Results tagged “Supervised Release” from The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog

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.

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 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.

March 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

To the victories!

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Nicholas A. Gravanta, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2014

Short Wins - A Dog's Breakfast of Victories

It's a grab bag of victories in the federal circuits for last week. A few sentencing remands - including one based on a loss calculation in a health care fraud case - but the most interesting remand is in the First Circuit's opinion in United States v. Delgado-Marrero.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Delgado-Marrero, First Circuit: Delgado-Marrero and Rivera-Claudio were both convicted by a jury of drug and gun charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Delgado-Marrero was granted a new trial because the district court erred by excluding testimony of a defense witness. The First Circuit also found error with regard to Rivera-Claudio's sentence because the district court failed to properly instruct the jury that in answering a post-verdict special question regarding quantity of drugs, they needed to be sure of the quantity beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defense Attorneys: Rafael F. Castro-Lang, Linda Backiel

2. United States v. Johnson, Seventh Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated because a sentencing enhancement was incorrectly applied. Based on the victim's testimony at sentencing, Appellant had not committed a sex offense while in failure to register status, so that enhancement was improper.

3. United States v. Perry, Seventh Circuit: Appellant twice violated the terms of his supervised release. Based on the second violation, he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Because the original conviction had a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of two years, the new sentence for five years' imprisonment was vacated and remanded.

4. United States v. Bankhead, Eighth Circuit: Appellant received a 180-month mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA") after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. His sentence was reversed and remanded because a predicate juvenile offense, which was used in determining sentence, did not qualify as an ACCA predicate offense.

5. United States v. Gonzalez-Monterroso, Ninth Circuit: Appellant's sentence was vacated and remanded. The district court erred in determining that Appellant's prior Delaware conviction for attempted rape in the fourth degree was a crime of violence warranting a 16-level sentencing enhancement. The Ninth Circuit determined that Delaware's statutory definition of "substantial step" criminalized more conduct than the generic federal statutory definition.

6. United States v. Popov, Ninth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud arising from the submission of fraudulent bills to Medicare. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's findings regarding the amount of loss, holding that evidence can be submitted to show that the amount billed to Medicare overestimates the actual loss amount.

February 12, 2014

Short Wins - We Aren't Dead Edition

Gentle readers,

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

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

To the victories!

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

Defense Attorney: Robert L. Sheketoff

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

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

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

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

Defense Attorney: Alison K. Guernsey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2013

Short Wins - The Bizarre Supervised Release Condition Edition

There are some good wins in the federal circuits from last week, but I think that perhaps the most interesting is U.S. v. Malenya.

The case deals, primarily, with supervised release conditions. I've seen some odd supervised release conditions, but this one takes the cake:

You shall notify the U.S. Probation Office when you establish a significant romantic relationship, and shall then inform the other party of your prior criminal history concerning your sex offenses. You understand that you must notify the U.S. Probation Office of that significant other's address, age, and where the individual may be contacted.

Check out the full opinion to see how this, and other really broad conditions, are handled.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. U.S. v. Taylor, Second Circuit: Taylor and his co-defendants were convicted of various charges related to a robbery of a pharmacy. Taylor fell asleep repeatedly during post-arrest questioning and was only intermittently alert. Finding that Taylor's post-arrest statements were not voluntary, and admission of those statements was harmful error, the Second Circuit vacated the convictions of all three men and remanded for a new trial.

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

2. U.S. v. Robertson, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to carrying a firearm as a convicted felon, a charge which arose after he was approached by police and allowed them to search him. Finding that Appellant never actually consented, but merely obeyed the police officer's orders, the Fourth Circuit found that the search was presumptively unreasonable in the absence of probable cause. The conviction was reversed.

Defense Attorney: Ronald Cohen

3. U.S. v. Malenya, D.C. Circuit: Appellant entered a plea agreement and received a 36-month term of incarceration, with all suspended but a year and a day. The court also imposed 36 months of supervised release subject to several specific conditions. Because the trial court did not weigh the burden of the supervision conditions with their likely effectiveness, there was an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty. The supervised release conditions are vacated and the case remanded to impose alternative conditions.

Defense Attorneys: Jonathan S. Jeffress, A.J. Kramer, Rosanna M. Taormina, and Tony Axam Jr.

