Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Supervised Release - Consecutive sentences allowed upon revocation

In US v. Joseph Dees, No 05-4949 (Nov. 8, 2006), the Circuit joined with six other circuits in ruling that under 18 usc sect 3584(a), a district court may "impose consecutive terms of imprisonment upon revocation of supervised release -- even when the sentences for the underlying crimes ran concurrently."

Dees had pleaded guilty on three separate dates to three separate offenses. He was sentenced, however, for all 3 cases at the same time by one judge. The sentence was 51 months in prison and 3 years supervised release on each of three separate convictions to run concurrently. Dees served his sentence and upon release accumulated multiple violations of his release conditions. At a violation hearing, the judge revoked supervised release and imposed 24 months in prison on each of the three supervised release terms, to run consecutively, for a total of 72 months. The Circuit found that nothing in the statute precludes such consecutive sentences upon violation, even though the original terms of supervised release ran concurrently.

Third Circuit finds unlimited "but for" theory of restitution calculation erroneous; reiterates admissibility of custom & practice testimony

On December 12, 2006, the Third Circuit ruled in United States v. Fallon, Case No. 03-4184, that awarding restitution owed under the Mandatory Victims Resolution Act ("MVRA") pursuant to a theory of unlimited "but for" causation is error requiring a new restitution hearing. The Third Circuit also held that the exclusion of testimony about industry custom and practice was error as a matter of law, but that such error was harmless in this case.

At the restitution hearing, the district court found by a preponderance that American Business Leasing ("ABL"), which had purchased microdermabraders from Mr. Fallon’s company and then leased the devices to doctors, would not have purchased the devices but for Mr. Fallon’s forgery of the FDA approval letter that Mr. Fallon provided to ABL during their negotiations. The district court consequently found that all of ABL’s losses from unpaid lease payments were caused by Mr. Fallon’s misrepresentation. It assessed restitution of over $55,000 ($125,000 in unpaid lease payments, minus about $30,000 for paid lease payments and $40,000 for the value of the devices owned by ABL).

On appeal, the Third Circuit vacated this award as erroneous and remanded the case for a new restitution hearing. The Third Circuit ruled that while "a . . . rebuttable inference arises that subsequent losses suffered by the victim are sufficiently linked to the underlying fraud to support an award of restitution" where a "transaction was consummated due to [the defendant’s] fraud," the argument that no loss would have occurred but for the fraud is insufficient to bear the government's burden of showing direct causation of the harm where, as here, the defendant rebuts the presumption with evidence that the loss occurred for reasons unrelated to the fraud. Mr. Fallon showed that at least $34,000 of ABL’s loss arose when two doctors defaulted on their lease payments for reasons unrelated to the fraud. One doctor filed for bankruptcy. The other passed away.

The Third Circuit also reiterated in this opinion that "[t]his court has consistently allowed ‘testimony concerning business customs and practices,'" and that "a witness need not represent an entire industry in order to have sufficient knowledge of that industry’s customs and practices so as to render substantial assistance to the jury." The Court consequently found the district court's exclusion of Mr. Fallon's proffered custom and practice testimony to be erroneous. However, it went on to hold that such error was harmless in this case because Mr. Fallon was able to impeach the testimony of the government witness who testified that the FDA approval letter was a required part of the negotiations, and because another witness testified that he had never required such approval letters from device manufacturers during his fifteen years in the leasing industry.

Another guideline sentence affirmed, more specific reasons for sentence not required

On November 28, 2006, the Third Circuit issued another precedential decision affirming a within-guideline sentence. In United States v. Lloyd, No. 05-4241, the defendant pled guilty to a drug conspiracy and faced a range of 168-210 months. The district court imposed 168 months and, after a Booker remand, imposed the same sentence. The court reaffirmed its practice of applying plain error review to an unpreserved argument that the district court failed in its procedural approach to sentencing. While counsel may have strategic reasons for not making certain objections, any hope of meaningful review on these questions requires an objection in the district court. The court found no plain error in the failure to give more specific reasons, stating that "a court can provide concrete reasons for its sentence without speaking at great length." Also, the court found no plain error in failure to give greater weight to the defendant's post-sentencing rehabilitation efforts, concluding that such efforts will only be relevant in unusual circumstances given the unfair disadvantage of defendants who have no opportunity to come back for resentencing. The court also concluded that the sentence was reasonable.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

3d Cir emphasized adherence to Gunter in finding sentence reasonable

The Third Circuit in United States v. Charles, No. 05-5326, emphasized reliance on the three-step sentencing procedure articulated in United States v. Gunter, No. 05-2592. In rejecting appellant's arguments that his sentence was unreasonable, the Court held that the district court complied with steps one and three by determining the applicable guideline range and discussing the parties' arguments regarding his background and personal circumstances. Analogizing to United States v. King, No. 05-1728, the Court determined that the record supported a maximum guideline sentence of 46 months. The Court rejected Charles's parsimony argument that the district court was required to note why a low-end guideline sentence was insufficient to meet section 3553(a)(2)'s penological goals, and his argument regarding unwarranted disparities, stating that any alleged disparities here were non-statutory and resulted from the district court's reasonable exercise of discretion after considering the requisite three steps for calculating sentences.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Letter classification of offense under § 3559(a) does not require reference to guidelines

The Third Circuit in United States v. Lovett, No. 05-4171 (3d Cir. Nov. 6, 2006), rejected the contention that under § 3559(a), the "maximum term of imprisonment authorized" is based on the maximum term of imprisonment authorized by the Guidelines, rather than the statute of conviction. Lovett received a 16-month sentence for his conviction of making a false statement to a federally licensed firearms dealer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6), and, on appeal, challenged only the imposition of his three-year term of supervised release. Since his range would have been 12-18 months, he argued, he would have thus been classified as a Class E felony, for which the term of supervised release would not have exceeded one year. The Third Circuit rejected the argument, reasoning that the classification process in § 3559 requires, first, identifying the offense of conviction, then, if a letter grade has not been assigned, looking to the "maximum term of imprisonment authorized." Because § 3559(a) refers to the "section defining" the criminal offense, the Court concluded that this can only refer to the Federal Crimes Code, not the sentencing guidelines.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mummert Survives Booker, but Sentences Require Minimal Explanation

The Third Circuit has carried its rule requiring remand of ambiguous departure rulings forward into the post-Booker world. The doctrine, originating in United States v. Mummert, 34 F.3d 201 (3d Cir. 1994), stemmed from the need to determine whether the appellate court had jurisdiction to hear an appeal challenging a Guidelines sentence--legal departure denials were reviewable while discretionary denials were not. Since sentencing courts must still rule on departure motions in the Third Circuit, and since reviewability of such rulings still turns on their legal or discretionary nature, Mummert continues to serve a purpose, the Court held in United States v. Jackson, No. 05-4091 (3d Cir. Nov. 9, 2006).

Unfortunately, Jackson continues the Court's trend of watering down Mummert. In this case, although the district court never addressed the departure motion at all, the Third Circuit infers that the "implicit denial" of the motion was discretionary, since it viewed the government's opposition to the motion below as appealing to the district court's discretion. That is a controversial conclusion, as the government below and on appeal argued that the facts presented by Mr. Jackson do not "rise to the level" needed for a departure---seemingly a legal argument.

Jackson likewise seems to confirm that the Third Circuit will approve very "bare bones" explanations of sentences by district courts. Here, the sentencing court cited Mr. Jackson's criminal history and expressly rejected one of his mitigation arguments in imposing a Guidelines sentence, but was silent as to many other mitigating factors presented as well as to the departure motion. That explanation was upheld as sufficient.

A rehearing petition is pending in Jackson, asking the Court, among other things, to establish a supervisory rule requiring express and clear departure rulings, and to require district courts, as part of the explanation of sentence, to state why they reject any non-frivolous sentencing arguments made by the parties.

UPDATE: Rehearing has been denied.

Friday, October 20, 2006

18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3) conviction does NOT constitute "aggravated felony" for removal purposes

In Joseph v. Attorney General, Nos. 05-1047, 05-2889 (3d Cir. Oct. 2, 2006), the Third Circuit ruled that a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3), which makes it illegal for any person other than a licensed manufacturer, dealer, or collector to transport into or receive in the State where he resides any firearm purchased or otherwise obtained by such person outside that state, does not constitute an aggravated felony for removal purposes because the offense did not include any trafficking element, i.e., any element of dealing in firearms or any intent to sell or otherwise distribute the firearms.

Sentences for Class B and C misdemeanors must be reviewed under pre-Guidelines standard applicable to those offenses

Grand jury target Jelanie Solomon was convicted of criminal contempt for failing to provide handwriting exemplars ordered by the district court. He was sentenced to 5 months imprisonment on the contempt conviction, thus classifying the conviction as a Class B misdemeanor. On appeal, the parties disagreed over the standard of review to be applied. The government argued that the sentence should be reviewed for an abuse of discretion, while Solomon argued that his sentence must be reviewed for "reasonableness" under United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). The Third Circuit noted that while the Guidelines were still mandatory, the circuits were divided on the standard of appellate review. In re Solomon, Nos. 06-2819, 06-2820 (3d Cir. Oct. 2, 2006). Upon present consideration, the Court found that the exclusion of Class B and C misdemeanors from the Guidelines provisions was intended to place those offenses entirely outside the statutory scheme, including the appellate review provisions contained in 18 U.S.C. § 3742(e). Accordingly, the Court held that appellate review of sentences imposed for Class B and C misdemeanors must be conducted under the pre-Guidelines standard applicable to those offenses, rather than the reasonableness test set forth in Booker. The standard of review applicable to criminal contempt offenses was abuse of discretion. The Court ultimately found that the five month sentence imposed in Solomon's case was not an abuse of discretion.

