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Attorney's failure to conduct adequate investigation of mitigating circumstances constituted ineffective assistance of counsel

In Blystone v. Horn, Nos. 05-9002 & 05-9003 (3d Cir. Dec. 22, 2011), the Third Circuit denied the government's cross-appeal and upheld the district court's conclusion that trial counsel in a capital case provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to adequately investigate mitigating circumstances for the defendant's punishment phase of his death penalty case even though the defendant had indicated that he did not wish to present a mitigation case to the jury. The Court held that the duty to conduct a reasonable investigation of mitigating evidence exists independently of the duty to present a mitigation case to the jury. In fact, the Court found, the duty to conduct a reasonable investigation is a "necessary predicate" to the decision of whether to present a mitigation case.

Here, the trial attorney conducted a minimal investigation involving only four of the defendant's family members. He solicited no expert mental health testimony and failed t…

Fact that co-conspirator helped plan robbery that led to high speed chase insufficient to warrant U.S.S.G. §3C1.2 enhancement

Defendant Dwayne Cespedes was part of a three-member conspiracy which planned and executed an armed bank robbery. After removing more than $20,000 from the bank safe, Cespedes and co-conspirator Michael Grant entered the getaway car driven by co-conspirator Curtis Whitehurst. Whitehurst refused to submit to an attempted traffic stop and led police on a high speed chase through two counties. During the chase, Cespedes and Grant got out of the car and fled on foot, while Whitehurst continued his reckless driving, ignoring traffic laws, running stop signs, traveling in the wrong direction on certain roads and nearly striking several pedestrians in a crosswalk.

At Cespedes's sentencing, the district court applied a two-level enhancement for recklessly endangering others while fleeing from law enforcement officers pursuant to U.S.S.G. §3C1.2. The court rejected Cespedes's objection that the enhancement was improper because he never possessed control over the getaway vehicle and had …

Court Errs by Not Considering Postsentencing Rehabilitation on Remand after Pepper

In United States v. Salinas-Cortez, No. 11-1580 (3d Cir., November 8, 2011), the defendant challenged the sentencing court’s rejection of his request for a downward variance based upon postsentencing rehabilitation. In Salinas-Cortez, the defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, as well as conspiracy to do so. At his initial sentencing hearing, the defendant requested a downward adjustment based upon his minimal or minor role in the offense. The probation office claimed in the Presentence Report that the defendant had more than a minimal or minor role in the offense. The sentencing court, at this first proceeding, adopted the PSR without specifically addressing the defendant’s request. The Third Circuit vacated this initial decision, ruling that the sentencing court erred when it failed to address the defendant’s colorable argument for a minor role adjustment. On remand, the defendant also requested a reduction based upon his p…

Court finds PA Terroristic Threats Prior to be Crime of Violence

United States v. Mahone, 2011 WL 5153699 (Nov. 1, 2011).

Mahone pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Mahone objected to the base offense level in the PSR, calculated under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(2) at 24 because he had "at least two felony convictions of either a crime of violence [ (COV) ] or a controlled substance offense." Mahone asserted that one of his priors, a 1994 Pennsylvania conviction for making terroristic threats in violation of 18 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 2706, did not qualify as a COV.

At the time Mahone incurred the prior conviction, the statute made it unlawful for a person to:

"threaten[ ] to commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another or to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation, or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience, or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience."

18 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 2706 (1…

The Sentencing Enhancement Under 18 U.S.C. §3147 Authorizes Courts to Add Up to Ten Years to the Statutory Maximum.

Section 18 U.S.C. §3147(1) provides that if a person is convicted of an offense while under pretrial release, then in addition to the sentence for the underlying felony offense, the person should be sentenced to an additional term of up to 10 years. In United States v. Melvin Lewis, No. 10-4460 (3d Cir. October 18, 2011), the Third Circuit, in a case of first impression, held that §3147 has the effect of increasing the statutory maximum for an underlying offense by up to ten years, and that the sentences must be imposed consecutively.

Appellant Melvin Lewis was tried and convicted on two counts of a three count indictment. Specifically he was convicted of (1) being a felon in possession of ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1), and (2) committing an offense while on pretrial release, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3147(1). He was acquitted of a carjacking charge.