4. U.S. v. Martinez-Cruz, D.C. Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to a single count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. At the time he pled guilty, Appellant waived his right to counsel. Because Appellant provided proof that he was illiterate at the time he signed the plea agreement, the D.C. Circuit found that the burden should have shifted to the government to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the wavier was in fact valid. Since the trial court did not shift the burden, the judgment was vacated and the case remanded.

Defense Attorney: Richard K. Gilbert

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 28, 2013

Short Wins - Special Assessment Lawyering and a Remand For The Oral Pronouncement of a Special Condition of Supervised Release

There are some dramatic wins in the federal appeals courts. Sometimes an entire conviction is overturned, and it is clear that the person will walk free. Other times, a large and unjust sentence is reversed.

And then there are this week's "wins". In one, a former judge, convicted of fraud, will have the total punishment imposed on him reduced by $100 - the cost of the Special Assessment that was imposed on a count that exceeded the statute of limitations.

In another, the district court imposed a condition of supervised release ordering treatment for a gambling addiction in the Judgment following the sentencing hearing, but not at the hearing itself. So the case will go back for a sentencing hearing where the judge can say that the person is going to be going to treatment for gambling addiction to the person's face.

To the victories?

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Ciavarella, Third Circuit: Appellant, a former judge, was convicted of honest services mail fraud, among other offenses, and sentenced 336 months in prison and ordered to pay a special assessment and restitution. Because the mail fraud count was barred by the statute of limitations, and because appellant did not waive his challenge to this count on that ground, his conviction on this count was vacated. Remand was required to amend the judgment to reduce the special assessment.

2. United States v. Martin, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 120 months for being a felon in possession of a firearm. In the written judgment, the court imposed a special condition of supervised release that appellant undergo treatment for a gambling addiction. The government conceded that the court's failure to orally impose the condition was an abuse of discretion and requested remand for the court to conform its written judgment to the oral pronouncement. The appeals court granted that relief.

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).

January 13, 2013

Short Wins - A Franks Hearing in the Seventh Circuit!

Who doesn't love a good Franks hearing? Apparently the district court judge in the Seventh Circuit case of United States v. McMurtrey.

It's a relatively quiet week in the federal circuit's for defense victories. A Fourth Amendment win in the Tenth Circuit, a few sentencing remands, and, most exciting (for me) a Franks hearing remand in the Seventh.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Castro, Third Circuit: Appellant was convicted of offenses arising out of three separate schemes to extort money through violence. Because the record did not contain evidence that he knowingly made a false statement to the FBI, his conviction of this offense was reversed. Given the reversal of his conviction on this count, remand was required for resentencing on appellant's conviction for conspiracy to commit extortion to calculate the correct guidelines range.

2. United States v. De La Cruz, Tenth Circuit: The district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress his ID card, which was obtained during an investigative seizure, because (1) the agents did not have reasonable suspicion to continue to detain appellant to obtain his identification and (2) the court erroneously concluded that appellant's identification was not suppressible, even if there was an unlawful seizure. For these reasons, the district court's decision was reversed and the case remanded.

3. United States v. Fraga, Fifth Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 27 months in prison and a lifetime of supervised release after pleading guilty to failing to register as a sex offender. Because the district court did not give reasons for its imposition of a lifetime term of supervised release, this portion of the sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

4. United States v. McIntosh, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was sentenced to 120 months in prison after pleading guilty to possession of five grams of crack with intent to distribute and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense. After appellant committed these offenses, but before he was sentenced, the Fair Sentencing Act was enacted. The Act, among other things, raised the threshold possession amount that triggered the mandatory minimum sentence - 120 months - applied in appellant's case. Because appellant was sentenced after the Act's effective date, he was entitled to have the benefit of the Act's higher threshold for the mandatory minimum sentence. Consequently, his sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

5. United States v. McMurtrey, Seventh Circuit: Because appellant demonstrated that the affidavits on which the search warrant for appellant's home was based were contradictory, remand was required for a full hearing pursuant to Franks v. Delaware.

October 27, 2012

Short Wins - Pro Se Criminal Contempt Reversed And Other Cases

It's a dog's breakfast of victories in the nation's federal criminal appellate courts.

