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Showing posts from August, 2011

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…