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Showing posts from October, 2008

Admissibility of Redacted Proffer Statement Violates Confrontation Clause But Constitutes Harmless Error

In United States v. Hardwick et al, (3d Cir. October 3, 2008), the Court of Appeals held that the admission into evidence of a redacted proffer statement, after the close of the Government’s case-in-chief, violated defendants’ constitutional rights under the Confrontation Clause; however, use of the proffer statement was harmless error. Furthermore, the Government conceded that the sentences for three of the four defendants should be reduced to only one § 924(c) conviction each.

During the course of the investigation Defendant Murray entered into a proffer agreement with the Government. Under this agreement, Murray agreed to cooperate with the investigators by answering questions truthfully and completely, and the Government agreed not to use these statements against him at trial in its case-in-chief. The proffer agreement provided for an exception if the Government needed "to rebut any evidence or arguments offered on [Murray’s] behalf." During two proffer sessions, Murray a…

Third Circuit finds evidence insufficient to support conviction for harboring; upholds seizure based on anonymous tip

On September 9, 2008, the Third Circuit issued its decision in United States v. Silveus, Case No. 07-3544.  It focused on two issues raised by the appellant, Rozaline Silveus: Whether the evidence was sufficient to support her conviction for harboring an illegal alien (her boyfriend, Dorsainvil Jean), and whether ICE agents' seizure of her -- and the search that followed -- was constitutional.
The Third Circuit held that the government's evidence was insufficient to convict Ms. Silveus of harboring Mr. Jean.  As the Court observed, the evidence supporting the harboring charge was limited to the following:  As ICE agents approached Ms. Silveus's house, they heard a door slam and some bushes break.  Then, as they went to the front door, they saw Ms. Silveus close that door and open a window.  In response to the agents' questions, Ms. Silveus said that Mr. Jean was not there, that she did not know whether anyone had just left her home, and that the agents could not enter t…

Failure to Advise Defendant of Mandatory Minimum Sentence Prior to Pleading Guilty Renders Plea Involuntary

In Jamison v. Klem, No. 07-1045 (3d Cir. September 30, 2008), the Court of Appeals held that failure to advise a defendant of an applicable mandatory minimum sentence prior to pleading guilty renders the plea not knowing, voluntary and intelligent. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial of Jamison’s habeas petition challenging the validity of his guilty plea on those grounds and directed the district to grant a conditional writ.

Jamison pleaded guilty to a drug charge in York County, Pennsylvania, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. The record established that Jamison was not advised of the mandatory minimum anytime prior to entering his plea. The first time Jamison learned he was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence was at his sentencing hearing where the mandatory minimum of 5 to 10 years of imprisonment was imposed. Rather than filing a direct appeal, Jamison collaterally attacked his guilty plea by filing a petition pursuant…

Cannot Exclude Personal Use in Determining Weight Involved in Conspiracy & Prior Testimony of Witness Admissible Since Trial Testimony Evasive

[This case summarized by Leo Latella.]

In United States v. Iglesias, 535 F.3d 150 (3d Cir. 2008) , the Court of Appeals held, in addressing two issues of first impression, that a defendant convicted of conspiring to distribute drugs is not entitled to exclude an amount for personal use in determining the total quantity of drugs involved in the conspiracy. Additionally, as a matter of first impression in this Circuit, the Court held that a witness’ prior testimony at a suppression hearing was admissible at trial under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(1)(A), when his trial testimony was evasive on the same subject matter. Lastly, Court of Appeals rejected Iglesias’ contention that his drug conspiracy and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime were not supported by sufficient evidence.

Prior to Iglesias’ arrest, an individual who later became a cooperating witness was arrested and found with a small quantity of methamphetamine. The cooperator stated that he purchased the met…

Court of Appeals Reverses District Court's Grant of Suppression Motion

[This case summarized by Leo Latella.]

In United States v. Torres, 534 F.3d 207 (3d Cir. 2008) , the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s grant of defendant’s suppression motion and held that police officers had sufficient reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop of a vehicle described by an unidentified cab driver who called 911 and stated that he saw the driver of the vehicle brandish a handgun at a gas station. The cab driver called 911 from his cell phone and reported that he had just seen the driver of a silver BMW flash a gun at a rose vendor near a gas station. The caller was following the BMW during the call and gave detailed information regarding the vehicle including its make, model, color, license plate number, its location and identified the driver as an Hispanic male. The 911 call was made at 2:59 p.m. At 3:02 p.m. the call was dispatched to officers and at 3:07 p.m. the car was stopped and Torres was found to be in possession of a fully-loaded…

United States v. Goldberg, 538 F.3d 280 (3d Cir. 2008).