Personally, I love a good case on the district court's contempt power -- look to see the Fourth Circuit's contempt reversal in United States v. Peoples profiled in more depth a little later in the week. The case has everything -- a pro se litigant, a finding of contempt, and profanity (which is tastefully referred to in the opinion). It reminds me of another great pro se contempt case from last year. It reminds me, too, of the Sixth Circuit's relatively recent case on the limits of a district court's power to sanction a lawyer. Always good stuff.

Which is not to give short shrift to the two other wins from last week -- resentencing in an illegal reentry case and unsupported supervised release conditions in a federal sex case.

And, of course, this week the Supreme Court is hearing more arguments and it's a relatively criminal heavy week. Tuesday has a Padilla case, as well as a nice Fourth Amendment question -- can the cops detain someone incident to a search warrant if the person is not actually present when the search warrant is executed. Wednesday is dog sniff day.

Of course, that assumes that Frankestorm doesn't blow the Eastern Seaboard away. Wish us luck with that.

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpgOn to the victories:

1. United States v. Peoples, Fourth Circuit: On appeal of appellant's two criminal contempt convictions, the Fourth Circuit held that, as to the second conviction, the district court committed plain error when it summarily imposed a contempt sanction for appellant's tardiness because the court failed to provide appellant with notice and an opportunity to be heard, and because this failure affected appellant's substantial rights.

2. United States v. Rodriguez-Escareno, Fifth Circuit: In illegal reentry case, the district court applied a 16-level enhancement to appellant's sentence because it considered his earlier crime, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, to be a "drug trafficking offense" under Guideline § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(i). The court erred in applying the enhancement because the elements of the conspiracy conviction under 21 U.S.C. § 846 are not consistent with the meaning of "conspiring" under the relevant Guideline: the Guideline requires an overt act, while § 846 does not. This was plain error because it was obvious and affected appellant's substantial rights: had his sentence been properly calculated, his Guidelines range would have been 15-21 months, as opposed to the 41-51 months determined by the court. Appellant's 48-month sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

3. United States v. Child, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of attempted sexual abuse. A condition of supervised release prohibited him from residing with or being around children under age 18, including his daughters, and from socializing with or dating anybody with children under age 18, including his fiancée, without prior approval from his probation officer. The court failed to make specific findings on the record addressing the necessity of restricting appellant's ability to have contact with his children and fiancée. Because of the significant liberty interest implicated, these errors - as well as the absence in the record of any evidence supporting the condition - rendered the condition substantively unreasonable. The condition was also overbroad. For these reasons, the condition was vacated and the case remanded.

April 20, 2012

A District Court Cannot Take Away Alcohol And Technology For The Rest Of A Person's Life Without Explaining Why


It's easy to hate people who are found guilty of child pornography charges. People don't like it when other people sexualize children

But, as the Sixth Circuit held in United States v. Inman, a district court still has to give reasons to be mean to them.

Mr. Inman pled guilty to possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 57 months in prison.

Like anyone else who goes to federal prison, after he is released, he'll be on supervised release - a federal probation officer will supervise him to make sure he's not drifting into further lawlessness.

As a part of his supervised release, he'll have to follow certain conditions. Those conditions, as well as how long he'll be on supervised release, are set by a judge at his sentencing hearing.

In Mr. Inman's case, the government and Mr. Inman's lawyer recommended that he be on supervised release for ten years.

Instead of ten years, the district court, apparently motivated by how gross Mr. Inman's conduct is, sentenced him to a lifetime of supervised release. It didn't explain why.

1231362_sign_no_alcohol.jpgAnd, the district court set a number of conditions that no one asked for, or talked about at Mr. Inman's sentencing hearing - he had to submit to mandatory drug testing; to notify the probation office if he is prescribed any medicine; to provide the probation office with all of his financial information; and he can never drink alcohol again, possess or use a device capable of creating pictures or video, or rent a storage facility or post office box.

What's worse, the district court didn't explain why it was imposing these conditions - it just imposed them.

As the Sixth Circuit explained, these conditions are going to seriously mess him up.

The district court . . . precluded him from using any device capable of creating pictures or video. This special condition effectively prohibits Inman for his lifetime from possessing a cell phone with photo or video capability, a video camera, or any other device capable of creating pictures or videos, even if such devices might be used appropriately in connection with employment or family activities.

