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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Court Rejects Habeas Petition Challenging Parole Commission’s Procedures

[This case summarized by Ahmed Soliman, legal intern, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.]

In Christopher Furnari v. U.S. Parole Commission, No. 07-2853 (3rd Cir. July 9, 2008), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals considered, and ultimately affirmed, an appeal of the lower court’s rejection of a habeas corpus petition for Christopher Furnari, a consigleire of the Lucchese crime family who complained that, in denying him parole five separate times, the Parole Commission mis-applied the law.

Furnari argued that (1) the Parole Commission violated the Sentencing Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. § 235(b)(3), when it scheduled a rehearing date after the Commission’s authority expired; (2) that the denial of parole was based on an improperly-calculated offense severity rating; and (3) that the Commission failed to give adequate weight to certain mitigating information.

The Court denied the Sentencing Reform Act challenge, holding that because Congress extended the life of the Parole Commission, the hearing was properly held on the date set. The Court also noted that, by statute, a release date may be set at a future time. So long as Congress continues to extend the expiration date, so too may the release date be tolled for future hearings.

The Court also held that the offense severity challenge was an abuse of the writ. Furnari had repeatedly litigated the Parole Commissions’s calculation of his offense severity rating, and the resultant parole denials. On this successive writ, the Court emphasized that the burden shifts to Furnari to demonstrate a "colorable showing of factual innocence" of the crimes for which he was convicted. Furnari’s claims related to his innocence of uncharged murders and other violent conduct, which is insufficient to establish that the Court should entertain the petition in the interests of justice.

Finally, the Court held that it would not interfere with the Commission’s discretion to evaluate mitigating evidence and determine what weight it deserves. With respect to Furnari’s sentence proportionality argument, the Court further held that the Parole Commission lacked statutory authority to review the sentence imposed by the sentencing court.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Immigration judge abused discretion when motion for continuance was denied as a result of delay caused by Department of Homeland Security

[This case summarized by Ahmed Soliman, legal intern, Federal & Community Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.]

In United States v. Hashmi, No. 06-3934, (3rd Cir. July 7, 2008), the court addressed whether an immigration judge abused his discretion after denying a continuance, agreed to by the government, simply because the case was pending for a period of time longer than the 18 months suggested by the "case completion goals" set by the Department of Justice, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security was the cause of the case’s delay, and not the defendant.

The court ruled that the immigration judge did indeed abuse his discretion, stating that the case completion goals were merely a guide, not a rule that should trump consideration of the individual circumstances of each case. In the case of Hashmi, the court found that the circumstances causing a delay in the case proceedings were "absurd" since one division of the Department of Homeland Security was withholding the document that would move forward the Hashmi case being tried by another division of the Department of Homeland Security.

Hashmi is a native of Pakistan and came to the United States on a tourist visa, which expired after six months. However, Hashmi remained in the United States and eventually married an American citizen who filed I-130 petition for her new husband. Although petition, as it was filled out, showed no prior wife, Hashmi submitted the divorce decree for his prior marriage during the I-130 application process and denied any intent to conceal his prior marriage.

Hashmi was served on July 30, 2003 with a Notice to Appear for overstaying his visa (an allegation Hashmi admitted to, but also requested an adjustment of status due to his pending I-130 petition). It was the division of the Department of Homeland Security in charge of Hashmi’s I-130 petition that sent out the divorce decree to be authenticated, and sent another portion of Hashmi’s file to the government attorney in charge of Hashmi’s removal from the United States (the same attorney who failed to return the file, which held up Hashmi’s I-130 petition). Without the completed petition, Hashmi could not move forward with his removal trial.

The Judge overseeing the removal proceedings eventually ruled that the delays in moving forward with the proceedings went beyond the period of time suggested by the case completion goals, and therefore ordered Hashmi removed from the country.

As further logic for their holding, the court pointed out the fact that to rule otherwise would set a poor precedent, a precedent that would encourage the Department of Homeland Security to commit a similar "catch 22" in the future, against people who have a legitimate petition to remain in this country.