This week’s favorite Short Win is United States v. Gray. I say this less because of the legal issue involved – a jury instruction for “malice” – than for how much fun the opinion is to read. Here’s the opening:
Words are slippery things. Take “malice,” its legal definitions alone can encompass: the intent to commit a wrongful act, reckless disregard for the law, ill will, wickedness of heart, and the intent to kill. See Black’s Law Dictionary 968-69 (7th ed. 1999). But can malice’s fifty shades of meaning include “improper motive?” Former flight attendant Nancy Gray, convicted of providing false information regarding a bomb threat on an airplane, seeks to convince us that she was denied a fundamentally fair trial when her jury was instructed that malice meant “evil purpose or improper motive.” Because we find that the district court’s definition just won’t fly, we vacate Gray’s conviction and remand this case for a new trial.
It goes on from there. And, really it’s a sad story about a flight attendant snapping. But it’s good prose.
To the victories!
1. United States v. Gray, First Circuit: Appellant’s conviction for giving false information regarding a bomb threat on an airplane was vacated and remanded because the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the definition of malice. By instructing he jury that malice could be “an improper purpose,” the trial court reduced the government’s burden of proof.
Defense Attorney: Inga L. Parsons
2. United States v. Medina, First Circuit: After pleading guilty to failure to register as a sex offender, Appellant was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment and 20 years of supervised release. This sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing because the 20-year period of supervised release was based on the erroneous classification of Appeallant’s SORNA violation as a sex offense. In addition, two conditions of supervised release–one restricting Appellant from accessing or possessing a wide range of sexually stimulating material, and the second requiring Appellant to submit to intrusive penile plethysmograph testing–were not justified by the record.
Defense Attorney: Edward J. O’Brien
3. United States v. Moran-Caleron, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted for his role in a hotel and casino robbery. The trial court ordered restitution, but failed to set a payment schedule, instead ordering the probation office to do so. Such delegation of the court’s discretion is improper and required the judgment to be vacated and remanded.
Defense Attorney: Jorge L. Gerena-Mendez:
4. United States v. Foreste, Second Circuit: Appellant’s conviction for possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute was vacated and remanded because the district court erred in denying Appellant’s discovery request for the field performance records of the narcotics canine whose alert provided probable cause for his arrest. While such records are not required, the Second Circuit noted that they are not irrelevant and therefore found it to be an abuse of discretion to deny Appellant’s request.
Defense Attorney: Bradley Stetler
5. United States v. Flores-Alvarado, Fourth Circuit: Appellant’s sentence was vacated and remanded because the trial court failed to make the required factual findings regarding the drug quantity attributed to Flores-Alvarado. It was error for the district court to fail to resolve Appellant’s objections to the calculation.
Defense Attorney: Wayne Buchanan Eads
6. United States v. Carter, Sixth Circuit: The trial court improperly admitted evidence that Appellant had intent to distribute suboxone strips during his trial for manufacturing of methamphetamine. The Sixth Circuit determined that the probativeness of such an unrelated venture to show specific intent was outweighed by the prejudicial value of that evidence.
Defense Attorney: David L. Leonard
7. Campbell v. Reardon, Seventh Circuit: The state court unreasonably applied Strickland when they rejected Appellant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on counsel’s failure to conduct an adequate pretrial investigation by not interviewing three witnesses who would have said Appellant played no role in the murder for which he was convicted. The case was remanded for a hearing to resolve factual issues of Appellant’s claims.
8. United States v. Sewell, Seventh Circuit: The conditions of Appellant’s supervised release were vacated because both standard and special conditions were overbroad. The Court held that it is improper to order Appellant to obtain his GED not only because it is impossible to order someone to comply with such a condition without allowing cheating, but also because the applicability of this condition was not apparent.
9. Rudin v. Myles, Ninth Circuit: The Ninth Circuit held that extraordinary circumstances prevented Petitioner from timely filing her application for federal habeas relief and that she was entitled to equitable tolling. Her appointed attorney had abandoned her during the period in which she was diligent in pursuing her appeal. The case was remanded for further proceedings.
Defense Attorney: Christopher Oram
10. United States v. Hicks, Tenth Circuit: Appellant’s rights under the Speedy Trial Act were violated. Although the government filed a motion to set trial, that motion did not require a hearing, and therefore only thirty days are excludable (from the 70-day Speedy Trial Act requirement) after it was under advisement. Further, the motion was under advisement at the time it was filed because it did not require a response from Appellant. That motion therefore could only toll the speedy trial clock for 30 days, and since more time had passed the Speedy Trial Act was, in fact, violated.
Defense Attorney: Mark G. Walta