And, after a really long break, we’re back. Apologies. This day job has been very busy lately.
And, of course, if you ever find yourself jonesing for my writing, you can always check out my stuff on Above the Law.
You saw our guest post on Hite last week – it’s a great case that bears a close read.
To the Victories!
1. United States v. Barnes, First Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to distribution and conspiracy to distribute 50kg of marijuana. At sentencing, the district court attributed 3,000kg of marijuana to Appellant after a judicial finding of that quantity by a preponderance of the evidence. After Alleyne, drug quantities must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The First Circuit held that this error was harmful because the government did not provide an explanation that proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the error in attributing a larger quantity of drugs did not “contribute” to the complained-about sentence, and therefore vacated the sentence.
Defense Attorney: Judith H. Mizner
2. United States v. Prange, First Circuit: The trial court erred in calculating the loss amount attributable to Appellants when it relied on the PSR, which recommended loss amounts unsupported by law. Appellants were entitled to have the loss amount lowered when the stocks they sold had some value when it was sold. The cases were remanded so the district court could make factual findings as to the value of the shares acquired by the government during the sting.
Defense Attorneys: Steven N. Fuller, Allen Fuller, and Inga L. Parsons
3. United States v. Sevilla-Oyola, First Circuit: After an initial plea hearing and sentencing, Appellant filed a motion challenging his sentence. A number of hearings were held after, during which the trial court lowered the sentence each time. The trial court, however, did not have authority for his actions during a majority of the proceedings. The variety of motions filed by Appellant could not be considered a Section 2255 motion because Appellants only gets one complete round of collateral review and none of the parties had considered Appellant’s motions to be a habeas petition. All of the convictions were vacated and remanded for one final resentencing.
Defense Attorney: Rafael F. Castro Lang
4. United States v. Starks, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm after a police officer stopped him in a car his son had rented. The district court held that Appellant did not have standing to challenge the stop because Appellant was not the authorized driver of the rental car. But because a mere passenger in a car has standing to challenge the constitutionality of the stop, the First Circuit held that Appellant’s status as an unlicensed, unauthorized driver was no less than that of a passenger and therefore he had standing. This required the conviction to be vacated and remanded for an evidentiary hearing.
Defense Attorney: James L. Sultan
5. United States v. Zhyltsou, Second Circuit: A jury found Appellant guilty of the unlawful transfer of a false identification document. During trial, the court admitted as evidence a printed copy of a social media webpage which the government claimed was created by Appellant. The government did not satisfy the authentication requirement because it did not prove that it was Appellant’s profile page rather than a page on the internet that was about Appellant but which Appellant did not create or control. The conviction was vacated and the case remanded.
Defense Attorney: Yuanchung Lee
6. United States v. Bui, Third Circuit: Appellant’s petition for habeas corpus should have been granted because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant pled guilty only after his trial counsel provided him with incorrect advice regarding the availability of a sentencing reduction pursuant to the “safety valve.” Although trial counsel filed a motion for such a reduction, he withdrew it after realizing Appellant was ineligible. This amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.
Defense Attorneys: Maria K. Pulzetti and Brett G. Sweitzer
7. United States v. Paladino, Third Circuit: Appellant challenged the district court’s judgment revoking Appellant’s supervised release and imposing a prison sentence. The judgment was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing because Appellant was denied the right to allocute at sentencing when the court did not address Appellant personally or permit him to speak or present information in mitigation of the sentence.
Defense Attorney: Sarah S. Gannett
8. United States v. Catone, Fourth Circuit: A jury convicted Appellant of one count of making a false statement in connection with his receipt of federal workers’ compensation benefits and was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment and to pay $106,411.83 in restitution. The sentence must be vacated because the jury did not make a finding that the offense led to more than $1,000 in falsely obtained benefits, so Appellant could only be given a maximum 12-month, misdemeanor sentence. The loss calculation was wrong because it should have reflected the difference between the amount of benefits that he actually received and the amount that he would have received but for the false statement. Instead, restitution was vacated because the loss amount was calculated as the full amount Appellant had received in workers’ compensation during that time period.
Defense Attorneys: Joshua B. Carpenter and Ross Hall Richardson
9. United States v. Randall, Fifth Circuit: Although Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, the factual basis on which his plea was based and the PSR found that Appellant was only responsible for less than 200 grams of cocaine. Appellant’s sentence, which was based on his liability for five kilograms of cocaine, was vacated and remanded because Appellant should be sentenced based only on the facts adopted by the court–that is, the amount attributable only to him and not to the conspiracy as a whole–and that amount did not require a mandatory minimum sentence.
