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Showing posts from August, 2013

As a matter of first impression, sentencing courts are not required to conduct two separate § 3553(a) analyses when imposing a new term of supervised release in addition to post-revocation imprisonment

United States v. Clark, No. 12-3462 (Aug. 13, 2013): During his term of supervised release, defendant Justin Clark was a passenger in vehicle pulled over out-of-state and found to be in possession of $20,000 in cash. Although no new criminal charges were brought as a result of this incident, Clark was charged with violating the terms of his supervised release for several traffic citations, failing to make payments on various fines and bank loan, and a positive drug test. Clark admitted to violating his supervised release and faced an advisory Guidelines range of 7 to 13 months. He argued for house arrest in lieu of incarceration. The district court sentenced him to 13 months imprisonment and a new 47 month term of supervised release. The sole basis for this sentence was Clark's overall conduct which, according to the court, demonstrated a general pattern of noncompliance with supervision.

On appeal, Clark argued that the district court should have been required to conduct two sepa…

Crime of knowingly presenting a materially false statement in an immigration form requires a statement made under oath

United States v. Ashurov, No. 12-2711 (Aug. 12, 2013): Defendant, a citizen of Tajikistan, entered the United States under a visitor's visa and subsequently sought to obtain an F-1 student visa that would permit him to enroll in an English language program and temporarily remain in the U.S.. As part of the F-1 student visa application process, Ashurov signed a student certification form (Form I-20) agreeing to comply with the terms and conditions of his admission as a student and certifying that he was seeking admission for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study. Ashurov completed the Form I-20 once a year for three consecutive years. The certification was not made under oath or penalty of perjury. An investigation of Ashurov's school eventually revealed that the school was not in compliance with federal regulations and, further, that Ashurov was not in compliance with the terms and conditions of his student visa, despite repeatedly certifying on his Form I-20 that he …

Graphic videos of child pornography are admissible and relevant to show knowledge despite defendant's offer to stipulate videos constituted child pornography

United States v. Finley, No. 12-2524 (Aug. 12, 2013): Defendant Craig Finley appealed his conviction for production, receipt, distribution, and possession of material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor and sentence of 50 years' imprisonment followed by lifetime supervised release. The Third Circuit affirmed.

(1) Graphic videos and images were admissible and relevant to show knowledge despite defendant's offer to stipulate that videos constituted child pornography.

Before the jury was selected, defense counsel offered to stipulate that the videos and images obtained from the computers in the defendant's apartment were, in fact, child pornography, on the condition that the government not show the videos and images to the jury. The government refused the stipulation. After personally reviewing each proposed exhibit, the district court concluded that the videos and images were relevant and that the possible prejudice in introducing the evidence was outweighed by its…

En Banc Court Disavows Heightened Standard of Review in Challenges to Sufficiency of Evidence in Drug Conspiracy Prosecutions

United States v. Caraballo-Rodriguez, No. 11-3768.  Sitting en banc, a unanimous Court revisits “a long line of cases” addressing the government’s burden in drug trafficking prosecutions to show that a defendant (commonly, a courier) knew the object of a conspiracy was the distribution of a controlled substance, not just some type of contraband. Reading one line of precedent to have applied an improperly heightened standard, the Court clarifies that review for the sufficiency of evidence is the same in this context as in others.

Under the Jackson v. Virginia test, the Court reiterates in an opinion by Judge Rendell, “the critical inquiry on review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction … is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” When applying this standard, the Court does not have the privilege of casting …

Second Rule 404(b) Ruling of the Week: Convictions for Simple Possession of Cocaine Were Not Admissible to Prove Knowledge or Intent to Distribute in a PWID Case

The Third Circuit issued another strongly worded precedential Rule 404(b) opinion today, explaining that the strictures of the rule are often "honored in the breach" by district courts.
In United States v. Terrell Davis, No. 12-1486, the Third Circuit held that the government's barebones evidence that the defendant had twice been convicted of simple possession of cocaine was not admissible at his trial for possession with intent to distribute a kilo of cocaine. The cocaine was in the back seat of the car Davis was riding in. In its motion to admit the simple possession convictions, the government argued a litany of enumerated Rule 404(b) purposes.  On appeal, the government argued the evidence was admissible to prove knowledge that the drugs were in the back of the vehicle and/or Davis's intent to distribute the drugs. The government did not offer any any evidence to prove that the cocaine from Davis's past simple possession convictions was similar in appearanc…

How to Oppose the Government's Rule 404(b) Motion

United States v. Smith, No. 12-1516. Too often, it can seem that Rule 404(b) is applied in a manner that glosses over the government’s obligation to articulate how proffered evidence serves a proper purpose and why it warrants admission despite being prejudicial. In Smith, the Third Circuit offers a reminder that the strictures limiting admissibility under 404(b) are real.

Durrell Smith was charged with assaulting federal officers, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. He admitted that he had been in possession of a gun at the time of his arrest, but told police he had retrieved it moments before in self defense, fearing attack from whoever was in a car with tinted windows that had just pulled up across the street. In fact, the car was an unmarked police vehicle in which agents were conducting surveillance in an ongoing drug investigation.

At trial, the government sought to introduce evidence that two years earli…

Some Reprieve in Supervised Release: New Limit on Authority to "Stack" Prison Terms for Violation … Plus New Approval of Crack Variance

United States v. Dillon, No. 12-2653.  Held:  (1) District court plainly errs when, for supervised release violation, court imposes consecutive terms of imprisonment on each of several counts if original sentence included only “a term” of supervised release; (2) In fashioning sentence for supervised release violation on part of defendant whose sentence was based on old “100-to-1” crack guideline, and who never got full benefit of Sentencing Commission’s amendments reducing disparate treatment of crack and powder offenses, district court should take account of defendant’s prior service of excessive prison term.

In the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Congress created supervised release for the purpose of assisting defendants’ reentry following lengthy periods of imprisonment.  The courts of appeals, however, have commonly held the supervised release regime to provide for extremely harsh punishment.  This development owes in no small part to the rule that, when supervised release is revok…