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Showing posts from June, 2010

Conviction vacated due to prosecutorial misconduct

In United States v. Liburd, No. 09-3156 (D.VI 06/09/10), the Court of Appeals vacated Mr. Liburd’s conviction in light of repeated prosecutorial misconduct.

Mr. Liburd was in the St. Thomas airport intending to catch a flight to Atlanta. En route to his plane he passed through TSA security and one of the officers noticed on the scanner an image of two large organic masses located within his carry-on bag. He was therefore referred to an inspection station. While there, another TSA officer searched through his bag and asked about the two brick-like objects - Mr. Liburd told the officer that the bricks were “cheese.” Mr. Liburd was subsequently permitted to continue on to his flight. Then, while waiting for his flight, yet another TSA officer approached Mr. Liburd for a “random inspection” because he appeared to be nervous. Upon second search of his carry-on bag, Liburd made a statement that “there’s something in my bag” - the search revealed that the two brick-like objects were over 2 k…

Conviction for Possession of a Weapon in a Prison affirmed

In United States v. Holmes, No. 09-2846 (W.D.PA 06/07/10), the Court of Appeals affirmed Mr. Holmes conviction for possession of a weapon in a prison.

Holmes was a prisoner at FCI - Loretto who was searched by prison guards and found to be in possession of a utility-knife blade. Holmes was subsequently charged with one count of possessing a weapon in a prison in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1791.

Holmes proceeded to trial, was convicted and sentenced to 24 months incarceration. On appeal he made the following three claims: 1) the evidence at trial was insufficient for the jury to conclude the blade was a “weapon” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1791; 2) that the statute requires the government prove Holmes “knew” the blade was a weapon; and 3) that the district court erred when it refused to charge him with misdemeanor possession of a “prohibited object” as a lesser included offense.

As to the first claim, that the evidence was insufficient for the jury to conclude the blade was a “weapon,…

Third Circuit Upholds Free Speech Rights of Anti-abortion Protestor Arrested for Demonstrating in Front of Liberty Bell Center.

In United States v. Michael Marcavage, No. 09-3573 (3d Cir. June 16, 2010), the defendant and some 20 others demonstrated in an anti-abortion protest – with graphic signs and use of a bullhorn – in front of the entrance to Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park, where a long line of tourists were waiting to enter. Although Marcavage did not have a written permit as National Park Service regulations require, a park ranger stated that he would give the demonstrators a verbal permit, but they had to move away from the entrance to a nearby designated demonstration area. When Marcavage refused to move, park rangers arrested him for violating the terms of the permit and interfering with Park Service functions, both misdemeanors. A U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found him guilty on both counts after a two-day trial, sentencing him to 12 months’ probation. On appeal to a U.S. District Court Judge, the conviction and sentence …

U.S. Supreme Court Severely Restricts Scope of Sentence Reduction Proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

As suggested in this Blog’s May 2009 entry, the Third Circuit’s decision in United States v. Dillon, 572 F.3d 146 (3d Cir. 2009) has, indeed, effectively "ended crack litigation", as the Supreme Court, by a 7-1 vote, affirmed the Third Circuit in Dillon v. United States, No. 09-6338 (U.S. June 17, 2010). In brief, Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinion holds that proceedings brought by a defendant’s motion for sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) are not governed by the same principles as standard plenary sentencing proceedings – notably, application of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) – but rather are limited to the specific reduction permitted by the Sentencing Commission’s relevant policy statement. The effect of Dillon, in light of the recent two-level reduction for crack offenses in the USSG § 2D1.1 drug tables, is to limit eligibility for that reduction only to defendants whose calculated Sentencing Guidelines range is actually reduced by two level…

"Clearly Established Federal Law" is Determined as of the Date of the Relevant State-Court Decision Subject to Habeas Review

Greene v. Palakovich, No. 07-2163 (3d Cir. May 28, 2010). A split panel of the Third Circuit held that for purposes of the standard of review for a federal habeas claim set forth in AEDPA, 28 U.S.C. §2254(d)(1), "clearly established Federal law" should be determined as of the date of the relevant state-court decision subject to habeas review. Greene was convicted of second degree murder, robbery and conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Green argued, inter alia, that the admission at trial of redacted statements of his co-defendants violated the Confrontation Clause. The Superior Court rejected that claim in a decision dated December 16, 1997. That decision became the final state court decision for purposes of habeas review. Greene’s conviction became final on July 28, 1999. In the meantime, however, the Supreme Court decided Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185 (1998), on March 9, 1998, which supported Greene’s claim. The iss…

Drug Trafficking Conviciton Affirmed - No Problems with Time Frame of Conspiracy, Sufficiency of Evidence & Chain of Custody

United States v. Rawlins, No. 08-2948 (3d Cir. May 26, 2010). The Third Circuit affirmed the defendants drug trafficking conviction and rejected his arguments that:1) the indictment was invalid because it failed to allege the proper time frame for the conspiracy; 2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction, and; 3) there were gaps in the chain of custody of the evidence.

Rawlins was convicted of several counts of conspiracy and possession with intend to distribute cocaine. The evidence at rial suggested that Rawlins was a baggage handler at an airport and that he participated in a cocaine smuggling operation by switching tags from legitimate luggage to baggage containing cocaine. His first argument on appeal challenged the validity of the indictment which charged conspiracy "from a time unknown and continuing to September, 2004." The court of appeals rejected that argument because the overt acts alleged in the indictment "adequately limited the time frame …