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Showing posts from April, 2016

Supreme Court Holds Johnson Retroactive to Cases on Collateral Review

Justice Kennedy authored the 7-1 opinion for the Court in Welch v. United States, holding that Johnson applies retroactively to cases on collateral review:
Under this [Teague] framework, the rule announced in Johnson is substantive.  By striking down the residual clause as void for vagueness, Johnson changed the substantive reach of the Armed Career Criminal Act, altering “the range of conduct or the class of persons that the [Act] punishes.” Schriro, supra, at 353.  Before Johnson, the Act applied to any person who possessed a firearm after three violent felony convictions, even if one or more of those convictions fell under only the residual clause.  An offender in that situation faced 15 years to life in prison.  After Johnson, the same person engaging in the same conduct is no longer subject to the Act and faces at most 10 years in prison.  The residual clause is invalid under Johnson, so it can no longer mandate or authorize any sentence.  Johnson establishes, in other words, tha…

Supreme Court Holds Guidelines Error Alone Should Suffice to Show Prejudice

The Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit in Molina-Martinez v. United States, No. 14-8913, maintaining the approach taken by the Third Circuit in reviewing Guidelines error.  In an opinion by Kennedy (joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan), the Court held:  "courts reviewing sentencing errors cannot apply a categorical rule requiring additional evidence in cases, like this one, where the district court applied an incorrect range but nevertheless sentenced the defendant within the correct range.... [A] defendant can rely on the application of an incorrect Guidelines range to show an effect on his substantial rights."  The Court reasoned:  "From the centrality of the Guidelines in the sentencing process it must follow that, when a defendant shows that the district court used an incorrect range, he should not be barred from relief on appeal simply because there is no other evidence that the sentencing outcome would have been different had…

Police Officer Acted as Mere "Listening Post" in Hospital

Dellavecchia v. Secretary, PA DOC, No. 15-1833, decides a 6th Amendment right to counsel issue, which may come up in non-habeas contexts.  Judge Greenberg writes for a unanimous panel (joined by Jordan and Scirica). From the opinion:
On this appeal from an order denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus we consider the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in an unusual set of circumstances. In September 2012, a state-court jury convicted appellant, James Dellavecchia, of first-degree murder, criminal attempt (homicide), three counts of recklessly endangering another person, and weapons-related offenses. At the trial, Lieutenant Scott Willoughby of the Ridley Township, Pennsylvania, Police Department, the lead officer investigating the crimes, gave testimony that is at the center of this opinion. In particular, Willoughby testified that Dellavecchia made an incriminating statement immediately following a bedside arraignment conducted while he was hospitalized for a self-inflicted hea…

Plain Error Doyle Reversal

In US v. Victor Lopez, No. 14-4610, the Third Circuit vacates Lopez’s conviction due to a Doyle violation: the prosecution’s repeated references at trial to the defendant’s post-Miranda silence. Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976) prohibits the prosecution from impeaching a defendant with post-Miranda silence. The opinion is the latest in a string of Doyle violations found by the Third Circuit (United States v. Shannon, 766 F.3d 346 (3d Cir. 2014); Gov’t of Virgin Islands v. Davis, 561 F.3d 159 (3d Cir. 2009); Hassine v. Zimmerman, 160 F.3d 941 (3d Cir. 1998)). It is significant principally because trial counsel failed to object, therefore the appeal was on plain-error review. This is the first Third Circuit precedent for unpreserved Doyle error.
Mr. Lopez was tried in the District of New Jersey on a single felon-in-possession count under 18 U.S.C. 922(g). The trial was a credibility contest between Mr. Lopez and the two arresting officers. The officers testified that they stopped and…