The defendant in Goldberg ran a business that sold veterinary grade prescription drugs to horse owners without proof of a prescription. The government charged him with, inter alia, possessing the controlled substance Stanozolol with the intent to distribute, and various misbranding charges. Following conviction by a jury on all counts, the defendant appealed, challenging various aspects of his convictions as well as the application of certain guideline provisions at setencing.

1. Whether possession of a controlled substance required the actual possession to be illegal as well as the intent to distribute - During deliberations, the jury asked a question that essentially inquired whether it needed to find that the defendant's "possession" of Stanozolol was illegal as well as his intent to distribute. Despite the defendant's claim that the term "possession" in the statute "implied" that the possession must be illegal, the district court instructed…

Sufficiency/Knowledge of Conspiracy's Object and Brady/Evidence Possessed by Foreign Sovereign

[This case summarized by Felicia Sarner.]

US v. Reyeros, 537 F.3d 270 (3d Cir. July 31, 2008). Reyeros, a former customs inspector, was convicted of conspiring to transport cocaine into the United States. The government's case relied in part on a cooperating witness who was initially detained in Columbia and opposed extradition. Reyeros requested documents the witness filed with Columbian authorities opposing extradition, arguing that he was entitled to them under Brady and Jencks. The Circuit found the evidence was sufficient to prove that Reyeros was aware that the purpose of the conspiracy was to import cocaine. It also found that the requested documents were not and had never been in the possession of the United States government, and that Columbia was not acting on behalf of or under the control of the United States, nor was it part of a joint investigation. The relevant factors when considering a federal prosecutor's constructive knowledge of Brady material are whether th…

Appellate Waiver of Direct/Collateral Review

[This case summarized by Felicia Sarner.]

US v. Mabry, 536 F.3d 231 (3d Cir. July 28, 2008). Mabry's guilty plea agreement, in which he pled guilty to the drug charge in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges, included an appellate waiver of direct and collateral review. After his sentencing, he filed a habeas petition alleging that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a direct appeal, which the district court denied without a hearing. The Third Circuit granted a certificate of appealability as to whether the waiver was knowing and voluntary, whether it is enforceable, and whether Mabry was entitled to relief on the claims he asserts should have been raised on direct appeal. The Circuit found the direct appeal and collateral review waivers to be knowing and voluntary, and although the district court's colloquy did not elaborate on the miscarriage of justice exception, enforcement of both waivers did not work a miscarriage of justice. Mabry raised only insubstant…

Ineffective Assistance / Jury Trial Waiver

[This case summarized by Felicia Sarner.]

US v. Lilly, 536 F.3d 190 (3d Cir. July 28, 2008). Since the evidence in this drug case relating to the motion to suppress was virtually identical to the trial evidence, the parties agreed to proceed with a non-jury trial and the district judge heard the pre-trial hearing and bench trial together. Before proceeding, the parties confirmed orally their desire to proceed in this manner, but the judge did not directly colloquy Lilly about his jury trial waiver. Lilly was convicted, and subsequently filed a habeas petition alleging ineffective assistance based upon counsel's alleged failure to properly advise him of his right to a trial by jury. The district court denied the petition without granting Lilly an evidentiary hearing. The Third Circuit affirmed after reviewing for abuse of discretion. In considering the Strickland prejudice prong, the proper inquiry is whether, "in the absence of counsel's advice, another fact finder (i.e., …

Failure to raise a suppression argument (not just a motion) before the district court equals waiver.

In United States v. Rose, 538 F.3d 175 (3d Cir. 2008), the Third Circuit held that failure to raise specific suppression arguments before the district court amounts to waiver and not just forfeiture. The defendant, who proceeded pro se at trial, filed a motion to suppress certain evidence, putting forth four arguments in support of his claim. The district court denied the motion.

On appeal, now represented by counsel, the defendant appealed the district court's denial of the motion to suppress, but this time asserted a basis for the motion not raised before the district court. Recognizing that the issue called into question the interplay between Fed.R.Crim.P. 12 (which would consider the argument waived) and 52(b) (which would have called for a plain error analysis), and recognizing that its own precedent at times supported one conclusion or the other, the Court definitively stated that Rule 12 controlled the matter, and required a finding of waiver unless the defendant could sh…