Mr. Lewis’s sentencing range was 140 to 175 months, and he was sentenced to 138 months, 96 for the ammunition of…

Bribery Prosecution: Instruction that coercion may bear on intent not required, sentence remanded for failure to consider sentencing disparity

In U.S. v. Herman Friedman, No. 10-2235 (3d Cir., Sept. 28, 2011), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Friedman’s conviction for bribery under 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(2), but vacated and remanded for resentencing based on procedural unreasonableness.

Friedman owned a residential apartment building with 16 rented apartments, but after a routine inspection, a building inspector issued a Notice of Violation because only 15 units were legal. Although Friedman could apply for a variance, he faced a $500 per day penalty while his application was pending. So, Friedman arranged to pay a construction code official $5000 to overlook the violation. Unfortunately for Friedman, the code official, who had been caught taking bribes in an earlier investigation, was an FBI informant.

The Court rejected several defense arguments relating to the conviction; the most significant was an issue of first impression: whether the District Court abused its discretion in rejecting Friedman’s requested proposed …

Money Laundering - Insufficient Knowledge of Intent to Conceal

United States v. Richardson, – F.3d –, 2011 WL 4430808 (3d Cir. Sept. 23, 2011). Asya Richardson was the fiancee of Alton Coles, the leader of a drug ring responsible for selling large amounts of cocaine and cocaine base in the Philadelphia area between 1998 and 2005. In the summer of 2005, the couple bought a home together. The government charged Richardson with money laundering, under 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(1), on the theory that she had participated in the purchase of the home knowing that drug money was being used and with intent to conceal that fact. The court found the evidence insufficient to support her conviction.

Although the government proved that Richardson lied about various aspects of the transaction in the mortgage materials, there was little evidence that she did so for any reason other than to hide the couple’s bad credit. There was also little evidence connecting her to Coles’s suspicious financial transactions related to the house (e.g., structuring deposits for …

Honest Services Fraud and Bribery convictions upheld

In US v. Wayne R. Bryant and R. Michael Gallagher, Nos. 09-3243 & 09-3275 (click here) (Aug. 25, 2011), the Circuit affirmed the convictions of Bryant and Gallagher for honest services fraud and bribery in connection Gallagher, dean of a NJ medical school, giving Bryant, a state senator, a "low-show" job in exchange for Bryant funneling state money to the medical school. The Circuit rejected defense arguments that the government interfered with defense access to witnesses, that the evidence was insufficient, and that the jury instructions were defective.

Due Process/Interference with the Defense

The Court rejected a due process challenge to language that the government had placed on the face of every grand jury subpoena issued in the case, warning witnesses that “disclosure of the nature and existence of this subpoena could [and, in at least one case, “would”] obstruct and impede a criminal investigation . . . .” The defense contended that that language interfered with its…

47 year prison terms affirmed for brothers convicted of Hobbs Act robbery of local drug dealer

Brothers Barron and Barry Walker were convicted after trial of various offenses including drug trafficking, firearm and robbery charges. Each was sentenced to a prison term of 47 1/2 years. On appeal, the brothers challenged their convictions and sentences on multiple grounds, including improper joinder, sufficiency of the evidence, improper expert testimony, and an alleged Brady violation. The Third Circuit, in United States v. Walker, 10-3090 (3d Cir. Sept. 13, 2011), quickly disposed of the severance claims, holding that joinder of all counts against both brothers was proper, despite the inclusion of two escape-related charges solely against Barry Walker, where the escape charges arose directly from the earlier drug, conspiracy and gun charges against both brothers. Nor, according to the Third Circuit, did the district court abuse its discretion in declining to grant Barron Walker's motion to sever his trial from his brother's trial where the issues were uncomplicated, the …

General Criminal Venue Provision Applies When Part of Offense Committed in US & Illicit Sexual Conduct Outside the US Statute Constitutional

In United States v. Pendleton, No. 10-1818, September 7, 2011, the Court of Appeals considered: (1) whether the general criminal venue provision of 18 U.S.C. § 3238 applies when a defendant commits part of his offense inside the United States; and (2) whether 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c) and (f)(1) of the PROTECT Act, which criminalize noncommercial illicit sexual conduct outside the United States, are a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Foreign Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3).

