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Short Wins – 9th and 11th Circuit edition

There are some great cases from the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits this week – especially United States v. Ermoian on obstruction of justice. Good times.

And, of course, the big news of last week was Eric Holder’s recognition that there are a lot of people in federal prison. I’m skeptical that a policy that lets folks with one or two criminal history points avoid a mandatory minimum is going to do much to reduce our prison population, as I told some folks last week, but if the Attorney General is going to pay lip service to an idea, I suppose I’m glad it’s an idea that I agree with.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. Spencer v. United States, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was convicted of distributing crack and sentenced to 151 months based in part on his designation as a career offender. Appellant argued at sentencing and on appeal that one of his predicate felony convictions upon which the career offender status was based no longer qualified as a predicate crime of violence. The court ruled that appellant could use a timely filed motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to pursue that argument when an intervening case from the Supreme Court validated the argument and applies retroactively. Because appellant correctly argued that one of his predicate convictions no longer qualified as a predicate crime of violence, the district court’s denial of the § 2255 motion was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

2. United States v. Acosta-Chavez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty in 2005 to Illinois aggravated criminal sexual abuse and was removed from the country. After he reentered illegally, he was indicated on that basis, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. His sentence was based in part on the court’s designation of the 2005 crime as a “crime of violence.” This was error. Because the error was not harmless, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

Attorney: David W. Basham, for Appellant.

3. United States v. Edwards, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 46 months in prison. At sentencing the district court found that appellant’s prior conviction for attempted burglary under Nevada law was a “crime of violence” using the modified categorical approach. In this case, applying that approach was error. Appellant’s sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing without the “crime of violence” enhancement.

Attorney: Chad A. Bowers, for Appellant.

4. United States v. Ermoian, et al., Ninth Circuit.pdf: Appellants were convicted of obstructing justice arising out of their alleged conduct during an FBI investigation. Because an FBI investigation is not an “official proceeding” under the federal obstruction of justice statute, the jury instruction identifying it as such was erroneous. The government conceded that, if an FBI investigation wasn’t an official proceeding, the obstruction of justice charges could not have been sustained on evidence presented at trial. For these reasons, appellants’ convictions were reversed and retrial was barred.

Attorneys: for Mr. Ermoian, John Balazs; for Mr. Johnson, Jerald Brainin.

5. United States v. Madden, Eleventh Circuit: Appellant was indicted for, among other things, knowingly using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and knowingly possession a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. At trial, the court’s instructions to the jury constructively amended this charge by using different and confusing language. He was convicted on this charge. Because the amendment was plain error, appellant’s conviction was reversed and the case remanded.

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