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Showing posts from March, 2007

United States v. Vargas - Fast-Track Disparity Case - Denied Rehearing

The Third Circuit has denied rehearing in United States v. Vargas, where the Court rejected an appeal raising error for the district court’s refusal to consider fast-track disparity in sentencing. (panel opinion here) In a concurring opinion, Judge Ambro elaborated on the “limited scope” of the Court’s panel opinion, its two holdings and how it is consistent with United States v. Gunter. First, Vargas held that “a district court’s refusal to adjust a sentence to compensate for the absence of a fast-track program does not make a sentence unreasonable.” Although Gunter held that a court errs when it believes it has no discretion to consider an infirmity in the guidelines, it did not establish a rule that the court must consider it. Sentencing courts may, however, do so if “they are persuaded that the Guidelines do not sufficiently effect the goals of sentencing.” Second, Vargas held that a sentencing court “may not, in the fast-track context, rely on § 3553(a)(6)’s reference to ‘unw…

Court affirms conviction for attempted support of terrorists, rejecting claims of entrapment, outrageous government conduct, and juror misconduct

In United States v. Lakhani, No. 05-4276 (3d Cir. Mar. 16, 2007), the Third Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction and 47-year sentence. Lakhani, a now-71-year-old trader of Indian descent, was convicted of attempting to provide material support to terrorists and other offenses following a jury trial for his role in the attempted importation of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. Much of the evidence at trial consisted of Lakhani’s recorded conversations with a government informant who asked the defendant to procure missiles for his terrorist group, and who Lakhani "enthusiastically" agreed to help. Over the course of almost two years, Lakhani made various assurances to the informant that a missile would soon be available. In the end, however, the only weapon that the defendant "obtained" was a mock missile designed by cooperating Russian and American authorities.

The Court of Appeals denied each of Lakhani’s arguments on appeal. First, it rejected his defe…

Court clarifies earlier opinion: "We have never held that an arrest that is unlawful under state law is unreasonable per se under the 4th A."

In United States v. Laville, No. 06-1577 (3d Cir. Mar. 16, 2007), the Third Circuit—in a decision authored by Judge Barry, with a concurrence by Judge McKee and dissent by Judge Stapleton—reversed the district court’s grant of a motion to suppress post-arrest statements, explaining that the district court misinterpreted the Third Circuit’s holding in United States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251 (3d Cir. 2002)(authored by Judge McKee, joined by Judge Barry, with a dissent by Judge Alarcon, from the Ninth Circuit). The district court found that the officer who arrested the defendant only had probable cause that the defendant had committed a misdemeanor offense (illegal entry), which, under the territorial law of the Virgin Islands, must be committed in the presence of an officer to justify a warrantless arrest. The district court read Myers as holding that local law governed the constitutionality of the defendant’s arrest; therefore, since the offense had been completed before the officer arriv…

Court finds information alleging prior felony properly filed and served

In United States v. Rivas, No. 05-3380, (3d Cir. Mar. 12, 2007), the Third Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for conspiring to distribute crack cocaine, finding no reversible trial error. The Court also affirmed the defendant’s 240-month sentence, rejecting Rivas’s claim that the government improperly filed and served the information charging a prior felony drug conviction pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851.

Rivas raised four trial errors on appeal. First, he argued that the district court erred in failing to strike a police officer’s testimony that Rivas was the target of a drug investigation. Rivas argued that the testimony was improper because it suggested to the jury that there was unseen evidence that the defendant had committed earlier, uncharged crimes. The Court held that because the government "at least suggested a possible legitimate reason for the question (to put the controlled buys in context)," any error was not plain, and because the government never referre…

Child Support Recovery Act does not Exceed Congressional Power Under Commerce Clause

In United States v. Kukafka, No. 05-1955 (3d Cir. Mar. 6, 2007), defendant was found guilty of two counts of failure to make child support payments in violation of 18 U.S.C. §228(a)(1) and (3). Kukafka argued that the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, as amended by the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998, ("the Act"), exceeds the scope of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Third Circuit previously held the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act constitutional in United States v. Parker, finding that failure to pay child support is a local activity which is part of a national economic problem "substantially affecting interstate commerce," fitting within the third category of activity that Congress may regulate as identified in United States v. Lopez. Kukafka argued that Parker was overruled by United States v. Morrison, in which the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Violence Against Women A…

Maximum 60-month Sentence on Revocation of Supervised Release Reasonable

In United States v. Bungar, No. 05-5519 (3d Cir. Mar. 5, 2007), the Third Circuit found reasonable a 60-month sentence upon revocation of supervised release for drug-related violations. Bungar was originally charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver heroin, distribution and possession with intent to distribute heroin and distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Pursuant to a cooperation agreement, he entered a guilty plea to the first two charges. The mandatory guideline range at the time was 292 - 365 months. The government filed a §5K1.1 motion and the court departed to 96 months’ imprisonment and 5 years’ supervised release.

Two years into supervised release, Bungar admitted to four violations of release: twice testing positive for cocaine, failure to submit verification of drug program attendance, failure to report change of address, and failure to report questioning by police about an alleged assault on his girlfriend. Each are grade C violat…

Court finds it has jurisdiction to hear § 2255 petition despite waiver of right to mount collateral attack

In United States v. Shedrick, No. 04-2329 (3d Cir. Feb. 28, 2007), the Third Circuit found that it had jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the denial of a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition that raised claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, even though the petitioner had signed a collateral attack waiver. In addition, after finding that ineffective assistance had deprived Sedrick of his right to a direct appeal, the Court reached the merits of that direct appeal and affirmed the sentence.

Shedrick was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun. After police arrested him, two people approached the police and said that Shedrick had shot at their van. Police later arrested the original owner of the gun, who admitted that he had given the gun to Shedrick and implicated Shedrick in dealing crack. Shedrick entered an open guilty plea to the felon-in-possession charge, but at no time did he admit to shooting the van or dealing drugs. In the written plea agreement, Shedrick waived not only…