By ruling in this fashion, the Third Circuit noted that it need not contend with a question currently dividing the other circuits - namely, the continued viability of the "plainly unreasonable" standard of review.

The Court made two additional rulings in this case. First, it concluded that the government made a sufficient preliminary showing that the handwriting exemplars were relevant to the grand jury's investigation to warrant contempt charges. Second, the Court ruled that the district court's order denying Solomon's motion to quash search warrant for his blood and saliva did not qualify for interlocutory review under the collateral order doctrine.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Troubling credibility ruling and Harris still good law

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 04-4268 (9/27/06), the defendant was on trial on drug conspiracy and weapons charges. The government’s central witness, Carter, asserted on cross-examination that he (Carter) had never committed murder. Defense counsel sought to impeach Carter as to this assertion. Counsel advised the court that a confidential witness had told an ATF agent that he had heard from another person that Carter had stabbed an individual to death in Philadelphia. The district court prohibited the cross examination, ruling that under Fed. R. Evid. 608(b) the fact that Carter committed murder was not probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness, and also that the weak evidence that Carter committed murder should be excluded under Rule 403. The Third Circuit (Judge Fuentes) found no abuse of discretion: "Even if the evidence that Carter committed murder had been strong, it was not clearly relevant to Carter’s truthfulness as a witness and had a strong potential to prejudice the jury." If the witness had not asserted on direct examination that he had never committed murder, this logic holds up. However, in light of the witness’s affirmative assertion on direct, the ruling is more troubling. Rule 608(b) concerns confrontation of a witness with a prior act that demonstrates the witness’s character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, and that therefore in and of itself tends to show that the witness lacks or has credibility. But in Williams the defense was not trying to show that because Carter was a murderer, he was also a liar. Rather, the purpose of the cross examination was to contradict Carter’s direct testimony that he had never committed a murder. Perhaps future application of the opinion will turn on the extremely weak evidence showing that Carter committed the murder.

The court also rejected, under a plain error standard of review, the defense challenges to the multiple/single conspiracy instructions and sufficiency of the evidence. As to the sentence, the court remanded the conspiracy sentence because the original sentencing hearing took place prior to Booker. The court upheld the mandatory sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which had been enhanced from 5 to 10 years based on the judge’s finding at sentencing by a preponderance that the firearm had been discharged, ruling that Harris is still good law and that therefore the constitution does not prohibit judicial fact-finding at sentencing within the maximum sentence authorized by the jury’s verdict.

Win one and lose one in capital cases in Delaware

In a pair of Delaware capital habeas appeals, on September 28, 2006, the panel of Judges Rendell, Ambro and Fuentes addressed the death penalties imposed on two codefendants convicted in the 1992 murder of Wilson Mannon. Another codefendant did not appeal his death sentence and was executed in 1995. Time will tell which of these two opinions, the one granting penalty phase relief or the one denying it, has more far-reaching impact.

The panel granted penalty phase relief in Outten v. Kearney, No. 04-9003 (9/28/06). In opening statement during the penalty phase, counsel stated that they were there "to beg for the life" of their client. They called six witnesses, including the defendant’s mother, three siblings, a friend and a former girlfriend. Counsel did not undertake any mitigation investigation other than talking to family. The witnesses testified about the defendant’s care for his father during his final illness, how his father had taken out his frustrations on the defendant, the defendant’s criminal history and history of assaultive behavior, and the traumatic death of the defendant’s infant son. The defendant also allocuted on similar topics. The jury recommended death by a vote of 7-5. Post-conviction counsel uncovered extensive mitigating evidence that had not been discovered by trial counsel, including extensive physical abuse of the defendant by his father, that the defendant’s mother drank heavily during her pregnancy with him, that the defendant suffered two head traumas as a child, that he was placed in learning disabled classes at the age of ten, that he was placed with foster families and shelters and that a foster mother sexually abused him, and that the defendant had abused alcohol and drugs since adolescence. Writing for the panel, Judge Ambro concluded that the state courts’ ruling that trial counsel’s performance was adequate was an objectively unreasonable application of Strickland. Citing the ABA standards applicable to capital counsel, the court refused to accept trial counsel’s explanation that they did not investigate further based on their discussions with the defendant’s mother, because counsel had insufficient evidence from which to conclude that further investigation would prove futile. Also, the court rejected trial counsel’s asserted strategy to argue innocence to the jury during the penalty phase rather than mitigation. They had abandoned that approach at the time by admitting the defendant’s guilt, prompting the court to observe that their strategic decision "resembles more of a post-hoc rationalization . . . than an accurate" account of their conduct at the time. The panel further found the inadequate representation prejudicial, particularly in light of the fact that there were critical facts such as neurological damage the jury never heard, and the close jury vote (7-5).

In contrast, the panel denied sentencing phase relief in Shelton v. Carroll, No. 04-9004 (9/28/06). During the penalty phase the defendant first asked to proceed pro se and insisted that no mitigation evidence be presented. Following lengthy colloquies with both the defendant and his counsel in which they advanced the defendant's strategic decision to demonstrate to the jury that the defendant would not "beg for my life," defense counsel proceeded based upon the defendant’s specific instructions as to which mitigation witnesses to call and what questions to ask them. Counsel called three siblings who testified about the alcohol abuse, anger and violence in the household growing up, the defendant’s difficulties in school and in their neighborhood, and that he was a loving brother. In the state post-conviction proceeding, the defense called a clinical social worker who interviewed several family members and others who knew the defendant and reviewed court, juvenile court and psychiatric records, and who opined that the defense presentation in mitigation was "seriously deficient." Writing for the panel, Judge Fuentes concluded that counsel’s representation was not ineffective. Despite the same ABA guidelines cited in Outten, the court concluded that it was the defendant himself whose "deliberate and strategic determination that he ought not present mitigating evidence" that led to counsel’s performance. Further, because much of the information that was contained in the reports was presented through the siblings’ testimony, the defendant was unable to show prejudice (despite the fact that the jury had recommended death by a vote of 8 to 4). The defendant also claimed that he was denied his constitutional right to allocution in the sentencing phase. The trial judge had not permitted him to allocute as to the facts of the case (he maintained his innocence), and he had not testified at trial. The Third Circuit observed that the Supreme Court has never held that there is a constitutional right to allocution. The defense argued that Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1986), and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), required that he be permitted to allocute with respect to the offense. The court instead concluded that under Oregon v. Guzek, 126 S. Ct. 1226 (2006), a defendant has a right to present evidence as to how, not whether, the crime was committed, and because he had not testified at trial, the defendant did not have a right to present new evidence inconsistent with guilt during the penalty phase.

Further pondering will reveal additional distinguishing features between these two cases, but two come to mind at first glance. First, post-conviction counsel in Outten was able to point to specific mitigating facts (such as head injuries) that were apparent in the defendant’s easily accessible records and that were not touched upon by the witnesses who testified in the penalty phase. Second, in Shelton the defendant and his counsel were extensively colloquied on the record about their decision, which they characterized at the time (rather than post-hoc) as strategic, not to present mitigating evidence.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Third Circuit Blog

Third Circuit Blog
SEARCH WARRANT VALID DESPITE FACTUAL INACCURACIES IN CHILD PORNOGRAPHY CASE. In USA v. Shields, 458 F.3d 269 (No.05-3662, Aug.16, 2006), the Third Circuit upheld defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography, finding that the affidavit that formed the basis of a search warrant, when excised of its known false statements, still supported probable cause. Shields' prosecution resulted from an undercover FBI investigation of two alleged child pornography websites. Shields was a member of both e-groups, subscribing with an email address of LittleLolitaLove@aol.com. The FBI created a template for a search warrant affidavit for use by FBI offices nationwide which contained serious factual inaccuracies, including a statement that, just by joining either of the e-groups, all members automatically received emails containing images of child pornography as they were posted on the respective sites. In reality, not all members automatically received all emails, but rather had to sign up for that option.
The search warrant executed against Shields contained these false statements. It also contained statements specific to Shields, verifying that the email address was his, that he was a member of both e-groups, and the dates of his membership. As a result of the search, the FBI seized Shields' computer, containing hundreds of images of child pornography, and binders and notebooks of similar images. Shields waived his Miranda rights and confessed to viewing and possessing child pornography.
Shields sought to suppress the physical and statement evidence for lack of probable cause, because of the false allegations in the affidavit. The Court found that despite the serious and reckless misrepresentations of material fact, the warrant supported probable cause without the tainted statements and was sufficient under the standard set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462, U.S. 213 (1983).

