Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 2008

Prosecutorial Misconduct for AUSA to Introduce "extensive evidence" of Uncharged Drug Use and Transactions -- Even Under Plain Error Standard

United States v. Morena, No. 07-1297 (Nov. 19, 2008). Morena appealed his conviction for felon-in-possession and possession of an unregistered, sawed-off shotgun. He appealed on several grounds, but prevailed on his claim that the government’s injection into the trial of extensive evidence of uncharged drug use and transactions, as well as evidence of his prior non-felony convictions, amounted to prosecutorial misconduct and plain error.

There is great language in this opinion about the prosecutor’s duty as the representative of a sovereign, the danger of admission of uncharged misconduct, the sufficiency of evidence in gun prosecutions, and the limited value of curative instructions.

The district court had approved the admission of a limited amount of drug evidence under 404(b) to show motive and to set the context for the arrest. As the Court wrote, however, "the government repeatedly exceeded its pretrial proffer, systematically injecting inadmissible drug evidence into the two-…

No Bruton Violations in Bench Trials

Johnson v. Tennis, No. 07-1968 (3d Cir. Nov. 19, 2008). The first paragraph of this opinion (almost) says it all:

"This appeal by Gary Johnson from the denial of his petition for habeas corpus by the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania requires us to decide an issue of first impression in this Circuit: Do the teachings of Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), apply to a bench trial in a criminal proceeding? Bruton and its progeny established that in a joint criminal trial before a jury, a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation is violated by admitting a confession of a non-testifying codefendant that implicates the defendant, regardless of any limiting instruction given to the jury. See id.; Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 211 (1987); Cruz v. New York, 481 U.S. 186, 193-194 (1987). We hold that the Bruton rule is inapplicable to the incriminating confession of a nontestifyingcodefendant in a joint bench trial. By its own terms, Bruton app…

Defendants not required to re-raise sentencing issues at end of sentencing hearing to avert plain error review

In United States v. Sevilla, 07-1105 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2008), the Third Circuit clarified what defendants must do to avert plain error review of sentencing issues. The Court held that where a defendant squarely raises a sentencing issue both in his sentencing memorandum and again at the sentencing proceeding, the defendant is not required to re-raise those issues or otherwise object to the district court's explanation of its sentence in order to avert plain error review.

The Court proceeded to review the defendant's sentence for reasonableness and ultimately vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for resentencing because instead of addressing the defendant's sentencing issues, the district court merely stated that it had considered the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors and provided no further comment or analysis. The Third Circuit concluded that the record did not indicate that the district court gave meaningful consideration to the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors.

Reasonable suspicion is required to justify border search of cruise ship passenger's cabin

In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit ruled in United States v. Whitted, 06-3271 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2008) that reasonable suspicion was required to justify a border search of a passenger cabin on a cruise ship arriving in the United States from a foreign port. The Court found that a passenger's private living quarters while on a ship were more akin to an individual's home than an automobile and, therefore, were entitled to more rigorous Fourth Amendment protection. As such, a search of a cruise ship passenger's cabin at the functional equivalent of a border constituted a non-routine border search which must be supported by reasonable suspicion.

Applying this standard, the Third Circuit concluded that reasonable suspicion existed to support the search in this case. Customs officials had a particularized and objective basis to suspect that defendant was involved in drug smuggling where cruise ship traveled to drug source countries, defendant had previously travele…

Third Circuit discusses procedures for declaring a mistrial based on a deadlocked jury

In United States v. Wecht, 08-2258 (3d Cir. Sept. 5, 2008), the Third Circuit identified the ideal procedures a district court should follow before declaring a mistrial based on a deadlocked jury by referring to the Court's recently adopted Model Jury Instructions, specifically Instruction 9.05 (Deadlocked Jury - Return for Deliberations) and Comment 9.06, which details the Committee's recommended procedure for declaring a mistrial based on a deadlocked jury. The procedure includes: (1) determining whether a supplemental charge is necessary, (2) questioning each juror, (3) excusing the jury and conducting a hearing with counsel and the defendant, and (4) calling the jury back to the courtroom and discharging the jury.

The district court in this case did not follow the ideal procedure because it never questioned the jurors regarding the deadlock. Nor did the court provide counsel with the opportunity to argue the merits of declaring a mistrial as required by Fed.R.Crim.P. 26.3. …