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Court upholds suppression based on Rodriguez

In United States v. Clark, 17-2739 the Court of Appeals held a traffic stop was impermissibly extended in violation of the Supreme Court's holding in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015).
In Clark the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over for several traffic violations, including driving without headlights at night.  The driver was using his mother's vehicle, who was not present.  The officer ran typical computer checks and determined the driver had several prior convictions for drug offenses.  The officer asked the driver questions about his criminal history, his whereabouts that evening, and to whom the vehicle was registered and where.  Although the driver could not find the registration card, he had his mother on the phone who, along with the driver, were trying to answer the officer's questions.  After some confusion the officer repeatedly told the pair he was asking these questions to determine if the driver was lying and continued to ask ab…
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Court Rejects 2013 Precedent Granting Habeas Relief, Holds Confrontation Clause Not Violated

In Mitchell v. Superintendent Dallas SCI, No. 17-3118 (Aug. 23, 2018), the Court upholds the denial of relief to a habeas petitioner whose codefendant had prevailed on the very same claim in 2013. At issue was the admission of a third defendant’s out-of-court statements admitting his involvement in a robbery and murder for which all three were on trial, and claiming that the homicide was “the other two’s idea.” The statements were recounted by inmates to whom the third defendant reportedly spoke about the case in jail.
In Eley v. Ericson, 712 F.3d 837 (3d Cir. 2013), the Court determined that admitting the third defendant’s statements had violated codefendant Karim Eley’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation under Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), which barred the admission at a joint trial of one defendant’s out-of-court statement inculpating both himself and another defendant. Several decades after Bruton, but still years before Eley, the Supreme Court held in Crawford …

Convictions Affirmed in Prosecution that Took Down Philadelphia Traffic Court

In a decision resolving six consolidated appeals beginning with United States v. William Hird, No. 14-4754, the Court revisits the venerable question of what constitutes a scheme to obtain “money or property” within the meaning of the mail and wire fraud statutes at 18 U.S.C. § § 1341 and 1343. Holding a governmental entity’s lawful entitlement to collect fines and costs for traffic violations to qualify as “property” under the fraud statutes, the Court affirms.
The widely publicized prosecution began in 2013 with the indictment of five sitting and former judges of the Philadelphia Traffic Court, along with other defendants, for fixing tickets on the part of favored individuals. Several judges were acquitted of all fraud counts at trial, but two defendants pleaded guilty after preserving their right to appeal a denial of their motion to dismiss these counts as failing to state an offense. Affirming the motion's denial, the Third Circuit canvasses the line of precedent establishin…

'Serious Bodily Injury' Agg Assault Held Not to Qualify as ACCA Predicate

In United States v. Anthony Mayo, No. 16-4282 (Aug. 22, 2018), the Court holds that first-degree aggravated assault in violation of Section 2702(a)(1) of Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code does not qualify as a predicate “violent felony” for purposes of the 15-year mandatory minimum provided by the Armed Career Criminal Act.
Before Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), the Pennsylvania assault offense was thought to qualify under the so-called “residual clause” of ACCA’s definitional provision, which looks to whether the elements of an offense ordinarily involve conduct presenting “a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” Johnson having held the residual clause to be unconstitutionally vague, the Pennsylvania offense cannot qualify as a predicate unless it meets the ACCA’s alternative definition of a violent felony as an offense having as an element the use or threat of "physical force against the person of another." See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i).
A perso…

Prosecutorial misconduct of systematically injecting inadmissible evidence into child pornography trial was plain but did not warrant reversal; application of obstruction of justice enhancement erroneous and warranted remand for resentencing, even where district court imposed a downward variance

United States v. WelshansAppeal No. 16-4106 (3d Cir. June 14, 2018), 2018 WL 2976804

Welshans challenged his conviction and sentence for distribution and possession of child pornography.
The Third Circuit rejected Welshans's argument that the prosecution violated his due process right to a fair trial by informing the jury that the files on his computer included deeply abhorrent videos and images of bestiality, bondage, and violent sexual assault of very young children.  At trial, the district court had admitted, with limiting instructions, two videos, without sound, which lasted two and a half minutes. The rest of the collection was excluded under Rule 403 and United States v. Cunningham, 694 F.3d 372, 391 (3d Cir. 2012). However, the government introduced exhibits which gave detailed paragraph-length descriptions of gruesome images and disturbing file names, and also elicited testimony from three agents that the images the jury saw were not the worst of what was recovered from W…

Second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (Pa) is categorically a crime of violence based on the elements clause of the career offender guideline.