Third Circuit Blog

Third Circuit Blog
COURT UPHOLDS PROHIBITION ON PROPENSITY EVIDENCE IN REVERSE 404(B) CASES. In USA v. Williams, 458 F.3d 312 (No.05-3772, Aug.18, 2006), the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's exclusion of defense evidence and held that under Fed.R.Evid 404(b), "reverse 404(b)" evidence of other crimes or bad acts cannot be offered by a defendant if its principal reason is to show the propensity of a third party to commit a crime. Defendant was charged with felonious possession of a gun after he was apprehended in a bedroom where the gun was found under a mattress. Two other men were also arrested in the house.
The defense theory was that the gun belonged to one of the co-defendants. It moved to introduce evidence under 404(b) that the co-defendant had a prior conviction for gun possession. It argued that under USA v. Stevens, 935 F.2d 1380 (3d Cir. 1991), defendants offering evidence of a third party's bad acts have a lower threshold than when such evidence is offered against the defendant. That case involved a bank robbery defendant who sought to introduce evidence of another robbery committed in a very similar manner in which he was not a suspect. It was offered to show identity between the two robberies, and the Third Circuit ruled the evidence admissible, finding that when evidence of other crimes of a third party is offered to show identity, a lower standard of similarity between the crimes should govern than when the evidence is offered against the defendant. In such cases of reverse 404(b) evidence, the court should allow it if its probative value is not substantially outweighed by risk of prejudice and other Rule 403 considerations.
Here, the court held that Stevens did not apply because propensity (not identity or other legitimate reason) was the only purpose for which the defense sought to introduce evidence of the co-defendant's prior conviction. The lower burden for reverse 404(b) evidence only applies when it is offered for a purpose other than propensity, and Stevens didn't change that basic mandate. The court also upheld the reasonableness of the sentence, finding that although there was no gun violence in the instant case, the district court did not abuse its discretion by making comments at sentencing about the general seriousness of gun violence and a recent shooting of a Newark police officer.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Third Circuit Blog

Third Circuit Blog

Special Skill Enhancement Reversed. In USA v. De La Cruz, No.05-5554 (Aug.18, 2006), the Circuit reversed a 2-level enhancement for use of a special skill, USSG 3B1.3, where the defendant's "special skill" consisted of operating a 20-ft. power boat on a 50-mile trip from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas to transport cocaine. The court held that no special skill was used to pilot the boat, which the defendant borrowed from a friend. The boat had a 40 horsepower engine and contained no navigational equipment, marine radio, or nautical charts. De La Cruz had no boating license, made the trip in the daytime, and took a direct route. Based on these facts, the Court found that the trip was a straight, relatively simple trip requiring only line-of-sight navigation, with the boat never out of sight of land. It distinguished the 11th Circuit's opinion in US v. Calderon, 127 F.3d 1314 (1997), where the enhancement was warranted where the defendants piloted a 38-foot boat on the high seas from the Bahamas to Southern Florida, traveled at night with the lights off using only charts and a compass, and took a circuitous path to avoid detection by the Coast Guard. Here, it was clear error to apply the enhancement. Reversed and remanded.

Third Circuit Blog

Third Circuit Blog
In USA v. Abrogar, No. 06-1215 (Aug. 18, 2006), appellant's sentence for failing to an keep accurate oil record book (required for ships by international treaty prohibiting oily waste discharges and 33 USC 1908(a)) was enhanced 6 levels because the offense "resulted in" discharges of oily waste, USSG 2Q1.3(b)(1). The Third Circuit disagreed, first observing that the offense only encompasses the failure to maintain accurate records while the ship is in US waters or at a US port. Applying a relevant conduct analysis, the Court reasoned that since no discharges occurred in US waters, they didn't occur during the commission of, in preparation for, or in the course of attempting to avoid detection for, the offense of conviction. Reversed and remanded.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

3d Cir allows consideration of crack/powder disparity

In what is certainly the best circuit decision on the issue, as well as the one most faithful to Booker, the 3rd Cir ruled in US v. Johnny Gunter, No. 05-2952 (click here) that district courts may consider the 100:1 crack/powder quantity differential, on which the guidelines for cocaine are based, as a factor in deciding what sentence to impose. Along the way, the Court also clarified the correct sentencing procedure post-Booker, and made clear once again that the guideline range is truly "advisory" and not binding on the courts. This is a must-read decision for all involved in federal sentencing in the 3rd Cir.

In Gunter, the defendant was found guilty of possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine (72.5 grams to be exact) and faced a guideline range of 295-353 months. Had the 72.5 grams been cocaine powder instead, the range would have been 111-123 months, because the guidelines treat 1 gram of crack as the equivalent of 100 grams of powder for offense level purposes. Defense counsel argued for a sentence below the guideline range on the basis of this disparity, pointing out that the Sentencing Commission itself has issued several reports finding that this disparity is unwarranted and treats crack offenses too harshly. The district court rejected defense counsel's arguments on the ground that the 100:1 crack/powder ratio was a legislative determination, and that the court was therefore bound by the guidelines range based on that ratio.

The Circuit ruled that the district court erred in concluding it did not have the discretion to consider the crack/powder differential, and in treating the guideline range as mandatory. The Circuit began with a review of the Sentencing Commission's findings over the years that crack and powder are pharmacologically indistinguishable, that the 100:1 ratio results in punishing low-level crack dealers more harshly than whole-sale powder distributors, that it has a disproportionate effect on African-American defendants, and that it overstates the seriousness of crack offenses.

The Circuit then reviewed the correct sentencing procedure, noting that sentencing under the now advisory guidelines is controlled by Section 3553(a), which "begins with the broad mandate that sentencing courts "shall impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes" of sentencing set forth in the statute. This reference to what has become known as the "parsimony provision" is significant since it has frequently not be mentioned at all in other opinions addressing sentencing under Booker. The Court also set out the "three-step sentencing process" that district courts should follow post-Booker:

1) Calculate the guideline range correctly;
2) Formally rule on any
departure motions and explain how those rulings affect the guideline range;
3) Exercise discretion under section 3553(a) by considering the relevant
factors listed there and imposing sentence "regardless whether it varies from
the sentence calculated under the Guidelines."
The Court thus continues to distinguish between "departures" under the guidelines provisions (step 2), and "variances" under the section 3553(a) factors (step 3).

Next, the Court neatly harmonized the decisions of other circuits to have addressed the crack/powder issue, and noted with approval the more than "two dozen district courts (hardly a 'handful') that have used their Booker discretion to refuse to apply the 100:1 crack/powder cocaine discrepancy." While making clear that district courts cannot substitute their own ratio for the 100:1 ratio, the Court explained that "no circuit court has held that a sentencing court errs in simply considering the particular form of a drug involved in the offense as one of the many individual factors in imposing a sentence."

The Circuit then ruled that "post-Booker a sentencing court errs when it believes that it has no discretion to consider the crack/powder cocaine differential incorporated in the Guidelines -- but no demanded by 21 U.S.C. 841(b) -- as simply advisory at step three of the post-Booker sentencing process (imposing the actual sentence after considering the relevant section 3553(a) factors)." That was the error that occurred here, and thus the Court remanded for resentencing.

The penultimate sentence of this decision merits some discussion. The Court states, "Furthermore, although the issue is not before us, we do not suggest (or even hint) that the Court categorically reject the 100:1 ratio and substitute its own, as this is verboten." Slip op. at 28-29. Read in context, it appears that this statement is a reference to the calculation of the guideline range in step one of the sentencing process, in which the guideline range must be correctly calculated on the basis of the 100:1 ratio. The Court is referring to the ruling in US v. Pho, 433 F.3d 53 (1st Cir. 2006), in which the First Cir. held that "the district court erred as a matter of law when it constructed a new sentencing range based on the categorical substitution of a 20:1 crack-to-powder ratio for the 100:1 ratio embedded in the sentencing guidelines." Id. at 64. Thus, in calculating the guideline range in step one, the district court cannot "construct[] a new sentencing range" based on a different ratio.

But at step three of the process, the district court exercises its discretion under section 3553(a) in setting the sentence "regardless whether it varies" from the guideline range. Thus at that stage the district court is free to consider what the sentence would be under a ratio (such as 20:1) that more accurately reflects the seriousness of crack in relation to powder. Indeed, consideration of the 20:1 ratio would be a good way for the district court to make its reasoning transparent, and would in effect be the sort of "analogic reasoning" that the Third Cir. has strongly encouraged district courts to use in sentencing outside of the guideline range. See US v. King, 2006 WL 1889976, *5 (3d Cir. 7/11/06) (courts sentencing outside range should look for a "suitable analogy" in other guidelines policy statements). As Gunter held, at step three, the district court is free to "consider the crack/powder cocaine differential," and this must necessarily encompass the discretion to consider what the sentence would be under a 20:1 differential, since the 100:1 differential is "simply advisory at step three." Gunter slip op. at 28.

Thus, as long as the district court does not categorically reject the 100:1 ratio in step one, it is free in step three to consider what the result of a different ratio would be as it exercises its discretion and treats the guideline range "as simply advisory."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Third Circuit finds reversible error in exclusion of expert testimony regarding reliability of eyewitness identification

In United States v. Brownlee, Case No. 04-4134 (3d Cir. July 18, 2006), the defendant was convicted of carjacking, use of a firearm in relation to a federal crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His convictions were based primarily on eyewitness identifications and inculpatory statements that he made to a law enforcement officer prior to being informed of his Miranda rights. The Third Circuit remanded the case for a new trial, finding that the District Court erred in excluding the expert witness testimony and in admitting the inculpatory statements.

At a pretrial Daubert hearing, the District Court excluded defendant's proffered expert testimony on the reliability of show-ups in relation to other identification techniques, the peculiar suggestiveness of the show-up in this case, confidence malleability, post-event suggestiveness, and the low correlation between eyewitness confidence and eyewitness accuracy. The Third Circuit held that the science underlying the type of expert testimony that defendant wanted to present on eyewitnesses is well-established. It further held that the expert testimony would have been helpful to the trier of fact and should have been admitted because the Government relied in part on the confidence of the eyewitnesses to bolster its case against defendant, and the defendant was arguing a theory of mistaken identity despite there being no "physical scientific means" by which defendant could undermine the eyewitness identifications or otherwise inform the jury that eyewitness confidence may not be correlated with accuracy. The Third Circuit then held that the erroneous exclusion of the expert testimony was not harmless, and remanded the case for a new trial in which the defendant should be permitted to present expert testimony on all of the proffered topics of expert testimony.

