Articles Posted in Short Wins

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The big news in this batch of opinions is not the conspiracy to import lobsters case, but, rather the Barry Bonds appeal.

Mr. Bonds was prosecuted for evading a prosecutor’s questions while testifying in a grand jury. And, now, thanks to an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, his conviction was reversed because giving a nonresponsive answer is not a crime. Though just about any teenager could tell you that.

To the victories:

you win.jpg1. United States v. Bengis, Second Circuit: Appellants were convicted of conspiracy to import lobsters from South African waters in violation of both South African and U.S. law. The district court imposed a restitution order, holding each of the Appellants jointly and severally liable for the market value of all of the lobsters harvested. The Second Circuit reversed the order as to one of the Appellants, who had joined the conspiracy later than the others. The court held that the Appellant was only liable for the value of lobsters taken before he joined the conspiracy if he knew, or reasonably should have known, about the conspiracy’s past imports. The court remanded for the district court to make this determination.

2. United States v. Sandidge, Seventh Circuit: After Appellant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, the sentencing court imposed several standard and special conditions of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit vacated all of these conditions because the sentencing court offered no explanation as to their propriety, and conducted no review of the statutory sentencing factors. The court noted that several of the conditions were too vague, including requirements that Appellant meet “family responsibilities” and “not associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity.” The court also noted that several conditions were broader than necessary, such as a requirement not to “consume . . . any mood-altering substances.” The court remanded for resentencing on the issue of conditions of supervised release.

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It’s a catch-up blast of short wins today following my Spring Break.

My favorite of the bunch, continuing on our recent restitution cases, is United States v. Foley. There, the district court ordered restitution that was outside the offense of conviction. The First Circuit reversed. Go First Circuit!

To the victories!

you win.jpg1. United States v. Molina-Gomez, First Circuit: The district court erred by denying Appellant’s motion to suppress statements he made to United States Customs and Border Protection officers. The questioning occurred in a small, windowless room and Appellant was not given Miranda warnings prior to being questioned, which amounted to a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. The case was remanded so Appellant could withdraw his plea and determine how he would like to proceed.

Defense Attorneys: Leonardo M. Aldridge-Kontos, Hector E. Guzman-Silva, Jr., Hector L. Ramos-Vega, and Lisa L. Rosado-Rodriguez
2. Perry v. Roy, First Circuit: Appellant, an inmate, brought a civil rights suit challenging the medical treatment he received after a violent scuffle with prison guards, which left him with a broken jaw. The trial court dismissed the case, holding that Appellant had not presented evidence that prison medical personnel deliberately denied him care. But the First Circuit concluded that the trial court had improperly weighed the evidence, which, when viewed in a light favorable to Appellant, could support a finding that the prison medical personnel were deliberately indifferent to Appellant’s condition.

Inmate’s Attorneys: Benjamin M. McGovern, Amanda O. Amendola

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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!

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for you win.jpg1. 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

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The third level for acceptance of responsibility is interesting – it’s one area where some courts have held the government has pretty much unfettered discretion to decide whether or not it should apply. Basically, a person is supposed to get the third level only if she’s pled guilty early enough to keep the government from working. Though some U.S. Attorney’s offices are more or less stingy about how early is early enough.

Regardless, it can be hard to overcome an unreasonable government position on the applicability of the third-level for acceptance.

Which is why I was glad to see United States v. Castillo – which challenges the sovereignty of the government’s decisionmaking about the third level and its applicability. Good stuff there.

To the victories!

Thumbnail image for you win.jpg1. United States v. Alejandra-Montanez, First Circuit: Appellants were convicted of criminal conspiracy charges for importing cocaine. Because of recent amendments to the sentencing guidelines that retroactively reduced most drug quantity base offense levels, the case was remanded for reconsideration of Appellants’ sentences.

