Monday, May 20, 2019

Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Right not Triggered by Inmate’s Placement in Administrative Segregation for Investigation of New Crime

In United States v. James Bailey-Snyder, No. 18-1601 (3d Cir., May 3, 2019), Defendant, an inmate at FCI Schuylkill, was under investigation for weapon possession at the prison. During a search, prison guards discovered a seven-inch shank on Defendant’s person. While the FBI investigated the matter, prison officials placed Defendant in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”).  Defendant was indicted ten months later for one count of possession of a prohibited object in prison. After several requests for filing extensions, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment based on violation of his constitutional and statutory speedy trial rights. Specifically, Defendant argued that the ten-month period between his placement in the SHU and the filing of the indictment was an unreasonable pre-indictment delay. The district court denied Defendant’s motion, ruling that placement in the SHU is not an arrest or accusation that would trigger the Speedy Trial clock. The Third Circuit agreed. In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit ruled that an individual’s speedy trial rights under both the Sixth Amendment and 18 U.S.C. § 3161 do not attach to the period prior to arrest. The court determined that placement in the SHU was not an arrest, but was instead an administrative segregation administered under the policies and procedures of the BOP. As a result, Defendant’s proper recourse was submit an administrative challenge to the BOP.

Defendant also accused the government’s attorney of improper vouching. During closing arguments, the prosecutor attempted to rebut defense counsel’s challenge to the credibility of the two prison guards who had searched Defendant. Specifically, the prosecutor stated that it was conjecture for defense counsel to claim that the prison guards would risk their livelihoods to frame Defendant. Defense counsel objected to the statement, arguing that the prosecutor was attempting to argue facts that were not in evidence. The trial court overruled defense counsel’s objection. Citing United States v. Weatherly, 525 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2008), the Third Circuit ruled that the prosecutor’s statement was not improper vouching, but was merely a commonsense conclusion which did not require explicit supporting evidence on the record. The Third Circuit also noted that even if the prosecutor’s statement was deemed improper vouching, it was nonetheless excusable because it was a reasonable response to defense counsel’s allegation of perjury.

The Third Circuit ultimately ruled that there was no cumulative error and affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence.

Hobbs Act Robbery is Crime of Violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), but Not Crime of Violence under the Career-Offender Guideline U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2

In United States v. Raul Rodriguez, Nos. 18-1606 and 18-1664 (3d Cir., May 1, 2019), Defendant pled guilty one count each of Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951(a) and 924(c). The district court ruled that the robbery was a crime of violence under § 924(c), but it was not a crime of violence under the career-offender guideline, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Citing United States v. Robinson, 844 F.3d 137 (3d Cir. 2016), the court reiterated that, when a firearm is brandished during a Hobbs Act robbery, the robbery constitutes a crime of violence under the elements clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A). However, the court ruled that Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence under the career-offender guideline. The Third Circuit initially concluded that Hobbs Act robbery did not qualify as a crime of violence under the elements clause of § 4B1.2(a)(1) because the statutory definition of the offense did not contain the requisite elements. The Third Circuit further determined that Hobbs Act robbery did not qualify as a crime of violence under the enumerated-offense clause of § 4B1.2(a)(2) because its statutory definition was broader than the two most closely-related enumerated offenses, namely robbery and extortion. Specifically, the court determined that the statutory definition of Hobbs Act robbery was broader than generic robbery and extortion as narrowly defined in the guidelines because the latter prohibit crimes involving force against persons, while Hobbs Act robbery prohibited crimes involving force against persons or property.

Note that this decision is unpublished, but its reasoning is persuasive and the briefing in the case may be consulted when litigating this issue before future panels of the Court of Appeals.

Third Circuit grants habeas relief because defense counsel was ineffective in failing to object to judge threatening perjury witness changed his testimony

  In Rogers v. Superintendent Greene SCI , --- F.4th ----, 2023 WL 5763346 (3d Cir. Sept. 7, 2023), available here , the Third Circuit rever...