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Supervised Offender’s Waiver of Legal Representation at Revocation Hearing Sufficient under Totality of the Circumstances Standard

In United States v. Manuel, No. 12-4258 (3d Cir., Oct. 17, 2013), Defendant pled guilty to conspiracy as well as the substantive offense of mail fraud, involving a scheme to defraud investors in Defendant’s non-existent financial assistance programs. He was sentenced to 71-months imprisonment and three years supervised release. While on supervised release, Defendant committed several infractions, including illegal drug use and unauthorized employment. During his second supervision revocation hearing, Defendant petitioned the court to allow him to represent himself. The court conducted a colloquy with Defendant and ultimately granted his request. The court also granted Defendant several continuances to allow him to obtain additional documents and witnesses. Defendant ultimately presented witness testimony from his substance abuse therapist and employees from a halfway house to which he had been sanctioned. Nonetheless, the court revoked his supervised release term and sentenced him to …

Sentencing Court May Require Defendant to Deliver Sworn Allocution

In United States v. Ward, No. 12-1511 (3d Cir., Oct. 15, 2013), Defendant was a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. In 2006, he allegedly traveled to Brazil in order to engage in sexual relations with two minors. Upon his return to Dulles International Airport, Defendant was found in possession of child pornography and charged in the Eastern District of Virginia. A search of his office at the University of Pennsylvania resulted in the discovery of more child pornography involving his Brazilian victims, as well as email communications with the children. Defendant also attempted to acquire a visa for one of his Brazilian minor victims by providing false information during the visa application process. Defendant subsequently was indicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with shipping child pornography and lying to a federal official. This indictment was superseded to add two counts of sexual exploitation of minors under 18 U.S.C. § 22…

After Descamps v. United States, Circuit Holds, Modified Categorical Approach Unaltered and Almendarez-Torres Undead

In United States v.Conrad Clinton Blair, No. 12-4427, the Court rejects an expansive reading of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Descamps v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2276 (2013).Instead, the Circuit holds, a district court considering whether predicate offenses were committed on different occasions may rely on information in the charging and plea documents regardless of whether that information was integral to an element necessarily found in support of the prior convictions.

Conrad Blair pled guilty in 1991 to four counts of first-degree felony robbery in violation of Pennsylvania law.His conviction on each count was entered on the same day.In his subsequent federal prosecution, the issue was whether this record triggered a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).That sentence is required when the defendant has “three previous convictions … for a … violent felony … committed on occasions different from one another.”
Blair first…

GPS Searches Require a Warrant Based on Probable Cause, and the Good Faith Exception is Inapplicable in the Absence of “Immutable Authority or Information.”

The Supreme Court held in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012), that attaching a GPS device to a suspect’s vehicle constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, because it is a trespass/invasion of personal property. In United States v. Katzin, No. 12-2548, the Third Circuit answered what the Supreme Court left open in Jones: that law enforcement must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before attaching a GPS device to a suspect’s vehicle. The Court had "no hesitation in holding that the police must obtain a warrant prior to attaching a GPS device on a vehicle," finding that "a physical entry upon and occupation of an individual’s house or effects for purposes of ongoing GPS tracking" is "highly disconcerting." Notably, the Court suggested that the duration of the GPS tracking likely does not matter.

The Court rejected the government’s contention that warrantless GPS tracking is a "special needs case," or a case where the s…

Application of Guidelines Enhancement for Sophisticated Money Laundering Was Not Error Even Though The Defendant’s Acts Were Not Those Listed in Application Note

True Threats, the First Amendment and the Internet.

Anthony Elonis was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. §875(c), which prohibits transmitting in interstate commerce communications containing a threat to injure a person, based on numerous violent Facebook posts.Elonis challenged his indictment and ultimate conviction for making threats, arguing the statements were not threats, but protected speech under the First Amendment.The Third Circuit explored the true threats exception to the First Amendment in United States v. Elonis, -- F.3d --, 2013 WL 5273118 (3d Cir. September 19, 2013). First, Elonis challenged the jury instruction which informed jurors that a statement was threatening if a reasonable person would have believed the statements were serious.He argued that Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003) required a subjective intent to threaten under the true threat exception to the First Amendment.Specifically, he argued that Black requires the speaker to both intend to communicate a threat and for the statement to threaten the victim.T…

Search and Seizure On International Waters.

The detention and search of a vessel on international waters and the Fourth Amendment implications of that stop and search were addressed by the Third Circuit in United States v. Benoit, -- F.3d --, 2013 WL 5273102 (3d Cir. September 19, 2013).Appellant Aundel Benoit was master of the Laurel, a ship boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard based on a tip that the she was being used to smuggle drugs. The tip had a complicated history – the Grenadian government tipped the British Virgin Island authorities, who passed the tip to the DEA, who contacted the Coast Guard.After ordering the vessel to port and then to a boatyard, law enforcement found a substance that tested positive for cocaine, eventually uncovering 250 packages of cocaine weighing 250.9 kilograms.Benoit was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine while on a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction and aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute.He raised a number …