Defense Attorneys: David A.F. Lewis, Leslie W. O’Brien, and Joshua L. Gordon
2. United States v. Martinez-Rodriguez, First Circuit: Appellants were convicted of drug and firearms offenses. Appellant Rodriguez’s conviction for the drug offense was reversed because the evidence was insufficient to connect him to Appellant Santini’s possession of narcotics. And the evidence connecting Appellant Santini to Appellant Rodriguez’s possession of a firearm was also insufficient, so that conviction was reversed as well. The only evidence of a connection between Appellants, who are brothers-in-law, was that they had been in a car together when the car was stopped. But the lack of evidence about the full nature of their relationship, of any plan they had to carry out a drug-trafficking offense, and of their prior dealings with each other was insufficient to show that the two had the requisite knowledge of the other’s offense.

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In this set of short wins, the one that I’d like to call attention to is United States v. Cuti.

Restitution is not a sexy issue. It isn’t as fun to read about as, say, a Brady fight, or a glaring evidentiary problem at a trial. But it’s important.

Restitution judgments can be massive and, frankly, too many lawyers, judges, and prosecutors phone it in around restitution. United States v. Cuti clarifies that what counts as restitution is not just any money that any person may have spent as a result of the criminal conduct at the heart of the case. If you’ve got a restitution issue coming up, give it a read. Nice stuff.

To the victories!

you win.jpg1. United States v. Cuti.pdf, Second Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to make false statements and securities fraud. His sentence included an award of restitution under the Victims and Witnesses Protection Act. The Second Circuit held that legal expenses incurred in connection with a civil arbitration connected to the offense are not deemed “necessary” under the VWPA because they were not undertaken or pursued in aid of the prosecution. In addition, the court held that non-victims are eligible for restitution only to the extent such payments were made on behalf of the victim, and remanded for reconsideration of the restitution order.

Defense Attorneys: Brian C. Brook and Matthew J. Peed
2. United States v. Price, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to failing to register as a sex offender and the district court adopted Guidelines based on the fact that such an offense qualified as a ‘sex offense’. That interpretation was wrong; failing to register as a sex offender does not qualify as a sex offense. The court therefore remanded for resentencing under different sentencing guidelines.

Defense Attorneys: Kimberly Harvey Albro and John H. Hare

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There are two cases in this batch of short wins that I think deserve a special shout out.

First, there’s United States v. Torres-Perez. Appeal waivers are the bane of federal criminal practice (or one of them). Their only advantage is that they make prosecutors’ lives easier. The downside, which is significant, is that they discourage the development of the law. I’d rather have the government work more and know what the law is. Though I may be crazy. In Perez, the Fifth Circuit slapped down an appeal waiver requirement in order to get credit for a acceptance.

Second, there’s United States v. Barta – another great entrapment case from the Seventh Circuit. That circuit is bustin out entrapment cases like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry bust out insults of each other. Or something.

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It’s been an interesting week in the federal circuits. Aside from the normal and expected sentencing appeals, there are two cases that caught my eye.

The first is United States v. Fard on withdrawing a plea. I often hear from people who have entered a plea and want to talk about hiring me to withdraw it. It can be maddening to see how other lawyers have poorly advised their clients, or have simply had them enter pleas that their client does not understand (sometimes, especially when the lawyer has no prior criminal defense experience, I fear the lawyer doesn’t understand the plea either). Fard helps, a bit, in attacking pleas that aren’t knowing and voluntary.

The second case I find interesting solely for the schaedenfraude it gives me. The case is United States v. Smith. There, an AUSA was appointed and confirmed to be a judge. As a judge, he worked on a case he also worked on as an AUSA. Hijinks ensue.

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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.

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Child porn cases are turning out to be a surprisingly large portion of what’s in federal court.

Child pornography is gross and wrong, to be clear. But these cases are, I think, a symptom of a larger problem.

All of us have times in our lives when we’re in the wilderness, when we feel adrift and alienated and unsure of where we’re going or where we are. Some folks in this time of life turn to alcohol, Some turn to drugs, video games, or other ways to keep themselves from facing the great chasm of dissatisfaction that their lives have become. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desparation” and all that.

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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.