The Third Circuit also found reversible error in the District Court's admission of inculpatory statements made by the defendant in response to questions posed by a law enforcement officer before the defendant heard his Miranda rights. At the time he was questioned, the defendant was handcuffed and locked in the back of a police cruiser. The law enforcement officer (with whom the defendant was acquainted) asked defendant questions in a conversational manner. The answers to the questions would establish that the defendant had been driving the carjacked car, present at the scene of the crash of the car, and in possession of a firearm found at the scene of the crash. The Third Circuit found that even though the law enforcement officer may not have actively intended to elicit inculpatory statements, the defendant was subjected to custodial interrogation under these circumstances. It then held that the error was not harmless because, given the peculiar probative force of confessions, the inculpatory statements likely had a profound influence on the jury's decision.

Finally, the Third Circuit found that the District Court had not erred when it admitted eyewitness identifications that were the result of unduly suggestive show-ups. The Third Circuit found that while the eyewitnesses (1) identified the defendant while he was either handcuffed in the back of a police car or handcuffed and surrounded by police while standing next to a police car; (2) were permitted to see and hear one another identifying the defendant; and (3) were able to give only general descriptions of the suspect, there were sufficient indicia of reliability associated with the eyewitness's identifications that the admission of the identifications was not a violation of the defendant's due process rights. Rather, the flaws in the eyewitness's identifications were for the jury to consider when weighing the eyewitness testimony.

Third Circuit affirms post-Booker sentence modeled on pre-Booker sentence of defendant's co-conspirator

The Third Circuit affirmed a sentence that the District Court modeled on the sentence of the defendant's co-conspirator, which was issued prior to the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 160 L.Ed.2d. 621 (2005) and under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. In United States v. Flores, No. 05-1271 (3d Cir. July 21, 2006), the District Court imposed a sentence of 32 months imprisonment for defendant's convictions of conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, and conspiracy to structure currency transactions. The sentence is 38 months less than the bottom of the District Court's calculated advisory Sentencing Guidelines range. The District Court stated that it was issuing the 32 month sentence to avoid disparities between the sentences of the defendant and his co-conspirator.

Defendant argued that by modeling his sentence on a pre-Booker sentence issued under the mandatory Sentencing Guidelines, the District Court essentially and erroneously bound itself to the mandatory Guidelines, and that his sentence was therefore unreasonable. The Third Circuit affirmed the sentence. It found that the sentence was reasonable under Booker because the District Court (1) was aware that the co-conspirator's sentence was calculated under the mandatory Sentencing Guidelines; (2) did not consider the co-conspirator's Guidelines range binding; and (3) deliberately entered a sentence below the advisory Guidelines to "create parity with a far less culpable co-defendant."

The Third Circuit also held in this case that it did not need to reach the merits of the defendant's challenge to the District Court's calculation of his advisory Sentencing Guidelines range because the sentence issued by the District Court was within the Guidelines range that would have resulted if the District Court had calculated defendant's sentence in the manner suggested by the defendant.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

New standard for reckless disregard of truth of law enforcement information

On August 24, 2006, the Third Circuit announced the standard by which the district courts should determine whether a government agent acted recklessly in relying on information provided by a sister government agency and including it in a search warrant affidavit. In U.S. v. Yusuf, No. 05-3484, an FBI agent presented an affidavit containing information that later proved to be inaccurate because of an error made by the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue ("VIBIR"). Although the district court concluded that the agent had acted in reckless disregard for the truth and excised the information from the affidavit, the Third Circuit noted the general presumption of reliability afforded information that law enforcement officers receive from each other for use in their investigations and set forth the test to be used when an affidavit is found to contain inaccurate information. In order to show that an agent has acted recklessly, the defendant must first establish that "that the information would have put a reasonable official o notice that further investigation was required." Then, he must present evidence "(1) of a systemic failure on the agency's part to produce accurate information upon request; or (2) that the officer's particular investigation into possibly inaccurate information should have given the officer an obvious reason to doubt the accuracy of the information."

Here, the defendants operated a chain of grocery stores in the Virgin Islands and the FBI was conducting an investigation to determine whether they had been laundering money for a drug trafficker. The VIBIR provided inaccurate tax records indicating that the defendants had underreported their income on tax returns by $54 million, and the FBI relied on that information to support allegations of tax fraud in the affidavit. When more information became available, it turned out that the defendants had underreported by a little more than $7 million. However, the agent on the case did not investigate to determine whether the records were accurate, and he admitted at a Franks hearing that he should have.

Regardless, the court concluded that the agent had not acted recklessly. In assessing an agent's failure to investigate further upon receipt of questionable information, the court explained, the district court must consider "whether a reasonable agent would have been aware of a systemic failure on the [sister] agency's part to produce accurate information upon request," and whether further investigation would give an agent reason to doubt the information's accuracy. In answering the first question, the district court should look at whether the agent knows that the sister agency has a history of providing inaccurate information, and whether it has procedural safeguards in place to prevent the dissemination of inaccurate information. As for the second question, the court should consider where the information comes from and what it concerns, whether there is a "reasonably plausible explanation" for the inaccuracy, and "the quality of the agent's attempts to validate the information."

In this case, the agent reported that neither he nor any other FBI agent had ever received inaccurate information from VIBIR, and that he had repeatedly asked VIBIR for an explanation of the discrepancy in the tax records that indicated the underreporting. VIBIR produced the information in response to a court order, which dispelled any suspicion that the two agencies colluded to submit a falsified affidavit. The FBI initiated the investigation, so it could not be alleged that VIBIR provided the information to conceal bad faith or an improper motive. Finally, VIBIR's insistence that the defendants underrepresented their income provided a reasonably plausible explanation for the error in the tax records. Therefore, the agent did not act in reckless disregard of the truth.

Discovery of significance of evidence does not make it newly discovered

In U.S. v. Cimera, No. 05-2360, the court considered a claim under the "newly discovered evidence" rule that it set out in U.S. v. Ianelli, 528 F.2d 1290 (3d Cir. 1976). Cimera was convicted on fourteen counts that arose from his participation in an illegal check cashing scheme, and after his motion for judgment of acquittal was denied, he hired new counsel. Upon further investigation of the checks that were the subject of the charges, the new attorney discovered a discrepancy in the account numbers printed on the back of the checks -- they were not all deposited into the same account. Cimera moved for a new trial, arguing that this was newly discovered evidence under this circuit's formulation of the test. The problem -- these checks had been admitted into evidence at trial.

Nevertheless, the district court granted the motion, concluding that Cimera had met the five requirements for newly discovered evidence: (1) the evidence has been discovered since trial; (2) the movant alleges facts from which the court can infer diligence on his part; (3) the evidence cannot be merely cumulative or impeaching; (4) the evidence is material to the issues in the case; (5) it must be shown that the newly discovered evidence would probably produce an acquittal at a new trial.

The district court noted that the discrepancy in the account numbers was newly discovered, and found that "it frankly was the exercise of truly extraordinary diligence by [substitute defense counsel] in coming into this case that generated what really is newly discovered evidence." The evidence also fulfilled the other three requirements -- it probably would lead a jury to acquit Cimera on at least some of the counts, it was material to the issues, and it was not merely cumulative or impeaching.

On appeal, the Third Circuit disagreed. Cimera had failed to identify newly discovered evidence, and even if he had, he did not satisfy the first two prongs of the five-prong test. While the digits themselves were considered evidence, the significance or relevance of the discrepancy in the digits was not. The court noted that several other circuits have reached the same conclusion. When evidence is in the possession of the defendant before trial, the defendant's realization of the relevance of that evidence does not make it newly discovered. In addition, in this case, Cimera presented no evidence to show that he and his trial counsel were unaware of the discrepancy in the account numbers at trial. Even if he had done so, the court concluded that he could have discovered the discrepancy by exercising reasonable diligence.

Aggravated felony - forgery sentence less than a year qualifies where loss exceeded $10,000

Lawful permanent resident was convicted of forging a check in the amount of greater than $10,000 and sentenced to four months imprisonment. In removal proceedings, the Immigration Judge and BIA found him removable as an aggravated felon, and he appealed. The definition of aggravated felony, 18 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43), contains two provisions that appear to be in conflict as they apply to the case. Subsection (M)(i) states that an offense "that involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim exceeds $10,000" is an aggravated felony, whereas subsection (R) states that "an offense relating to . . . forgery . . . for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year" is an aggravated felony. The alien argued that the provision relating specifically to forgery should apply to him.
The Third Circuit rejected the alien’s argument and determined that he was an aggravated felon. Bobb v. Attorney General, No. 05-2891, 2006 WL 2193065 (3d Cir. Aug. 3, 2006). While it found the alien’s statutory construction argument "inviting," it concluded that Congress intended that both provisions be given broad reach. Reasoning that someone can commit an offense "related to forgery" without necessarily intending to defraud or deceive, the Court concluded that giving both provisions broad reach did not render either provision surplusage. The Court also rejected the alien’s argument that his was a "hybrid" offense (which would require all requirements of both provisions to be met), because the hybrid offense analysis applies only where the specific provision (in this case forgery) is a lesser included offense of the broader category (offense involving fraud or deceit).