10. United States v. Snelling, Sixth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion and sentenced to 131 months in prison. In determining the sentencing guidelines range, the court failed to take into account sums paid back to the Ponzi scheme’s investors in the course of the fraud. This resulted in a higher loss value, and therefore a larger sentencing enhancement. The sentence was therefore vacated and remanded for recalculation.
Defense Attorney: Kevin M. Schad
11. Swisher v. Porter Co Sheriff’s Dept., Seventh Circuit: Appellant brought a §1983 complaint based on a pretrial denial of medical care for a bullet wound to his abdomen. Appellant had not exhausted all administrative remedies, so the district court dismissed his complaint. The denial was reversed because Appellant had not been advised of the grievance procedure and was told by the Warden not to file a grievance.
12. United States v. Bowling, Seventh Circuit: Appellants convictions for making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm were reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. The Seventh Circuit held that Appellant had to be given the opportunity to present a mistake of fact defense because, although he was charged with a felony at the time, he was also aware that the plea deal offered was for a misdemeanor. The Court held that Appellant should not have to testify in order to present the defense, but instead can cross-examine other witnesses.
13. United States v. Hinds, Seventh Circuit: Appellant’s case was remanded for resentencing because the district court improperly imposed two special conditions of supervised release. The condition requiring Appellant to pay for a portion of his court-ordered substance abuse treatment and drug testing was in error because the district court expressly found that Appellant lacked the ability to pay the interest requirement on the restitution and the court did not order a fine based on the same inability to pay. And the condition requiring Appellant to submit to suspicionless searches and seizures was also in error, and the government conceded at oral argument that this invasive condition has already been banned by the court.
14. United States v. Myers, Seventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of several identity theft-related crimes and sentenced to 132 months imprisonment. The sentence was vacated because the six-level enhancement for 250 or more victims violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. The guidelines in place at the time of the crime would not have characterized many of the individuals as victims.
15. United States v. Reid, Eighth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, which carries a ten year maximum sentence. The court found that Appellant’s prior conviction qualified him under the Armed Career Criminal Act to a guidelines range of fifteen years to life imprisonment. Because Appellant’s prior conviction was not a violent felony, as required by the Armed Career Criminal Act, his sentence was vacated.
16. Deck v. Jenkins, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus should have been granted where the prosecutor, in closing argument, negated an essential element of the intent to commit a lewd act upon a child. The prosecutor argued that the intent element could be proven if Petitioner intended to commit the act not on the day of his arrest, but at some point in the future. This prosecutorial error was not harmless where the jury was confused, a corrective instruction was not given, and the written jury instructions did not address the subject of the jury’s confusion.
Defense Attorney: Charles M. Sevilla
17. Sessoms v. Grounds, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus should have been granted because a reasonable law enforcement officer should have understood Petitioner’s statements as an unambiguous request for counsel. In light of Salinas v. Texas, the requirement of an unambiguous invocation of the right to counsel applied to pre-Miranda statements like Petitioner’s.
Defense Attorney: Eric Weaver
18. United States v. Aguilera-Rios, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner’s conviction for illegal reentry was reversed because his prior removal order was invalid. The removal order was based on a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm. The statute criminalizing that conduct did not have an antique firearms exception and therefore was not a categorical match for the Immigration and Nationality Act’s firearm offense. Since there was no categorical match, the removal order was invalid.
Defense Attorney: Kara Hartzler
19. United States v. Bell, Ninth Circuit: After being convicted of making false, fictitious, and fraudulent claims to the US treasury, filing false tax returns, contempt, and mail fraud, Appellant was sentenced and, as part of supervised release, required to undergo substance abuse treatment and abstain from consuming alcohol. That condition was vacated and the case remanded because the record contained no evidence showing that Appellant abused any substance.
Defense Attorney: Gregory Charles Link
20. United States v. Brown, Ninth Circuit: A case arising from a Ponzi scheme and bankruptcy fraud was remanded for resentencing. The sentencing court erroneously imposed an enhancement for endangering the solvency or financial security of 100 or more victims where the government did not provide evidence of the impact of the crimes on the requisite number of victims. In addition, Appellant Eddings’ sentence also included an erroneous leadership role adjustment because the trial court noted that it wasn’t clear whether Eddings controlled a particular participant, and the record does not indicate that he controlled any other criminally responsible participant in the scheme. Further, it was error to apply a sentencing enhancement for having 250 or more victims when the district court relied on 148 victims who were not included in the loss calculation.
