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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

3rd Cir Issues More Booker remands

In two not-precedential cases, the 3rd Cir has continued its policy of remanding for resentencing under Booker where the district court, in sentencing before Booker, treated the guidelines range as mandatory.

In US v. Spivey, (No. 04-2057, 3/22/05), the Circuit issued its most extensive (although still brief) discussion of plain error. The Court stated that plain error analysis applies since no Sixth Amendment objection was raised at sentencing. The Court then noted that it was "at least arguable" that the sentence did not violate the Sixth Amendment since defense counsel admitted to the enhancement in question which increased the defendant's criminal history.

Even without the Sixth Amendment violation, however, the Court found remand was required under Booker because "the District Court's mandatory application of the Guidelines to Spivey's sentence was in error, and we cannot say from the record before us whether that error 'had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the [sentence].'" (Citing Kotteakos). The Court then concluded with the language used in all its Booker remands: "Therefore, having determined that the sentencing issues Spivey raises are best determined by the District Court in the first instance, we will vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing in accordance with Booker." This case thus continues the Circuit's policy of remanding for resentencing in any case where the district court viewed the guidelines as mandatory, regardless of whether there was an objection and regardless of whether there was a Sixth Amendment violation.

In US v. Simmons (No. 03-2013 3/22/05), the Circuit remanded for resentencing under Booker even though the defendant had received an upward departure. The defendant there, prior to Blakely, had originally appealed his sentence of 48 months on the ground that the judge improperly departed upward from the guideline range based on underrepresentation of criminal history. Defense counsel sought to supplement after Blakely, and the Court held the case under advisement pending Booker. In remanding, the Court said only that the Booker sentencing issues "are best determined by the district court in the first instance." This case makes clear that remand is appropriate even when the sentence was pursuant to an upward departure.

3rd Cir rejects challenge to BOP good time calculation

The 3rd Cir., in O'Donald v. Johns, (No. 04-2990, 3/22/05), rejected a habeas challenge to the way the Bureau of Prisons calculates the 54 days of good conduct time ("GCT"). The BOP has been interpreting the statute, 18 U.S.C. 3624(b), as allowing for 54 days of GCT "for each year served," which takes into account the fact that an inmate's time actually served becomes shorter each year as he is awarded GCT. The prisoner argued that the statutory language requires the BOP to calculate GCT based on the sentence imposed, not the time actually served. The Circuit found that the statutory language is unclear and ambiguous, and that the Court should therefore defer to the BOP's interpretation since it is an reasonable one. In so ruling, the Court joins the 1st, 7th, and 9th Cir.s in upholding the BOP on this issue.

Monday, March 21, 2005

3rd Cir upholds DNA collection as condition of SR

In US v. Sczubelek, (3/21/05, No. 03-2173) the 3rd Cir., following other circuits, upheld the constitutionality under the Fourth Amendment of the DNA Act. This law requires those in custody or on supervised release, parole or probation to give a DNA sample if they have been convicted of a qualifying federal offense such as bank robbery. The Court applied a reasonableness analysis under US v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001). The Court concluded that the intrusion was reasonable based on the following factors: the intrusion of a blood test is minimal, those on supervised release have a reduced expectation of privacy, the government has a compelling interest in the collection of identifying information on offenders, probation officers have no discretion regarding who is required to give a sample, the uses of the samples are limited, and the samples can be expunged if the conviction is reversed. Judge McKee dissented.

Monday, March 14, 2005

3rd Cir Continues Remands Under Booker

Continuing its broad approach to remands for resentencing in light of Booker, the 3rd Circuit in yet another not-precedential opinion, remanded for resentencing in a case involving a defendant sentenced at the bottom of his guideline range as a career offender -- US v. Mitchell (No. 03-3862, 3/11/05). This remand is a striking demonstration of just how broad the 3rd Circuit's approach is, since appellate counsel had filed a no-merit brief under Anders, but defendant in an informal pro se brief raised the Booker issue himself. The Court found that counsel had fulfilled all the requirements of Anders (and thus implicitly found that there were no meritorious issues for counsel to raise on appeal) but then remanded for resentencing stating only the following:


Mitchell challenges his sentence on the basis of United States v. Booker. . . Having determined that the sentencing issues appellant raises are best determined by the District Court in the first instance, we will vacate the sentence and remand for re-sentencing in accordance with Booker.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

3rd Cir rejects Brady claim

In US v. Leonardo A. Pelullo, No. 02-2710 (3d Cir. 2/25/05), the Circuit reversed a district court's finding of a Brady violation concerning two sets of exculpatory documents. In a very fact intensive opinion, the Court ruled that because the first set of exculpatory material consisted of the defendant's own documents, and because defendant had access to them, the failure of the government to turn them over to the defense did not constitute "suppression" of the exculpatory material for purposes of the rule of Brady v. Maryland.

The Court ruled that the second set of exculpatory material consisted of documents in the possession of a government agency that was not part of the "prosecution team," and that therefore under Brady the government's failure to turn these document over to the defense also did not constitute "suppression." As the Court explained, "[T]he prosecution is only obligated to disclose information known to others acting on the government's behalf in a particular case."

Addressing a separate habeas challenge to the jury instructions, the Court ruled that defendant had defaulted this claim and had not established "cause" for his failure to raise it at the trial or on the direct appeal.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

More 3rd Cir Booker remands

The Third Circuit is continuing to take a broad approach to remanding cases for resentencing under Booker, without the need for any express consideration of plain error or harmless error. The Circuit appears to have concluded implicitly that most sentencings that took place before Booker (and therefore under the binding guidelines) meet the test for plain error since one can never know what sentence the district court judge would have imposed under the now advisory guideline system implemented by Booker.

In each case involving a Booker remand, the Court has included some variation of the following statement: "In light of the determination of the judges of this court that the sentencing issues appellants raise are best determined by the District Court in the first instance, we vacate the sentences and remand for resentencing in accordance with Booker." In addition to the Ordaz and Davis decisions discussed below, the Circuit has recently remanded for resentencing in the following unpublished and not precedential cases (click on case to pull up the decision): US v. Nayef Yousef (2/22/05); US v. Arthur Able (2/24/05); US v. Edwin Marquez (2/28/05); US v. Vivian Wells (3/3/05).

US v. Able is particularly noteworthy since it does not appear to have involved any Sixth Amendment violation under Booker, and the defendant was sentenced at the top of the guideline range of 18 to 24 months. Nonetheless, the Circuit, noting that "the district court clearly treated the Sentencing Guidelines as mandatory rather than advisory," did not find that the error of applying the mandatory guideline range was harmless, but instead remanded so that the district court could determine the sentencing issues "in the first instance."