So much for getting the new iPhone.

Mr. Inman can never drink alcohol again, according to the district court, even though he doesn't have a problem with alcohol. The Sixth Circuit was troubled by this condition too.

Nothing in the record suggests that Inman has any problem with alcohol or drug dependence; yet, he is now barred from consuming alcohol for life, required to submit to periodic drug testing, and required to keep the probation office informed of any prescription medications in his possession. Supervised release conditions must be tailored to the specific case before the court. Where appropriate, the mandatory condition of drug testing "may be ameliorated or suspended by the court for any individual defendant if the defendant's presentence report or other reliable sentencing information indicates a low risk of future substance abuse by the defendant." 18 U.S.C. § 3563(a)(5). Moreover, the pertinent statute on discretionary conditions does not permit a total ban on alcohol, but allows a court to order the defendant to "refrain from excessive use of alcohol." 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b)(7) (emphasis added). Because Inman appears to present a low risk of future substance abuse, the district court should explain why these conditions of supervised release are warranted.

Finally, the Sixth Circuit thought the requirement that Mr. Inman allow his finances to be inspected by a probation officer was not supported by the record.

Inman also challenges the special condition requiring him to provide the probation office with any requested personal financial information. Inman's crime was not financial in nature. We realize that Inman's finances may give a probation officer insight into whether Inman is involved in illegal conduct, but we cannot approve a requirement that Inman disclose any and all financial information to the probation officer without first reviewing the district court's explanation as to why such a condition is necessary in light of the pertinent sentencing factors.

Based on all of that, the case went back to the district court for resentencing. If a district court is going to take away someone's ability to have an iPhone for life, that court has to do a little bit more explaining.

See also:
Sex Offenders, Supervised Release, and The Eighth Circuit

March 19, 2012

Just Because It's A Supervised Release Hearing Doesn't Mean There Are No Rules

Anthony Doswell was having a bad run of luck.

He was on supervised release from the end of a federal sentence. Supervised release works a bit like probation for those who have been in prison - folks coming out of a federal prison have a period of years where they have to check in with a probation officer, be drug tested, and, if they mess up, sent back to prison.

1268685_washington_monument.jpgOne big way to mess up is to commit a new crime. The rub is that a person can be violated - and sent back to prison - for committing a new crime, not just for being convicted of committing a new crime.

So, it's possible for a person on supervised release to be charged with a new crime, beat the charge, then be sent to prison anyway.

It's a hard world.

Anthony Doswell was in a spot like that. He was on supervised release and had been charged with having some marijuana on his person. He also tested positive for heroin and didn't show up to mental health treatment, or to meet with his supervising probation officer. [FN1]

He and his lawyer went to court to answer the allegations. His plan was to admit that he had been using marijuana and throw himself on the mercy of the court.

At the hearing, his lawyer learned that Mr. Doswell had previously been charged with heroin distribution.

Mr. Doswell had also been to court on the charge - twice! Each time the chemist who said the heroin in question was heroin had neglected to show up. The heroin case was eventually dismissed.

Mr. Doswell and his attorney may not have had the most transparent relationship.

In any event, Mr. Doswell objected to a violation of his supervised release based on the heroin. The government went forward with the allegation, providing the district court with the charging documents for the state court heroin distribution charge, as well as the chemist's report.

The government did not call any witnesses.

The district court found that Mr. Doswell had violated his supervised release by selling heroin. As the Fourth Circuit summarized it,

Without explanation, the district court concluded that, "notwithstanding the objection," the drug analysis report was "sufficient to support the [heroin] violation alleged." Accordingly, the court found Doswell guilty of the heroin violation set forth in Supplemental Notice, a violation that the court concluded, "in itself, [wa]s sufficient for . . . a mandatory revocation [of Doswell's supervised release]." The court then sentenced Doswell to the statutory maximum, twenty-four months of imprisonment.

On appeal, the only issue the Fourth Circuit dealt with, in United States v. Doswell, was whether, under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(b)(2), Mr. Doswell had a right to have the witnesses against him testify.

The government argued that under a prior Fourth Circuit case, and the general principle that revocation hearings are less formal, it didn't have to have a witness there.