Room to Challenge a Prior Order of Removal/Deportation

On August 1, 2006, the Third Circuit reversed a reentry conviction, remanding with direction that the district court determine whether the alien was prejudiced by a fundamentally unfair reinstatement proceeding. United States v. Charleswell, No. 04-4513, 2006 WL 2129678 (3d Cir. Aug. 1, 2006).
Charleswell was a lawful permanent resident when he was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and the INS instituted deportation proceedings in 1991. Charleswell sought relief from deportation under then-available section 212(c). The Immigration Judge erroneously ruled that Charleswell was ineligible for such relief (mistakenly believing the Virgin Islands was not a U.S. territory), but Charleswell did not appeal and was deported in 1992. In 1997 he was found in Maryland and the INS issued a Notice to Reinstate the prior deportation order. Charleswell was deported in 2001 pursuant to that reinstatement. He was found in the Virgin Islands in 2002 and prosecuted for reentry, and sought to challenge the validity of his original deportation order as well as the reinstatement.
The Third Circuit recognized that, under 18 U.S.C. § 1326(d) and United States v. Mendoza-Lopez, 481 U.S. 828 (1987), a reentry defendant can collaterally challenge the validity of his prior deportation proceeding if he establishes that (1) he exhausted administrative remedies, (2) the hearing effectively eliminated the right to judicial review, and (3) the prior hearing was fundamentally unfair. Because Charleswell had failed to appeal the initial deportation order, the collateral attack was focused on the reinstatement order.
The Court agreed that Charleswell met the first element, because no administrative remedies are available to a reinstatement order. The Court’s key ruling came on the second element. The Court rejected the district court’s conclusion that judicial review was available. While an alien does have the right to appeal a reinstatement order, Charleswell did not have an attorney and he was never advised of his right to appeal the reinstatement order. Also, Charleswell had checked the reinstatement notice form indicating his desire to contest deportation. Under these circumstances, the Court concluded that Charleswell was "effectively denied an opportunity to seek judicial review." The Court directed strong language to the government suggesting that it amend its reinstatement form to reflect the right to appeal.
As to the third element, the Court held that an alien must show both that the prior proceeding suffered a fundamental defect and that the alien was thereby prejudiced. The court concluded that the INS’s failure to advise Charleswell of his right to appeal was fundamentally unfair. However, the Court remanded to the district court to determine whether Charleswell was prejudiced, i.e., "whether there is a reasonable probability that Charleswell would have obtained relief had he not been denied the opportunity for direct judicial review."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Broad discretion to investigate jury misconduct

On August 21, 2006, the Third Circuit held that where there is substantial evidence of jury misconduct during jury deliberations, "including credible allegations of jury nullification or of a refusal to deliberate," the judge has the discretion to conduct juror questioning or use other appropriate means to investigate.

In U.S. v. Boone, No. 03-1520, the jury sent several notes to the judge during deliberations, explaining that one of the jurors refused to deliberate because he had already made up his mind about the case before deliberations began. One of the notes also informed the judge that the juror had said "he does not believe anything the police said and thinks everyone is lying." The judge responded with a note reminding the jury of its oath to "well and truly try U.S. v. Kevin Boone . . . and render a true verdict." A final note included comments from both Juror X, the individual who had refused to deliberate, and from the foreperson, indicating that the jury had been deadlocked on several of the counts against the defendant for two days. The judge emptied the courtroom, except for the parties and his clerk, and questioned Juror X, determined that there was no misconduct and that further investigation would be unduly intrusive, and called the entire jury into the courtroom. He instructed the jury to continue deliberating until it decided that "no further discussions would be fruitful."

Boone objected to the note that ordered the jury to continue deliberating, arguing that it was unduly coercive, and that it directly threatened Juror X with perjury charges for refusing to change his mind. Rejecting that argument, the court concluded that it instructions must substantially and explicitly pressure the jury to reach a verdict or a particular result before they will be deemed coercive. This instruction, unlike instructions in other cases that the court cited, did not direct the minority jurors to change their minds (as in U.S. v. Fioravanti, 412 F.2d 407 (3d Cir. 1969)) or advise them that a new trial would lead to "great additional expense" (as the judge did in U.S. v. Burley, 460 F.2d 998 (3d Cir. 1972)).

Boone also challenged the district court's examination of Juror X, noting that in Third Circuit cases where such questioning has been approved, the allegations of misconduct arose during the trial, rather than during deliberations. While recognizing the fact that "the secrecy of deliberations is critical to the success of the jury system," and urging district court judges to exercise greater caution in conducting investigations of jury misconduct during deliberations, the court also pointed out that a refusal to deliberate violates the jury's sworn oath.

The troublesome aspect of the court's decision with regard to the examination of the juror is the court's rejection of the Second Circuit's practice of discouraging juror examination without unambiguous evidence of misconduct. It focused on the district courts' "broad discretion" in evaluating allegations of juror misconduct and its authority to determine the willingness of jurors to carry out their duties.

Finally, Boone objected to the district court's instruction to the full jury during deliberations, in which he advised the jury to continue deliberations if it felt it could reach an agreement, whether because the minority jurors changed their minds, or because the majority jurors did. The court rejected Boone's argument that it constituted an Allen instruction, which the Third Circuit has deemed reversible error except in "very extraordinary circumstances." See Fioravanti, 412 F.2d at 240. Rather than suggesting that the minority jurors held "less intelligent or reasonable views than the majority jurors," which would be reversible error, the instruction directed the jurors to continue deliberating until they reached an impasse.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Third Circuit affirms above-guidelines sentence; alternative sentencing ground is harmless error

The Third Circuit affirmed another above-guidelines sentence in an appeal contending that the plea was involuntary and the sentence unreasonable. In United States v. Schweitzer, No. 05-1301 (3d Cir. July 11, 2006), the court imposed a sentence nearly twice the bottom of the advisory range, noting that the sentence reflected consideration of the factors set forth in §3553(a). At the government’s suggestion, the court amended its decision to adopt an alternative sentencing ground, as an upward departure based on the guidelines’ under-representation of Schweitzer’s criminal history and likelihood of recidivism. On review, the Third Circuit determined that Schweitzer’s plea colloquy conformed to Rule 11 and constitutional mandates. The Third Circuit also held that the alternative, post hoc rationale of the upward departure had no effect on his sentence, which would have been imposed regardless, and thus any error was harmless.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Third Circuit affirms above-range sentence but urges adherence to Hickman and Kikimura

In United States v. King, No. 05-1728 (July 11, 2006), the Third Circuit affirmed as reasonable an above-guidelines sentence despite recognizing the district court’s failure to follow the ratcheting and analogic procedures set forth in Hickman and Kikimura. At sentencing, the court denied the government’s motion for an upward departure based on non-economic harm to the victim, instead considering that factor under § 3553(a), and imposed an above-guidelines sentence on the bases of harm to the victim, King’s criminal history, and his lack of remorse.

Identifying support for the court’s sentencing decision in its discussion of relevant § 3553(a) factors, the Third Circuit nevertheless instructed the district courts to follow the requirement to "consider" the Guidelines by calculating a Guidelines sentence as they would have pre-Booker, including ruling on motions of both parties and stating on the record whether they are granting a departure and how the departure affects the Guidelines calculation; to state adequate reasons for the sentence on the record; as well as to consider this Circuit’s pre-Booker case law, which continues to have "advisory" force, specifically noting that courts must follow the procedures in Hickman and Kikimura before determining the appropriate sentence to be imposed.

Third Circuit holds sentencing court understood its authority to consider acceptance of responsibility under §3553(a)

In United States v. Severino, No 05-3695 (3d Cir. July 11, 2006), the Third Circuit upheld a sentence within the applicable guidelines range against claims that the sentencing court failed to recognize its authority to consider unusual acceptance of responsibility as a valid sentencing factor under 18 U.S.C. §3553(a). In this case, Severino had gone so far as to compose letters to the banks and tellers he had victimized, expressing his remorse and accepting full responsibility for his actions. Though he sought a variance on his extraordinary acceptance of responsibility, the court denied this request, citing the amendments to the guidelines limiting such departures. He was sentenced to 63 months, the bottom of the advisory range. On appeal, the Third Circuit held that the district court properly understood its authority to consider extraordinary acceptance of responsibility, even if it failed to explicitly mention this factor in relation to other § 3553(a) factors, and merely exercised its discretion not to reduce the sentence. Finding that the district court gave meaningful consideration to the § 3553(a) factors, the Court affirmed Severino’s sentence as reasonable under Booker.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Grier decision on burden of proof at sentencing vacated and rehearing en banc ordered

As noted in an earlier blog posting, a panel of the 3rd Cir. in US v. Grier ruled on June 7th that the burden of proof on the government at sentencing regarding sentencing factors under the guidelines is by a preponderance in the post-Booker world. The court ruled that this lower standard applied even if the enhancement required finding that the defendant had committed another offense. Along the way, the panel also partially overturned the late Judge Becker's seminal decision in US v. Kikumura, 918 F.2d 1084 (3d Cir. 1990), which had ruled that facts which trigger a large increase in the offense level should be subject to a higher standard -- proof by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 1101. The panel in Grier was split 2-1, with a vigorous and compelling dissent by Judge Sloviter.

On July 19, 2006, the 3rd Cir. granted Assistant Federal Defender Ronald Krauss' petition for rehearing en banc in Grier (click here), vacating the panel decision. The en banc argument will take place in November.

What this means, at least, is that the Kikumura "clear and convincing" standard for large ("tail that wags the dog") adjustments is once again the law of the circuit, and may very well be restored permanently. In addition, the en banc court could also agree with Judge Sloviter's "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for adjustments, relevant conduct and other factfinding that increases a sentence and which would, in and of itself, establish a separate crime. Defense counsel should definitely be advocating or at least preserving those positions.

(Peter Goldberger contributed to this posting.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Arrest warrant permits entry into dwelling if police have probable cause to believe that defendant is residing at and present in the residence

In United States v. Veal, No. 05-1612 (3d Cir. July 3, 2006), the Third Circuit held that under Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980), an arrest warrant founded on probable cause carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect lives there and is located within. The Court noted that some courts have held that the police only need reasonable suspicion to believe that the suspect is residing at the location and present within to support entry into the dwelling under Payton, but the Third Circuit, under its own precedent, applied the probable cause standard.