Defense Attorneys: Heather Williams, David M. Porter, Rachelle Barbour, and John Balazs
21. United States v. Bryant, Ninth Circuit: Appellant moved to dismiss the indictment charging him with two counts of domestic assault by a habitual offender. Appellant was previously convicted in tribal court of domestic abuse, which the government used to establish the element of a prior offense. The Court held that only tribal court convictions obtained when Appellant had a right to counsel which is, at a minimum, coextensive with the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, can be used in a subsequent prosecution. Because Appellant did not have such a right to counsel during his tribal court convictions, they could not be used against him in this case and the indictment should have been dismissed.
Defense Attorneys: Steve C. Babcock and Anthony R. Gallagher
22. United States v. Castro-Ponce, Ninth Circuit: Appellant’s sentence enhancement for obstruction of justice was vacated because the trial court did not explicitly find that Appellant’s false testimony was also willful and material.
Defense Attorney: Lynn T. Hamilton
23. United States v. Heredia, Ninth Circuit: The government made repeated and inflammatory references to Appellant’s criminal history throughout its sentencing memorandum. Because those references served no practical purpose but to argue implicitly for a higher punishment than it had agreed to recommend, Appellant’s sentence was vacated and remanded.
Defense Attorneys: Sean K. Kennedy and Jonathan D. Libby
24. United States v. Hernandez, Ninth Circuit: As part of Appellant’s sentence for illegal reentry, the district court added a sentencing enhancement for Appellant’s prior conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm under the California Penal Code. Because that statute does not include an antique-firearm exception, it is not a categorical match for the federal firearms offense. Therefore the enhancement was improper and the case was remanded for resentencing.
Defense Attorneys: Sean K. Kennedy and James H. Locklin
25. United States v. Mavromatis, Ninth Circuit: Appellant’s conviction for being in possession of a firearm after being committed to a mental institution. This conviction was barred by double jeopardy because Appellant was previously acquitted on a charge based on the same incident of possession.
Defense Attorneys: Rich Curtner and Noa Oren
26. United States v. Melot, Tenth Circuit: Appellants were held in contempt and sanctions imposed after the district court believed the Appellants fraudulently intervened in the foreclosure of their properties. The sanctions were reversed because Appellants only had notice that the court was considering contempt. The lack of notice of sanctions or the opportunity to be heard was a denial of due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Katherine L. Melot and Billy R. Melot proceeded pro se.
27. United States v. Reyes Vera, Ninth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of a drug conspiracy and the use of a minor to commit a drug trafficking offense. During trial, a police officer was called as an expert to explain the drug jargon used in wiretapped phone calls. The Ninth Circuit held that this testimony was a mix of lay and expert opinion, and the trial court’s failure to explain that distinction to the jury was in error. Because this error affected the drug quantities found by the jury in a special verdict (which itself impacted the mandatory minimum sentences), the case was remanded for proper determination of drug quantity.
Defense Attorneys: Gretchen Fusilier and Thomas Paul Slesinger
28. Williams v. Swarthout, Ninth Circuit: Petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus should have been granted where the trial court made a misstatement immediately before trial that Petitioner had pled guilty, and that misstatement was not corrected until the jury began to deliberate. This deprived Petitioner of the presumption of innocence and violated his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury because the error was not rendered harmless by curative instructions.
Defense Attorneys: William J. Capriola and John P. Ward
29. United States v. Bear, Tenth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to failing to register or update a registration as a sex offender. The special condition of supervised release restricting Appellant’s contact with his children was reversed. Any condition that interferes with the right of familial association can do so only in compelling circumstances, and here the government did not present evidence that Appellant displayed a propensity to commit future sexual offenses or exhibited any proclivity toward sexual violence, nor has he shown any display of danger to his own children.
Defense Attorney: Brooke A. Tebow
30. United States v. Powell, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of numerous counts related to making, uttering, or possessing a forged security after he altered payee information or forged endorsements and then deposited checks stolen from the United States mail into his bank accounts at various banks. That crime requires the government to prove that the security (including checks) belonged to an organization (such as a bank). His convictions were vacated because proof that the checks were deposited into a federally insured bank was not proof that the checks were “of” the depository banks.
Defense Attorney: Ty Gee
31. United States v. Hite, DC Circuit: Appellant’s conviction for attempting to persuade a minor to engage in unlawful sexual activity was vacated. Although it is not necessary for the communication to be directly to a minor, the government must prove that the communications with an intermediary are aimed at persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing the minor. The jury instructions did not reflect such an understanding and require Appellant’s conviction to be vacated. In addition, Appellant should have been permitted to introduce expert evidence about Appellant’s lack of sexual interest in children since that question is relevant to proving intent.
Defense Attorneys: Lawrence S. Robbins, Barry J. Pollack, A.J. Kramer, Jonathan Jeffress, and Rosanna M. Taormina