulent mass-marketing creates a large number of potential victims.

So the district court's reasoning was off, and the case has to be remanded.

Possible Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

But, of course, nothing is as simple in the land of federal criminal appeals.

The court went on to say that

If a mortgage fraud scheme predictably results in pecuniary harm to unwitting, deceived straw buyers, the straw buyers have sustained "actual loss" and are therefore "victims" within the meaning of the Guidelines. They are therefore properly considered under the mass-marketing enhancement.

Not content to let a district court judge figure out how to find that the enhancement applies, the Second Circuit went on to explain exactly what the district court would have to look for on remand:

Returning to the facts of the instant case, it is not clear on the present record whether at least some of the consumers who were the targets of mass marketing were in some sense victimized, notwithstanding that the main thrust of the fraud was directed at banks. To the extent that any straw buyer was in on the scheme or received the promised $50,000 payment, such a buyer could not be seen as a victim. But some straw buyers testified that their credit scores were ruined. Others testified that they intended in good faith to purchase the property and pay the mortgage

More happily, the court of appeals described at some length why radio ads may not be mass-marketing under the guidelines definition at all.

A fun time will doubtless be had in the district court on remand as it follows the Second Circuit's instructions to

consider two questions: first, whether the defendants engaged in "mass-marketing" within the meaning of the relevant Guideline, as interpreted by the commentary; and second, if the defendants did engage in "mass-marketing," whether the consumers who were the target of that mass-marketing were also in some sense victims of the overall criminal scheme, i.e., whether they were injured by the scheme.

Also, the court asked the Sentencing Commission to make this stuff clearer.

Also, why does the Second Circuit hyphenate "mass-marketing" but not "factfinding"?

November 12, 2012

Short Wins - It's a Good Week For Remands In Fraud Cases

It's a good week for reversals in fraud cases.

The Second Circuit sent two fraud cases back for resentencing, and vacated a conviction in its entirety! And they're cool issues -- for example, for the "mass marketing" enhancement under the fraud guidelines to apply, the government has to show not just that mass marketing happened, but that mass marketing happened to victims. A number of convictions were also vacated in a criminal tax prosecution, and the Second Circuit found a violation of the defendant's public trial right.

The D.C. Circuit entered the fraud remand fray, sending a criminal copyright case back because of errors in the restitution order.

Exciting stuff.

For those who are obsessive about extraterritorial criminal law (a growing number of folks, these days), the Eleventh Circuit vacated a few convictions for people convicted of violating U.S. drug trafficking laws for things they did in Panamanian waters.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Bellaizac-Hurtado, Eleventh Circuit: As a result of observations by the United States Coast Guard in the territorial waters of Panama, four people were convicted in the United States of engaging in a drug trafficking conspiracy. Panama consented to prosecution in the United States. Because drug trafficking is not "an offense against the Law of Nations" under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act, Congress exceeded its power under the Act's Offenses Clause when it proscribed the conduct in the territorial waters of Panama. Consequently, the Act is unconstitutional as applied to these four individuals and, as a result, the convictions were vacated.

2. United States v. Marquez, First Circuit: In crack cocaine distribution case, appellant was sentenced to 121 months in prison based on the district court's finding that he had acquired for distribution 304 grams of crack in two 152-gram allotments. Although it was not error to attribute the first 152-gram allotment to appellant, the court committed clear error in attributing the other 152-gram acquisition to appellant because there was no evidence to support the finding that the additional quantity was actually 152 grams. This secondary finding had a "dramatic leveraging effect," as it triggered a 120-month mandatory minimum. Consequently, appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

3. United States v. Lacy, Henry, Second Circuit: In mortgage fraud case, the district court erred in applying a two-level enhancement to appellants' sentences for an offense "committed through mass-marketing" under Guideline § 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(ii) without making sufficient findings to show that the targets of the mass-marketing scheme were also in some way victims of the scheme. Consequently, remand for additional findings was required. The court also failed to credit any of the value of the collateral in formulating its restitution orders, warranting remand for recalculation of the restitution amount.

4. United States v. Gyanbaah, et al., Second Circuit: Appellant was convicted of five offenses arising out of his participation in a fraudulent tax return scheme. Because there was insufficient evidence to convict him of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft related to the bank fraud, his convictions on these counts were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

5. United States v. Gupta, Second Circuit: In immigration fraud cause, appellant's sixth amendment right to a public trial was violated when the district court intentionally excluded the public from the courtroom during the entirety of jury selection without first considering the following factors: (1) the party seeking to close the proceeding must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced; (2) the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest; (3) the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the proceeding; and (4) the trial court must make findings adequate to support the closure. Consequently, appellant's conviction was vacated.

6. United States v. Fair, DC Circuit: In copyright infringement and mail fraud case, the district court erred in entering a restitution order against appellant because the government failed to meet its burden under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act to present evidence from which the court could determine the victim's actual loss. Consequently, the restitution order was vacated.

7. United States v. Woodard, Tenth Circuit: Appellant's conviction for possession of more than 100 kilograms of marijuana with intent to distribute was reversed because there was a reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a different result had appellant been allowed to cross-examine a witness about a prior judicial determination that the witness was not credible.