In the case at hand, the Court cited numerous factors supporting the police's probable cause belief that Veal resided at his wife's home and was present in the residence on the day of his arrest. These factors included,among other things, the timing of the arrest, Veal's fugitive status, the presence of a car that he was known to drive outside the residence, his marriage to the listed resident of the home, and the fact that he had previously been living with his wife.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

§ 4243 commitment orders after acquittal by reason of insanity appealable

The Third Circuit, in United States v. Stewart, No. 05-2732 (3d Cir. July 3, 2006), joined a few sister circuits in holding that a commitment order rendered under 18 U.S.C. § 4243 after a defendant's acquittal by reason of insanity was appealable. The Court further noted that it would review such claims for clear error. Finally, the Court affirmed the district court's denial of release to Mr. Stewart because testimony at his commitment hearing revealed that he required supervision and Stewart could not guarantee that he would receive the appropriate supervision upon his release.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Third Circuit Blog

Third Circuit Blog
In US v. Christopher D. Jones, No. 05-3001 (June 28, 2006), the 3d Circuit reiterated the stringent record a district court must make to effectively establish a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of the fundamental 6th Amendment right to counsel. Here, the court's colloquy failed to include the "penetrating and comprehensive examination" needed to permit a defendant to proceed pro se at a criminal trial. While no scripted inquiry is required, the court must cover all subjects -- to the extent they are relevant -- enumerated in the earlier case of US v. Peppers, 302 F.3d 120 (3d Cir. 2002). These include discussion of defendant's familiarity with the law, the charges, the rules of evidence and procedure, possible defense and penalties, investigating and subpoenaing witnesses, etc. An ineffective waiver of counsel, as was found here, can never be harmless error, and the conviction was vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Car Stop Upheld as Based on Reasonable Suspicion

In US v. Jervis Lavern Goodrich, No. 05-3071 (June 20, 2006) (click here) the 3rd Circuit upheld a car stop under Terry v. Ohio, finding that there was reasonable suspicion for the stop based on surrounding circumstances, even though the tip which prompted the stop was vague and imprecise.

State Police received a call at about 11:20 p.m. from a known informant in Mill Hall, Pennsylvania. The informant said that two people were carrying "buckets or something" across from a farm supply company. Police knew this supply company had experienced a number of thefts of anhydrous ammonia, which can be used for making methamphetamine. The informant said the two were "over behind R&M Gas" loading the buckets into a vehicle. The tip did not describe either the people or the vehicle. State Troopers dispachted to the scene arrived about 7 minutes later and saw only one car in the area - about one or two blocks from R&M Gas. They stopped the car, and ultimately discovered the driver was wanted for a parole violation. Police obtained a search warrant and found a 20 gallon propane tank containing anhydrous ammonia in the trunk. The district court found the stop was not a valid Terry stop, but denied suppression on the grounds of attenuation and independent source.

The Circuit affirmed but on different grounds. The Court found the stop was valid because, even though the tip was vague and imprecise, four surrounding circumstances contributed enough to constitute reasonable suspicion: First, the area was a "high crime area" because there had previously been 10-15 thefts of anhydrous ammonia from the supply company. Second, it was late at night. Third, the car was stopped within a block or two of the R&M Gas station. Fourth, there were no other occupied vehicles in the area.

The opinion is disturbing from a defense point of view because it appears to dilute the requirement of reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop. Unlike most informant tip cases, the tip here did not even provide a basis for thinking "crime was afoot." The tip only reported the innocent behavior of people loading something into a car. (And since anhydrous ammonia evaporates almost immediately and must be kept in sealed pressurized containers, the mention of "buckets" would seem to detract from reasonable suspicion.) The only basis for thinking something criminal might be happening was that there had previously been 10 to 15 thefts from a supply company across the railroad tracks, and it was near midnight. Arguably, the effect of this opinion is to abrogate any genuine requirement of "reasonable suspicion" for areas deemed by police to be "high crime areas" late at night. Hopefully, the Circuit will grant a petition to reconsider this opinion.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Rule 32(h) notice required for "departures" but not "variances"

In US v. Vampire Nation (Banks), No. 05-1715 (June 20, 2006), the 3rd Circuit addressed a number of issues. First, the Court ruled that the Rule 32(h) requirement that the district court give advance notice that it is contemplating a departure from the guidelines before applying such a departure does not apply to a "variance" from the guidelines based on the sentencing factors set out in 18 USC 3553(a). Noting the circuit split on the issue, the Court ruled that Rule 32(h) was meant to apply only to traditional "departures" allowed under the guidelines themselves, and not to "variances" from the guidelines now permitted under Booker. Emphasizing the "advisory" nature of the guidelines post-Booker, the Court reasoned that application of the Rule 32(h) notice requirement to variances "would elevate the advisory sentencing range to a position of importance that it no longer can enjoy." Since the notice requirement does still apply to departures, however, the Court added that "district courts should be careful to articulate whether a sentence is a departure or a variance from an advisory Guidelines range."

The Court also ruled that the district court had statutory authority under 28 usc 2461(c) to issue an in personam forfeiture judgment against the defendant, and that the amount of this judgment could be based on the proceeds of the mail fraud, without being limited to the amount actually in defendant's possession at time of sentencing. Addressing other issues, the Court found the evidence was sufficient, that the district court's jury instructions did not constructive amend the indictment, that the witness tampering instruction was proper, that defendant's request to represent himself was not sufficiently clear so as to trigger a full inquiry by the district court, and that there was no need for the judge to have recused himself sua sponte because of a judicial misconduct complaint defendant filed before sentencing.

"Interstate Commerce" Includes U.S. Territories

In United States v. Polanco, (No. 06-1328, June 12, 2006), defendant was traveling on a commercial airline from the Dominican Republic to the Netherlands Antilles, and stopped en route in the Virgin Islands. U.S. Customs found him in possession of CD's and hard drive containing child pornography. He was charged under the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, which encompasses various provisions aimed at interstate and foreign activities. Many of its provisions specifically apply to U.S. territories. However, the statutes charged, 18 U.S.C. sections 2252(a)(1)B) and 2252A(a)(1), apply by their terms only to "interstate or foreign commerce."

The defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, but the Third Circuit affirmed. The court rejected the defense argument that by this language, which was narrower than specific language in related provisions, Congress intended not to reach U.S. territories. The court relied on the general definition section (18 U.S.C. s 10), defining interstate commerce to include territories. Recognizing that "inclusio unius est exclusio alterius" is a "key canon of our interpretive arsenal," the court declined to apply that canon "when it produces a patently absurd result," namely the creation of safe havens for child pornography.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

3rd Cir rules 3553(f) - safety valve - still mandatory

In US v. Ricardo McKoy, No. 05-2461 (June 19, 2006) (click here) the 3rd Cir addressed how courts in the post-Booker world should apply the the safety valve provision, 18 usc 3553(f). This provision permits a sentence below the applicable mandatory minimum sentence under the drug trafficking laws if certain conditions are met. One of the conditions is that the defendant "not have more than 1 criminal history point, as determined under the sentencing guidelines."

Defendant had pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. This amount triggers the 10 year mandatory minimum sentence under 21 usc 841(b)(1)(A), which the district court imposed over defense objection. Defendant argued that although he had 4 criminal history points, they were all for juvenile dispositions which should not count.

The Circuit affirmed, holding that the prior juvenile dispositions did count towards the criminal history points, and precluded application of the safety valve. The Circuit first rejected the defense argument that the juvenile dispositions should not count because under New Jersey law juveniles are not sentenced, but instead subject to a "dispositional hearing." The Circuit ruled that federal law controls regarding what constitutes a "sentence" for criminal history purposes, and "prior sentences" are defined to include juvenile sentences, even if they are not called "sentences" by the state. The Circuit likewise rejected the argument that the juvenile dispositions did not count because they were "diversionary," holding that they were not diversionary because there was no deferral of prosecution. Last, the Circuit rejected the argument that the courts should treat section 3553(f) as advisory under Booker. The Circuit reasoned that while Booker rendered the guidelines advisory by striking section 3553(b)(1), the Supreme Court left the remainder of 3553 in tact, including 3553(f). In addition, the Circuit noted that "Booker is inapplicable to situations in which the judge finds only the fact of the prior conviction." Since the criminal history points did not require the court to consider the underlying circumstances of the prior juvenile sentences, but just the fact of the prior convictions, there was no violation of Booker. Because the criminal history points counted, the safety valve was inapplicable and the 10 year mandatory minimum sentence was valid.

No jurisdiction to expunge criminal records in absence of challenge to underlying conviction.

In United States v. Rowlands, No. 05-3425 (3d Cir. June 9, 2006), the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a petition for expungement of a criminal record. The petitioner had argued that federal courts had jurisdiction over petitions to authorize the expungement of criminal records pursuant to their inherent equitable power and pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. The Third Circuit rejected the equitable basis on the ground that petitioner was not challenging the validity of the underlying criminal conviction, and rejected the statutory basis on the ground that the cases cited by the petitioner had been superceded by cases in their respective circuits.

3rd Cir rejects challenge to constitutionally of Sentg Comm

In US v. Edward Coleman (No. 05-1348 June 15, 2006) (click here to link) the 3rd Cir. rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Sentencing Commission as reconstituted under the PROTECT Act. The defense, following a district court opinion in US v. Detwiler, 338 F. Supp. 2d 1166 (D. Or. 2004), had argued that the PROTECT Act violated separation of powers by changing the structure of the Commission to allow the President to appoint all Commission members from within the Executive Branch, instead of requiring, as before the Act, that at least three members be federal judges. The Circuit ruled that regardless of the composition of the Commission, in light of US v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the guidelines are no longer mandatory and thus the guidelines do not control sentencing anyway: "[T]he guidelines' recommended range may be modified or disregarded by a district court upon consideration of the other sentencing factors Congress has identified in section 3553(a)."