United States v. RamosAppeal No. 17-2720 (3d Cir. June 15, 2018), 2018 WL 2994410
On the government’s appeal, the Third Circuit found that second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, 18 Pa. CS § 2702(a)(4), has as an element “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(1). Pennsylvania’s aggravated assault statute is divisible because it sets forth two alternate degrees of the offense and, within those degrees, the subsections “criminalize different conduct and set[ ] forth different (albeit overlapping) elements.” Thus, because the statute is divisible, the Court was able to consult a limited set of extra-statutory materials to establish Ramos's offense of conviction with certainty: second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The minimum conduct sufficient to sustain that conviction was attempting to cause another person to experience substantial pain with a device capable of causing serio…

Generic description of suspect sufficient to justify stop when analyzed under totality of the circumstances

In United States v. Foster, Appeal Nos. 16-3650 & 16-4225 (3d Cir. May 30, 2018), co-defendants challenged their convictions and sentences for being felons in possession of firearms. On February 5, 2015, a local barbershop employee called 911 to report two suspicious black males sitting in a Honda Accord in the shopping plaza's parking lot. When police arrived, the Accord promptly left the parking lot. The barbershop employee provided police with a picture of the Accord and its license plate. After running the plate, police learned that the Accord was reported stolen in an armed robbery. An email alert was sent to local law enforcement officers alerting them to the stolen vehicle and attaching the picture. The following morning, a police officer on routine patrol observed the Honda Accord sitting in the plaza parking lot with two black males inside. The officer left the lot briefly to call for backup and position himself to make a safe stop. When he returned, one of the men wa…

Government's failure to file motion for reconsideration of suppression ruling within 30 days deprived Third Circuit of jurisdiction over interlocutory appeal

In United States v. Kalb, Appeal No. 17-1333 (3d Cir. May 31, 2018), the Third Circuit considered whether it had jurisdiction to hear the Government's interlocutory appeal under 18 U.S.C. § 3731 where the Government filed a motion for reconsideration of a suppression ruling after the 30-day time period for filing an appeal under § 3731. Defendant Kalb successfully argued for suppression of evidence obtained from him after police stopped his vehicle. The district court granted Kalb's motion to suppress on October 21, 2016 and filed a written opinion three days later. On November 29, 2016, the government filed a motion to reconsider. The district court denied the government's motion to reconsider on the merits, rejecting Kalb's argument that the government's motion for reconsideration was untimely because the government sought leave to review the transcript of the suppression hearing within the 30-day period.

Typically, the 30-day appeal period under § 3731 begins wh…

Third Circuit Upholds Application of Sentencing Enhancements for Leadership Role and Conspiracy Relocation in Bank and Wire Fraud Conspiracy

In United States v. Thung Van Huynh, 884 F.3d 160 (3d Cir., March 6, 2018), Defendant pled guilty to participating in a bank and wire fraud conspiracy to purchase luxury wristwatches. Specifically, Defendant admitted to purchasing stolen identification and credit reporting information from prospective car buyers in order to create counterfeit driver’s licenses and credit cards. Defendant then gave the counterfeit driver’s licenses and credit cards to his co-conspirators so that they could obtain lines of credit at several financial institutions. The co-conspirators used the lines of credit to purchase the wristwatches. Defendant then sold the wristwatches to a fence in California for cash, which he used to pay his co-conspirators for their services and to cover other expenses of the fraudulent scheme.

In the plea agreement, the government reserved the right to seek an enhancement for Defendant’s leadership role under U.S.S.G. ' 3B1.1(a). However, the plea agreement did not discuss…