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Showing posts from April, 2007

Court Vacates Shedrick Opinion; Grants Panel Rehearing Sua Sponte

In a April 26, 2007, Order, the Third Circuit vacated its February 28, 2007, precedential opinion in United States v. Shedrick, 478 F.3d 519 (3d Cir. 2007).

In that published opinion (described in detail here), the Court 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.

Third Circuit Retains Jurisdiction Even Where Defendant Signs Waiver of Right to Appeal

In United States v. Gwinnett, Case No. 06-1766 (3d Cir. April 26, 2007), the Third Circuit held that it "retains subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal by a defendant who had signed an appellate waiver." It emphasized that it "will not exercise that jurisdiction to review the merits" of an appeal where the defendant "knowingly and voluntarily waived her right to appeal unless the result would work a miscarriage of justice," because waivers of right to appeal are valid and enforceable. The Court then found that Ms. Gwinnett’s waiver of her appellate rights was knowing and voluntary. It consequently declined to exercise its jurisdiction and affirmed the district court's decision.

This case resolves the confusion created by the Court’s decision in United States v. Khattak, 273 F.3d 557 (3d Cir. 2001). In Khattak, the Court stated, "we have no jurisdiction to consider the merits of [Khattak’s] appeal . . .." The Third Circuit noted that th…

Feigned Mental Illness is Proper Basis for Sentencing Enhancement for Obstruction of Justice

In United States v. Batista, Case No. 05-2949 (3d Cir. April 25, 2007), the district court applied the two-level enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 to the defendant’s offense level for feigning mental illness in an attempt to avoid trial. The defendant had initially negotiated with the government concerning a guilty plea. That negotiation fell through, and he moved for a evaluation of his competency to stand trial. The defendant underwent five separate competency evaluations. The evaluators decided that he was malingering, and the district court found him competent to stand trial. He subsequently pleaded guilty. At sentencing, the government moved for, and the district court granted, the sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice.

The Third Circuit affirmed. It endorsed the Fifth Circuit’s holding in United States v. Greer, 158 F.3d 228, 237 (5th Cir. 1998), that "[w]hile a criminal defendant possesses a constitutional right to a competency hearing if a bona fide doubt …

3C Rules On Document Sealing And Attorney Speech Rule

In US v. Wecht(decided April 12, 2007), the Third Circuit addressed three applications arising during the prosecution of the Allegheny County coroner (Wecht). The trial on the 84-count indictment, alleging that Wecht had used his public office for private financial gain, was stayed pending the Circuit’s resolution of the applications, which were:
1. A challenge by Wecht and several intervening media outlets to the constitutionality of Local Rule 83.1 of the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ("LR 83.1"), which limits attorney speech about pending cases;
2. The government’s appeal of the DC’s decision to grant the media outlets’ motion to unseal certain personnel records about FBI Agent Orsini ("the Orsini records"), who, according to Wecht, had led the investigation and who had signed three search warrants in the case; and
3. Wecht’s petition to disqualify the trial judge.
The most interesting part of the opinion involves the sealing and unseali…

Crawford does not prevent introduction of hearsay evidence at sentencing

In United States v. Robinson, Appeal No. 05-5330 (3d Cir. 3/5/07, published 4/16/07), the Third Circuit fell in line with every other Circuit to consider the issue when it ruled that the United States Supreme Court's recent confrontation clause decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), provides no basis for reversing prior Supreme Court precedent expressly allowing the introduction of hearsay evidence in the sentencing context.

120-month bank robbery sentence held reasonable for ailing defendant

The Third Circuit has upheld as reasonable a 120-month sentence in a bank robbery case in which the defendant has suffered from AIDS since the early 1980s. The defendant in United States v. Watson, No. 05-3892 (3d Cir. Apr. 5, 2007) faced a Guidelines range of 151-188 months, and the district court varied downward on account of the defendant's health, which had deteriorated during his pre-trial detention due to improper management of his medication by prison officials.

The defendant appealed, claiming that 120 months is unreasonably excessive (regardless of the higher Guidelines range) as it amounts to an effective life sentence given his prognosis. The Third Circuit was unpersuaded, noting that "the mere fact that a defendant may not survive beyond his sentence does not provide a basis for a shorter sentence," --- at least not in the court of appeals, under the deferential review accorded sentences post-Booker. The Court noted that the district court gave meaningful cons…

Third Circuit rejects challenge to shoeprint expert testimony, affirms application of CO provision and 460-month sentence for bank robbery

In United States v. Ford, No. 05-4998 (3d Cir. Mar. 29, 2007), the Third Circuit rejected a challenge to the admission of testimony of the government’s expert witness, where Ford argued that the expert opinion failed to meet the standards of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The expert was permitted to testify that Ford’s shoes were the kind that could have made the footprints left on the bank counter at one of the robberies with which he was charged. Ford argued that the testimony should be excluded because the opinion was no more precise than that the shoe impressions at the bank and those made by the shoes he was wearing when apprehended were "similar." However, the Court ultimately reasoned that an expert opinion expressing the possibility that a crime shoe impression may have been made by shoes worn by the defendant, to the extent it meets the reliability and relevancy thresholds in Daubert, is "cle…