Although the Circuit rejected the Detwiler argument in light of the now advisory guidelines, the Circuit's reasoning is particularly significant and helpful because it emphasizes that the guidelines must be treated as being truly advisory in order to avoid constitutional difficulties. Reiterating its ruling in US v. Cooper, 437 F.3d 324 (3d Cir. 2006), the Circuit explained that there is no "presumption of reasonableness" that "attaches to the Guidelines range." The Circuit then suggested that in other circuits, such as the 7th, that have adopted a presumption of reasonableness, the Detwiler argument might still have some force.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Third Circuit Rejects Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Standard in Judicial Factfinding of Sentencing Enhancements

In United States v. Grier, No. 05-1698 (3d Cir. June 6, 2006), the Third Circuit held that facts relevant to the advisory guidelines do not implicate the constitutional right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, even when those facts constitute a separate offense. Rather, under the new advisory guidelines scheme, sentencing courts should continue to make factual findings by a preponderance of the evidence. At issue was a 4-level enhancement, pursuant to § 2K2.1(b)(5), based on the district court’s finding that the defendant had committed another felony offense (aggravated assault) in connection with the offense of conviction (unlawful possession of a firearm). The Court said that the Fifth Amendment right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, attach only to those facts that constitute "elements" of the crime. Once those facts are established beyond a reasonable doubt, triggering a statutory maximum, judicial factfinding within the permissible range does not implicate those rights. The Court also overruled United States v. Kikumura to the extent Kikumura held that sentencing enhancements that can be characterized as "a tail which wags the dog of the substantive offense" require proof by clear and convincing evidence.

Of significance is a lengthy dissent by Judge Sloviter, in which she states that by "treating the finding of an aggravated assault as a sentencing factor that may permissibly be used to enhance [defendant’s] sentence, the majority has abrogated the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution." The split on the three-judge panel signals that a petition for further review may be warranted.

Third Circuit holds investigatory stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion and vacates conviction

In United States v. Brown, No. 05-1723 (3d Cir. May 22, 2006), the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Brown’s motion to suppress evidence seized during an investigatory stop due to a lack of reasonable suspicion, and vacated his conviction. Brown was approached by a police officer who told him that he matched the description of a robbery suspect, and that the victim was being brought over to identify him, after which he would be able to go free if he was not identified. The officer’s bases for approaching Brown included a radio description that included only race, age, and color of clothing, a tip by a friend of the robbery victim which was merely his observation that there were two black males at a nearby street corner, and that Brown was hailing a cab when the officer arrived. The police officer then demanded that Brown submit to a pat-down for weapons, which uncovered a gun. Although the government argued Brown was seized when he was handcuffed after his attempt to flee, the Third Circuit found that the seizure occurred when Brown was told by a police officer that a robbery victim was being brought over to identify him as a possible suspect. The Third Circuit held that Brown’s seizure was, further, without reasonable suspicion and therefore did not fall under the Terry exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

Third Circuit lacks jurisdiction over appeal challenging extent of reduced sentence under Rule 35(b)

In United States v. McKnight, No. 05-1950 (3d Cir. May 19, 2006), the Third Circuit found that it lacked jurisdiction over an appeal challenging the extent of a Rule 35(b) sentence reduction. McKnight was originally sentenced to a 262-month term, but later received a reduction based on substantial assistance he provided to the government, reducing his sentence to 120 months. After he discovered that the government’s Rule 35(b) motion did not include mention of his brother’s assistance to authorities, McKnight filed a motion to correct his sentence, which the court rejected. The Third Circuit concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal, which it stated is "closely akin to challenging the extent of an U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 order," and dismissed it, reasoning that it does not have jurisdiction to review a sentencing court’s discretionary decision to depart downward, nor does it have jurisdiction to consider an appeal from a § 5K1.1 order that does not allege a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Judge Becker’s Last Criminal Law Opinions -- An Appreciation

The Third Circuit Blog team invited attorney Peter Goldberger to submit a comment as "guest blogger," in remembrance of Senior Circuit Judge Edward R. Becker (1933-2006):

This Blog on May 4 covered the Court's April 24 decision in United States v Risha. (Risha discussed the problem of when Brady material in the custody of state authorities will nevertheless be deemed to be in the constructive possession of a federal prosecutor.) We had no way of knowing then that Risha would, it seems, be Judge Becker's last precedential opinion on a criminal law issue. The former Chief Judge, a towering giant among federal jurists, died of cancer on May 19. Only 73 years old, he had been a federal judge for over 35 years.

Judge Becker was no pushover for the defense position on appeal -- no judge is, after all. Yet the Honorable Edward R. Becker was the defense lawyer's dream judge. Why? Because he had an open mind, was both tremendously intelligent and enormously knowledgeable (the old term "learned" comes to mind), and -- most important of all -- because he tried in each case to do the right thing, keeping in mind at all times that each case affects real people, and that every person matters. (We can only say "it seems" that Risha will be his final precedential decision, because the Court has already issued two posthumous Becker opinions in civil cases, finalized before but not processed for publication until after his untimely death.) As a district judge from 1970 through 1981, Becker was a pioneering advocate for procedural due process at sentencing. He emphasized the importance both of fair hearings and of articulated reasons for the sentence imposed. Once the Sentencing Reform Act and Guidelines were adopted, he was a tireless exponent of applying evidentiary rules, a heightened burden of proof, meaningful application of the parsimony principle, and enforcement of the rule of lenity in interpretation of guidelines and statutes. Most important, he always emphasized the continuing role for district court discretion under the Guidelines. Other important decisions insisted on strict proof of membership, specific intent, and agreement before convicting a defendant of conspiracy. He also authored the decision which required a cautionary instruction on the unreliability of eyewitness identification.

Risha may have been Judge Becker's last for-publication criminal opinion, but even more fascinating is the May 5 non-precedential decision in United States v Morris. Morris may present us with the great jurist's last criminal law opinion. Emblematic of his work ethic and devotion to justice for the individual, Judge Becker took the time to complete a lengthy dissent, just two weeks before his death. In the dissent, he argued that the denial of suppression should be reversed in this case because police had not satisfied one of the requirements for an inventory search -- compliance with the department's written policy. The Becker dissent shows Judge Nygaard's majority opinion to be predicated on a misreading of the police department’s own policy. It also demolishes Judge Fisher's concurrence (arguing for a "good faith" exception to the Supreme Court's requirement that police comply with their own inventory rules), in a classicly Beckerish four-paragraph-long footnote.

The majority in Morris affirms in part on grounds (inevitable discovery and search-incident-to-arrest) that the government never raised in the district court, and on which the record was inadequate and the defense did not have the opportunity to cross-examine. On these points, Judge Becker’s dissent takes the position that there should be a remand to develop those points. At least arguably, however, that was wrong. The burden of an inadequate record should have fallen on the government, as appellee, when it sought to invoke alternate grounds of affirmance it had not raised below. Steagald v United States, 451 U.S. 204, 209 (1981). Absent extraordinary circumstances, the government is not entitled to the benefit of a remand to correct deficiencies in the record of a suppression hearing, where it was not unfairly deprived of the opportunity to make its case in the first instance. Giordenello v United States, 357 U.S. 480, 488 (1958).

As Judge Becker himself liked to say, quoting the Latin poet Horace, "Homer nods." In other words, even the greatest will make mistakes sometimes. This procedural error in the dissent, if it was error, was nevertheless characteristic of several of Judge Becker's best traits: it shows how the highest value, for him, was to "get it right," and not to hold the lawyers -- even the lawyers for the government-appellee -- too strictly to a raise-it-below-or-lose-it appellate mentality.

When Judge Becker presided at oral argument, the red light meant nothing. Argument continued until all questions had been explored thoroughly. It always seemed like he had all the time in the world to try and "get it right." Alas, he did not have as much time as we would have wanted him to have, for our own sakes -- many more years of dispensing justice with an even hand, a keen intellect, and a kind heart.

Peter Goldberger, a former Assistant Federal Public Defender, clerked for Judge Becker in 1975-1976. For the last 20 years, he has maintained a national federal criminal defense appellate practice, now located in Ardmore, PA.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Involvement of an actual minor, as opposed to a government decoy, not a prerequisite to conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), § 2423(b)

In United States v. Tykarsky, No. 04-4092 (3d Cir. May 10, 2006), the Third Circuit determined that, where a government agent poses as a minor online in an attempt to catch offenders who participate in "actual or attempted persuasion of a minor to engage in illicit sexual activity" (§ 2422(b)), or in "traveling for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual activity" (§ 2423(b)), involvement of a minor is unnecessary, so long as the offender believes the victim to be underage. Consequently, the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions, but vacated his sentence, finding an ex post facto error in application of the PROTECT Act’s prescribed mandatory minimum sentence to an offense possibly committed before enactment of the Act. The Court also ruled on a myriad of other issues.

In Tykarsky, the defendant made contact with a government decoy through internet chat rooms and instant messaging. Tykarsky engaged in explicit sexual discussions with the agent, requesting pictures and setting up a sexual encounter with the undercover agent, who posed as a 14-year-old girl. When the defendant arrived at the planned meeting, he was arrested. He was later convicted of violating § 2422(b) and § 2423(b).

Tykarsky argues that he cannot be convicted of either statute because no minor was involved. The Court disagreed, discussing the differences between legal and factual impossibility. Rather than decide the issue based upon these "thorny" characterizations, the Court looked to legislative intent. In doing so, the Court determined that the inclusion of an attempt provision in § 2422(b) indicated that the involvement of an actual minor, as opposed to a government decoy, was unnecessary.