In 2005, Thomas Pendleton boarded a plane in New York City bound for Hamburg, Germany. Six months after his arrival there, he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy. German authorities arrested him, and a jury in Hamburg found him guilty of "engaging in sexual acts with a person incapable of resistance." After serving nineteen months in a German prison, Pendleton returned to the United States, where he was arrested and indicted in the District of Delaw…

Use immunity for defense witness

In US v. Jamaal L. Mike, No. 10-1394 (Aug. 23, 2010) (click here), the 3d Circuit held that the district court properly denied a defense request for use immunity for a defense witness because the proffered testimony was not "clearly exculpatory" in view of the evidence undercutting both the proffered testimony and the defense theory of the case. (The Court also addressed two other issues unique to the Virgin Islands that are not reviewed here.)

Mike was charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of a gun acquired outside his state of residence. The government's evidence was that another person, Francis, purchased an AK-47 rifle in Florida and had it shipped to a false name in the Virgin Islands. Mike arranged with two others to retrieve it from the Post Office, having them supply the false name. They were arrested once they placed the package in the car. Francis was also arrested, and he pleaded guilty. But he told agents during plea negotiations that Mike and the other…

Self-representation; CCE: and 851 notice

In US v. Prince Isaac, No. 08-4755 (Aug. 23, 2011) (click here) the 3rd Circuit held:

(1) Defendant who was representing himself was not denied his 6th Amendment right of self-representation by judge's failure to include him in two side-bar conferences (at which stand-by counsel did participate) since defendant never objected and seemed to acquiesce in stand-by counsel's participation;

(2) Instruction on CCE was error, as conceded by the government, because several of the counts it listed as counts that could qualify as the predicate drug distribution felony did not qualify; but error, to which there was no objection, did not rise to plain error because jury found defendant guilty on all the drug distribution counts, thus easily satisfying this element;

(3) The requirement of written notice of a prior conviction under 21 USC 851 (to enhance the mandatory sentence) is jurisdictional, and the lack of actual notice prior to trial in this case constituted plain error.  "[T]…

Fumo Sentencing Errors

In US v. Fumo and Arnao, Nos. 09-3388 & 09-3389 (Aug. 23, 2011) (click on link to see decision), the Third Circuit upheld Fumo's conviction, but reversed the sentences for both Fumo and Arnao, finding a number of sentencing errors.  The holdings of broadest significance were that the district court judge failed to follow the 3-step sentencing process, in particular the 2nd step, in which he was required to identify the new Guidelines range after granting a departure, and that he failed to specify whether he was granting a departure or a variance.

Background:
Fumo and Arnao were charged with multiple counts of fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice, arising from "one of the larges political scandals in recent state history."  Fumo was a powerful PA state senator, and Arnao was a Senate employee.  Fumo required Senate employees to attend to his personal needs and political interests, including housekeeping and political fundraising.  He also arranged state cont…

The Fair Sentencing Act Applies to All Defendants Sentenced on or After August 3, 2010, Regardless of When the Criminal Conduct Occurred

In United States v. Dixon, No. 10-4300, the Third Circuit held that the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-220, § 2, 124 Stat. 2372, 2372 (2010) (“FSA”), signed into law on August 3, 2010, applies to all defendants sentenced after that date, regardless of when the criminal conduct occurred. The FSA reduced the crack/powder ratio to approximately 18:1, thus triggering a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years for defendants convicted of possessing 28 grams of cocaine and 10years for possessing more than 280 grams. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (“1986 Act”) previously mandated 5 and 10 year mandatory minimum sentences for possession of more than 5 and 50 grams of crack, respectively. In passing the FSA, Congress sought to ameliorate the disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenders. Dixon was one such defendant whose criminal conduct predated the FSA, but whom was sentenced after its passage.

Section 8 of the FSA gave the United States Sentencing Commission emergenc…

Conviction Vacated for Erroneous Instruction on Intent

In United States v. Waller, No. 10-1321 (Aug. 16, 2011), the Court holds that it was reversible Doyle error for a district court to instruct the jury that it could consider, among other things, "any statements made or omitted by the defendant” in deciding whether he had the intent to distribute a controlled substance.

