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Showing posts from March, 2017

Third Circuit reverses obstruction of justice enhancement where failure to appear for trial was not "willful"

United States v. Kenneth R. Douglas, Docket No. 15-1754 (3d Cir. Feb. 22, 2017)

Defendant Kenneth Douglas was an airport employee who used his position and security clearance to help traffic more than 450 kilograms of cocaine from California to Pittsburgh over the course of 10 months. On the day his trial was set to begin, he failed to appear in court. The next day, he filed a motion for a continuance, claiming he was receiving medical attention for a suspected heart attack at the time his trial was set to begin. He submitted medical records and a doctor's note with his motion. Despite the medical records, the district court found no "solid evidence" that Douglas was suffering from a medical condition that warranted missing court. It's really, the court said, "sort of ambiguous." The district court revoked Douglas' bail and later released him on house arrest with electronic monitoring. Douglas was convicted after trial.

At sentencing, the district court…

Third Circuit adopts "listening post" theory for wiretap intercepts under Title III

United States v. Dominique JacksonDocket No. 14-3712 (3d Cir. Feb. 24, 2017)

Defendant Dominique Jackson was convicted after trial for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. His primary contention on appeal was that the district court erroneously denied his pretrial motions to suppress evidence derived from intercepted cellphone calls. Specifically, he argued that two federal orders authorizing the wiretaps of cellphones under Title III should have been suppressed because the orders were based on illegal state wiretaps. He contended the state wiretaps were illegal because the state court lacked authority to authorize wiretaps over cellphones outside of Pennsylvania.

The Third Circuit joined other courts of appeals in adopting the "listening post" theory that under Title III either the interception of or the communications themselves must have been within the issuing judge's territorial jurisdiction. It found that both Title III and the Pennsylvania wiretap statute, which wa…

Sentencing enhancements do not define a crime for purposes of the categorical approach

Chavez-Alvarez v. Attorney General, http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/161663p.pdf
The Third Circuit reversed the BIA’s removal of a lawful permanent resident – finding his military conviction for sodomy was not a crime involving moral turpitude. The BIA had reasoned that the application of a sentencing enhancement in his case was the “functional equivalent” of a conviction for the enhanced offense of forcible sodomy. Applying the categorical approach, the Third Circuit ruled that sodomy did not require proof of force and, given Lawrence v. Texas, was not a crime involving moral turpitude. The President’s delegated authority to define (and enhance) punishments did not function to define the crime itself.

Court finds no plain error in the use of dual juries

In United States v. Brown, Docket No. 14-3754 (3d Cir. Feb. 22, 2017), the defendant raised Fifth and Sixth Amendment challenges to the use of dual juries (one for him and one for a co-defendant) at his trial. Although Brown's counsel raised no objection to the joint trial before dual juries, the Third Circuit reviewed the defendant's claim for plain error because there was no indication that the defendant "was actually aware of his due process and jury rights and that he himself - not just his counsel - knowingly sanctioned a procedure that arguably impinges on those rights."

Noting that the use of dual juries has very little precedent in the Third Circuit, the Court adopted the holdings of several other circuits in ruling that the use of dual juries is not per se unconstitutional. Instead, the practice will be upheld unless the defendant can show some specific, undue prejudice. While the Court stated that it was not encouraging the practice of using dual juries, du…