Mr. Doswell, instead, suggested the court of appeals look at the language of Rule 32.1(b)(2), which says that at a revocation hearing, a person has

an opportunity to appear, present evidence, and question any adverse witness unless the court determines that the interest of justice does not require the witness to appear

Since the district court spent exactly no time balancing whether the interests of justice didn't require the chemist to testify against Mr. Doswell, the Fourth Circuit reversed the finding of violation and remanded.

Big congratulations to the defense lawyer on appeal, Joanna Silver! Way to ask the court to please read the law.

[FN1] - I know, they call the people who supervise folks on supervised release "Probation Officers" even though it's supervised release. I suppose "Supervised Release Officer" is too specialized a title or something.

August 24, 2011

The Seventh Circuit Reverses - Judge Posner Would Like To See More Explanation

Judge Richard Posner is sui generis. The Seventh Circuit judge is a towering legal intellectual. He writes on moral theory. He founded a journal. He writes about current political controversies. He is one of the few intellectuals of our time who has "changed the world" according to Tyler Cowen - unlike such slouches as Paul Krugman, Richard Dawkins, and Noam Chomsky. He's lectured in Second Life. He even blogs for the Atlantic.

He has been called "the world's most distinguished legal scholar."

He is also, most importantly, a serious bluebook hater (apologies that the link just goes to the first page of the article at JSTOR - though what a great first page it is. My favorite line comes later as advice to law students - "Make certitude the test for certainty." It summarizes so cleanly what's wrong with so much legal writing.).

One can empathize with a district court judge who has a case being appealed to a panel with Judge Posner. Here you sit, busier than you'd ever want to be. You're underpaid relative to what you could make in the private sector. You have an ever-growing caseload, particularly as Obama fails to get judges confirmed at rates like past presidents. Then this intellectual - who sleeps, what, 45 minutes a night? - comes picking at your work. It has to be hard.

So, for that reason, I have some empathy for the district court judge in United States v. Robertson.

Mr. Robertson pled guilty to growing marijuana plants. He was convicted and sent to prison for ten years. When he was released, he was on supervised release for eight years.

Shortly before his supervised release was to end, he was charged with growing marijuana plants. He went before the same judge for sentencing on the new marijuana plant charge that he had before.

The district court was unhappy to see Mr. Robertson again.

He sentenced Mr. Robertson on his new charge to 30 months in prison (I assume based on the number of plants he was growing). Then he turned to sentencing for the supervised release violation.

Sentencing on a supervised release violation is always tricky. The person being sentenced has already been before the judge. He's already gotten a second chance, and he's blown it. He's asking, often, for a second second chance. It can be a tough sell.

The guidelines suggest that a sentence of 12 to 18 months would be appropriate. The district court imposed a sentence of 34 months.

The district judge asked Mr. Robertson why he was still growing marijuana after spending eight years in prison. Mr. Robertson replied that "he just liked the way the plant looked" and that he "liked to smoke it." The district court suggested that, perhaps, he could take up "growing gardenias."

(In fairness, that suggestion really didn't take into account that Mr. Robertson likes to smoke his crops.)

The district court repeated that it was unhappy to see Mr. Robertson again. It them imposed sentence.

Judge Posner, the prolific explainer of legal theories, was unimpressed.

Noting that a judge sentencing a person for a supervised release gets the largest possible amount of deference from an appeals court, Judge Posner held that the district court did not provide enough explanation of its sentence.

As Judge Posner said,

We cannot brush off the appeal on the ground that of course the district judge knows the statutory sentencing factors and the relevant Guideline provisions and so he must have had a good reason for imposing a sentence almost twice as long as the maximum recommended by the Sentencing Commission (34 months versus 18 months). If that response to his appeal were proper, a judge would never have to give a reason for a sentence that was within the sentencing range set by Congress. Anyway what a busy judge knows is not always present to his mind.

(sarcastic emphasis in original)

Clearly, the district court judge should have explained his sentence. One of the central values of a reasoned process in our courts is that the providing of reasons for a judges action is what gives them legitimacy. It's the inverse of the silence we foist on to defendants. Yet Mr. Anderson didn't get the benefit of that reasoned explanation.

Still. One suspects that, perhaps, Judge Posner realizes how much explanation he would have given if he were the judge imposing sentence.