Mr. Waller was found in possession of 52 stamp bags of heroin marked “Shoot, Shoot Them,” bundled into four groups of ten and one group of twelve. At trial, there was no dispute as to possession, but only as to whether the heroin was intended for personal use or distribution. There was circumstantial evidence from which the parties urged opposite inferences: for example, the defendant's possession of a gun but no cash. There was no direct evidence bearing on intent. The Court holds that the instruction permitting consideration of statements “omitted by the defendant” improperly invited the jury to infer intent from the defendant’s post-arrest, post-Miranda warni…

Officer's Reliance on Warrant Insufficient to Support Good Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rule

In People of the Virgin Islands v. Tydel John, No. 09-4185 (Aug. 15, 2011), the Court holds 2-1 that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply — and that evidence must therefore be suppressed — when an officer obtains and executes a warrant for child pornography by means of an affidavit representing that people who commit contact sex offenses against children customarily keep evidence of such crimes, including “photographs,” in their homes.

The facts recited in the warrant application were sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that the defendant had sexually assaulted several children, and that notes evidencing these crimes would be found at his home. The Court reasons that these allegations were “not sufficient to establish — or even to hint at — probable cause as to the wholly separate crime of possessing child pornography.” Critically, the warrant application did not allege the existence of a correlation between contact sex offenses and possession…

Evidence Insufficient to Sustain Conviction for Conspiracy to Transport Firearms

In United States v. Tyson, No. 09-3487 (3d Cir, Aug. 3, 2011) , the defendant was found guilty by jury of multiple firearms-related offenses, under both federal and Virgin Islands law. Specifically, the federal counts charged conspiracy to transport firearms from Tennessee to the Virgin Islands, and related gun trafficking offenses. However, the District Court granted the defendant's motion for judgement of acquittal as to the federal counts.

The Third Circuit concluded that, while the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for transporting and dealing firearms without a license, the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for conspiracy to transport firearms. Explicitly rejecting the “rule of consistency” in multi-defendant conspiracy trials, the court concluded instead that the evidence simply failed to prove an illegal agreement existed between the defendant and the only co-conspirator identified by the government. The court reasoned that the …

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Common Area of Multi-Unit Dwelling

In United States v. Correa, No. 10-2199 (3d Cir., Aug. 2, 2011) , law enforcement officials executed arrest warrants for two associates an escaped inmate at a multi-unit dwelling. When the officers arrived at the building, the exterior front door was locked. As a result, one of the officers climbed through a partially opened window and unlocked the door for his colleagues. Once inside, the officers encountered the two individuals they initially sought as well as the defendant in the common stairwell leading to the basement. During the search incident to his arrest, the defendant alerted his arresting officer that he possessed a firearm. The defendant challenged his arrest in the common area of the multi-unit dwelling as the fruit of an unlawful entrance and search, and he sought the suppression of the firearm and his subsequent statement. The Third Circuit disagreed, extending its ruling in United States v. Acosta, 965 F.2d 1248 (3d Cir. 1992), to rule that a resident of a multi-unit…

Language Barrier May Qualify as an Extraordinary Circumstance Warranting Equitable Tolling of AEDPA’s One Year Statute of Limitations.

In Pabon v. Superintendent S.C.I. Mahanoy, No. 08-1536, Petitioner Angel Pabon challenged the denial of his habeas petition, as out of time. Following the denial of his motions for post conviction relief at the state level, Pabon filed a pro se habeas corpus petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. §2254. The habeas petition was based on a violation of the Confrontation Clause. Specifically, the state trial court admitted into evidence the confession of one of the codefendants, who did not testify at trial. The District Court dismissed Pabon’s petition because it was not timely under AEDPA’s one year statute of limitations, as set forth in 28 U.S.C. §2244. Conceding that his petition was out of time, Pabon argued that his petition should still be considered under the doctrine of equitable tolling, an argument the District Court rejected. The Third Circuit granted a certificate of appealablity (COA) to determine the question of timelines…

Court Adopts Factors to Determine Exceptions to Waiver of Issues Not Raised in Opening Brief, Remands for More Narrowly Tailored Internet Restrictions