The Court reached the same conclusion regarding § 2423(b), but based its decision on the plain language of the statute, noting that involvement of a minor was not an element.

Tykarsky next argued that § 2422(b) and § 2423(b) exceeded Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause. The Court simply noted that this argument had been recently foreclosed in its decision in United States v. MacEwan, No. 05-1421 (3d Cir. Apr. 5, 2006).

The Court next rejected Tykarsky’s First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment challenges to § 2423(b). Tykarsky argued that the statute lacked a meaningful actus reus and only punished thought while traveling interstate. The Court disagreed, noting that the statute prohibited such travel when done for a specific purpose and that criminal statutes often turn on the alleged offender’s intent.

The Court next rejected Tykarsky’s overbreadth and vagueness challenge to § 2422(b), noting that no protected First Amendment right was prohibited by the statute, and that the statute put ordinary individuals on fair notice of the prohibited conduct.

The Court also rejected Tykarsky’s Sixth Amendment grand jury challenge. He argued that the district court had impermissibly varied from the indicted offenses when charging the jury during trial. The Third Circuit disagreed, stating that the district court’s narrowing of the charges "added nothing new to the grand jury’s indictment."

The Court also rejected Tykarsky’s Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause challenge, explaining that the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting his cross examination of government witnesses. The Court also rejected a number of other attacks on his convictions without much discussion, before turning to Tykarsky’s challenge of his sentence.

Tykarsky argued that his sentence, mandated by the PROTECT Act, violated the ex post facto clause because the jury did not make a finding that his offense conduct actually occurred previous to the enactment of the PROTECT Act. His offense conduct, the illegal internet contact with a minor, straddled the date that the PROTECT Act was enacted, but absent a finding that the jury’s verdict was based on pre-PROTECT Act activity, the Third Circuit agreed, under plain error review, that Tykarsky’s sentence violated the ex post facto clause.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

COA required to appeal denial of Rule 4(a)(6) motion in a § 2255 proceeding

Huh? Simply put, the Third Circuit, in United States v. Rinaldi, No. 04-2260 (3d Cir. May 8, 2006) rejected a habeas petitioner’s "convoluted" procedural effort to attack his sentence. After an earlier unsuccessful appeal, the petitioner, Rinaldi, filed a § 2255 habeas motion, which the district court denied on the merits. After the 3rd Cir. denied Rinaldi’s request for a certificate of appealability ("COA"), Rinaldi sought to reopen his case in the district court under FRCP 60(b). The district court denied his motion. Rinaldi then sought reconsideration under Rule 59(e), which the district court also rejected. The time to appeal the denial of his Rule 59(e) motion then expired, but Rinaldi attempted to reopen the time to file an appeal under FRAP 4(a)(6). The district court again denied Rinaldi’s request. Rinaldi appealed to the 3rd Cir.

Rinaldi argues that he does not need a COA now to appeal the district court’s Rule 4(a)(6) decision because the denial was not a final order under § 2253, the statute that requires a COA to appeal a § 2255 denial. The Third Circuit disagreed, stating, "we will grant a COA to challenge the denial of a Rule 4(a)(6) motion only if the § 2255 movant shows: (1) that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the Rule 4(a)(6) motion; and (2) that jurists of reason would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims in the underlying order debatable or wrong."

The Court jumped straight to step 2 of this test, holding that the district court’s assessment of Rinaldi’s constitutional claims were not debatable or wrong. One of Rinaldi’s arguments was that he, as opposed to his court-appointed counsel, should have been permitted to cross examine his trial counsel at the evidentiary hearing exploring ineffective assistance of counsel.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Third Circuit rejects one variant of Booker-Ex Post Facto argument

The Third Circuit has turned away the argument that the maximum sentence for pre-Booker criminal conduct is what the Sentencing Guidelines would permit based on only admitted or jury-found facts. The defendant in United States v. Pennavaria argued that, at the time of his offense, the actual maximum punishment statutorily and constitutionally permitted was the one mandated by the Sentencing Guidelines without judicial factfinding (as confirmed in the Sixth Amendment ruling in Booker). Application of Booker's remedy holding to such conduct effectively increases that maximum punishment to the maximum set forth in the statute of conviction, in violation of Ex Post Facto and due process principles. The Third Circuit rejected this argument, reasoning that the Booker court directed application of both the Sixth Amendment and remedy rulings to pending cases and that defendants had "fair" -- although, it seems, mistaken -- warning pre-Booker that they were subject to the maximum punishment set forth in the statute of conviction based on judge-found facts.

Still alive in the Third Circuit is the related Ex Post Facto argument that punishment for pre-Booker criminal conduct is capped at the Guidelines range as determined with judicial factfinding and without any upward departure.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

When will knowledge of impeachment material in the possession of state authorities be imputed to the government for Brady purposes?

In United States v. Risha, the Third Circuit revisits the issue of when the government will be charged with constructive possession of impeachment material for Brady purposes (here, information in the hands of state authorities). After being arrested on state charges, one Frank Caito disclosed his involvement in an unrelated arson and began cooperating in a federal arson prosecution of defendant Jesse Risha. Caito's state proceeding was continued until after his federal cooperation was completed with the conviction of Risha, at which time he entered into a favorable state plea agreement and was sentenced to probation after the state judge was informed of Caito's federal cooperation.

Risha sought a new trial, claiming a Brady violation in the government's failure to disclose Caito's forthcoming state plea agreement and his expectation of leniency at sentencing on the state charges. The district court granted the motion without detailed analysis of the government's actual or constructive possession of this impeachment material.

The Third Circuit found ample evidence of constructive possession in the record, but nonetheless remanded for specific factfinding by the district court on the knowledge issue. In doing so, the Court set forth three alternative triggers for when the goverment will be charged with knowledge of Brady material in the hands of state authorities: (1) if the party with actual knowledge is acting on the government's "behalf" or under its "control;" (2) if the state and federal governments are acting as a "team," are participating in a "joint investigation," or are sharing resources; and (3) if the government has "ready access" to the material.

Judge Nygaard filed a dissent, arguing for a new "reasonableness test" for determining whether the government should be deemed to constructively possess Brady material. This test would take into account whether the government was put on notice of the existence of the material and whether it took objectively reasonable steps to discover the material once put on notice. Although this test seemingly would lead to fewer successful Brady claims, Judge Nygaard would have affirmed the new trial grant in this case (without further factfinding) because the government was clearly put on notice of Caito's state charges and his potential state-side benefit, yet did nothing to investigate the matter.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Interesting ruling on scope of attorney-client privilege

Today, the Third Circuit, in In Re: Grand Jury Investigation, ruled on interesting issues regarding attorney-client privilege, the work-product doctrine, and the crime-fraud exception. The case reached the Court after the government subpoenaed certain documents and testimony regarding an attorney’s advice to his client. The district court upheld the subpoena, holding that the crime-fraud exception trumped the attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine because there was evidence that the attorney had given the client advice in furtherance of her obstruction of justice. After surrender of the documents and the testimony of the attorney before the grand jury, but before an indictment was returned, an object of the investigation, Jane Doe, appealed the district court’s ruling.

The Court first discussed issues of mootness. Because the Court could order relief (i.e., return of the subpoenaed documents, possible injunction of future use of arguably privileged grand jury testimony) to Doe in the event that she prevailed, the Court decided that the appeal was not moot.

Doe argued that the crime-fraud exception should not override the attorney-client privilege where she did not initiate the communication with the attorney, and therefore was not soliciting advice. The Court disagreed and further stated that the government has the burden to show that the client was committing a crime or fraud and the attorney-client communications were in furtherance of such. The Court found some evidence of an ongoing crime: obstruction of justice. Next, the Court assessed whether the attorney-client relations were "in furtherance of" and not merely "related to" the criminal activity. (Interesting note: the district court had relied on a Not Precedential Opinion ("NPO") in determining that the appropriate test for "in furtherance of" was "related to." The opinion makes clear that this was not appropriate.) Nonetheless, because the district court agreed that the attorney-client communications qualified as being "in furtherance of" Doe’s possible obstruction of justice, and thus were subject to the crime-fraud exception, the Court affirmed the district court’s ruling.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Supervised Release Condition Prohibiting Employment with Attorneys Upheld

Today, the Third Circuit, in United States v. Smith, has upheld a condition of supervised release that prohibited the defendant from gaining employment with an attorney or law firm. In Smith, the defendant pleaded guilty to a wire fraud offense, where Smith held himself out as a legal consultant. Smith had some prior convictions that revealed similar activities.

After release from a federal correctional institution, Smith received an offer for employment from local attorneys. Smith’s program review team rejected this opportunity. Smith petitioned the district court to allow the petition. The district court denied it. Smith then filed a motion for reconsideration and the government sought a modification of Smith’s terms of supervised release to include a condition banning Smith from any such employment. The court rejected Smith’s motion and granted the government’s. Smith appealed.

Smith first argued that the district court "lacked the authority to modify the conditions of his release absent changed circumstances." The Third Circuit rejected this contention, noting that the job offer was a change in circumstances warranting the modification.

Smith also argued that the condition did not bear a reasonable relationship to his offense, and was likewise not narrowly tailored. 18 U.S.C. § 3583. The Court disagreed, stating that the condition of supervised release was reasonably related to the goals of sentencing and narrowly tailored to achieve deterrence, public protection, and/or correctional treatment.

The Court also assessed the condition under the reasonableness standard set out by Booker and Cooper, and deemed the condition reasonable under these individualized circumstances. See further coverage of this case on sentencing.typepad.com.