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Showing posts from April, 2014

Public Official’s “Influence” over Governmental Decision Sufficient to Establish Hobbs Act Extortion

United States v. Bencivengo, No. 13-1836. Defendant John Bencivengo was the mayor of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, when he hit up his close friend, Marliese Ljuba, for some help with money. In exchange, Bencivengo offered to convince a member of the local school board not to put up for bid Ljuba’s highly lucrative commissions as the school board’s insurance broker. In addition, Bencivengo agreed to approve a candidate proposed by Ljuba for a vacant seat on the board. At Bencivengo’s subsequent trial, Ljuba testified she believed Bencivengo could influence the school board member because “the Mayor is the head of the Republican party in Hamilton Township,” and that his endorsement of her proposed candidate was a practical necessity “if you want a position on the school district.” As a formal matter, Mayor Bencivengo had no official authority over actions of the school board, no actual power to replace a board member, and no other means of ensuring that Ljuba retained her brokerage con…

Conviction Vacated Because Venue Did Not Lie in New Jersey in Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Prosecution

In United States v. Auernheimer, No. 13-1816, the defendant was accused of hacking into AT&T's system and obtaining the email addresses of 114,000 iPad owners.  Neither he, his co-conspirator, nor the servers he hacked were in New Jersey, but some of the iPad owners lived there, and the government prosecuted him in the District of New Jersey.  The district court denied his request for a jury instruction on venue, reasoning that venue properly lied in New Jersey as a matter of law.

The Third Circuit reversed, noting that proper venue is twice guaranteed to a criminal defendant in the Constitution, at Article III, Section 2, Clause 3 and in the Sixth Amendment.  It is also codified in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 18.  The panel reasoned that neither of the "essential conduct elements" of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA") offense - accessing a computer without authorization, and obtaining information - occurred in New Jersey.  Further, because th…

Congress' Delegation of Authority to Determine SORNA's Applicability to Pre-Act Sex Offenders Did Not Violate the Nondelegation Doctrine

In United States v. Cooper, No. 13-2324, the Third Circuit considered whether Congress' decision to delegate authority to determine the applicability of federal registration requirements to sex offenders convicted before the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act's ("SORNA") enactment was constitutional.  SORNA makes it a federal crime for any person who is required to register, and who travels in interstate or foreign commerce, to knowingly fail to register or to update his or her registration. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). The statute defines sex offenders to include persons convicted of sex offenses prior to SORNA’s enactment. 42 U.S.C. § 16911(1). However, Congress delegated to the Attorney General the authority to determine whether SORNA’s registration requirements would apply to pre-SORNA sex offenders. The Attorney General has since determined that SORNA’s registration requirements do in fact apply to offenders convicted of sex offenses prior to SORNA’s en…

Second or Successive 2255 Petition Not Authorized to Seek Relief Under Alleyne v. United States

Two brothers in United States v. Winkleman, Nos. 03-4500, 03-4753, filed motions in the Third Circuit requesting that it recall its mandate and reinstate their direct appeals so they could try to seek relief under Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151, 2155 (2013). Alleyne held that "any fact that increases the mandatory minimum [sentence] is an ‘element’ that must be submitted to the jury" and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court construed the motions as successive collateral attacks on the Winklemans’ convictions and sentences under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

A second or successive § 2255 petition is only authorized if it is based on newly discovered evidence or a new rule of constitutional law, "made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable." Even if Alleyne announced a new rule of law, the Supreme Court has not made it retroactive to cases on collateral review. It is not a new substantive rule that p…