In United States v. Albertson, No. 09-1049, the Third Circuit considered yet again whether a defendant’s supervised release term and special conditions were reasonable under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) as incorporated by 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(1). Albertson pled to one count of receiving child pornography and received a sentence of 60 months in prison (the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment), along with a 20 year supervised release tail with 8 special conditions. Albertson challenged the length of his supervised release term as well as special conditions that: (1) banned him from associating with children under the age of 18 (other than his children) without his probation officer’s prior approval, (2) banned him from using a computer with internet access without prior written approval of the probation department, and (3) required him to submit to an initial inspection and subsequent inspections of his computer and to allow probation to install monitoring or filtering software onto his comp…

De Novo Sentencing Applies After Court Vacates Part of Interdependent Sentence, Remand for Full Consideration of Post-Sentencing Rehabilitation

In United States v. Diaz, No. 10-3337, the Third Circuit considered whether the district court correctly resentenced the defendant on remand after one count of an interdependent sentence was vacated. Diaz was convicted of one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin and two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). The Third Circuit reversed and remanded for resentencing, holding that Mr. Diaz’s double jeopardy rights were violated because a second § 924(c) count must be based on a separate predicate drug offense. On remand, the defense argued that the district court should simply reduce the sentence by 120 months - the sentence originally associated with the vacated § 924(c) count. The district court treated its original sentence as interdependent, and held that resentencing de novo was appropriate so long as the Third Circuit did not direct otherwise. The district court considered the fact that the defendan…

Enhancement for Counterfeit Obligations Based on Face Value, Not Intended Loss

In United States v. Wright, No. 10-2970 (3d. Cir. June 1, 2011), the Third Circuit vacated a sentence of twenty months imprisonment and remanded for resentencing. The court recognized the facts of this case could never have been envisioned by the Sentencing Commission. Wright and a man he falsely identified as his brother attempted to sell $120,000 worth of fake U.S. currency for $60,000 to a small business owner. Wright and his "brother" told the business owner that their father was a politician and banker in Sierra Leone, who had recently been assassinated, and that he and his brother fled to the United States as refugees. They claimed to have brought with them millions of dollars in U.S. currency, that had been provided to Sierra Leone by the U.S. as aid. They claimed that the currency had been dyed black in order to prevent the use of the currency by rebels who might have intercepted it. In a meeting with the business owner, Wright and his "brother" demonstrate…

Mere Presence of Firearm Not Sufficient to Warrant Four-level Enhancement under U.S.S.G § 2K2.1(b)(6)

In United States v. West, No. 09-2860 (3d Cir., April 29, 2011), the defendant challenged the four-level enhancement applied to his sentence for possession of a stolen firearm pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6). He also challenged the sentencing court’s finding that a recent subsequent arrest for gun and drug possession was relevant conduct to the stolen firearm offense.

In West, the defendant was arrested on two separate occasions in 2007. During a traffic stop on February 28, 2007, police found cash, a small undetermined amount of marijuana and a gun in the glove compartment. Another firearm was discovered later in a backpack in the trunk of the car. The defendant admitted possession of the cash and marijuana but denied possession of the firearms. Police later determined that the gun found in the trunk had been stolen. On July 27, 2007, a firearm was discovered in the rented apartment of the defendant’s girlfriend during a routine fire-code inspection. An undetermined amount of cash…

Court upholds Iranian trade sanctions regime in face of broad constitutional challenges

In United States v. Ali Amirnazmi, No. 10-1198 (May 13, 2011), the Court affirms on all counts a chemical engineer's conviction for marketing software to Iranian industrial enterprises. The 72-page slip opinion offers an intensive review of the historical development of subjects as varied as the unconstitutional delegation doctrine and the embargo on Iran. Responding to a series of nuanced and articulate defense challenges, the opinion addresses the authority of Congress to vest the Executive with power to define criminal sanctions; the status of “dynamic” software under laws protecting the free flow of ideas to and from embargoed nations; the application of the vagueness doctrine; the law of conspiracy; and the validity of subpoenas under Criminal Procedure Rule 17(c).

Judge Scirica, joined by Judges Barry and Vanaskie, confronts an intricate web of statutes and Treasury Department regulations defining the Iran embargo inaugurated by President Clinton’s executive order in 1995. Th…