Federal Defenders of New York Second Circuit Blog


Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Second Circuit Vacates Above-Guidelines Illegal Reentry Sentence As Procedurally and Substantively Unreasonable

Today the Second Circuit issued an opinion vacating a 60-month illegal reentry sentence as both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. The opinion in United States v. Latchman Singh, No. 16-1111 (Kearse, Hall, Chin) (appeal from Forrest, J., SDNY), is available here. Judge Chin’s opinion touches on a number of recurring sentencing issues, and includes an important analysis of the distinction between presenting mitigating evidence and avoiding responsibility for one’s crimes.

Mr. Singh pleaded guilty to one count of illegal reentry after being removed following an aggravated felony conviction, see 8 U.S.C. § 1326(b). His record includes a number of convictions for non-violent offenses, several of which occurred more than a decade ago. The 15-21 Guidelines range for Mr. Singh’s sentence reflected a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. Prior to sentencing, he wrote a letter to the district court expressing remorse his actions and explaining the pressures that …


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Categories: acceptance of responsibility, illegal reentry, procedural reasonableness, sentencing, sentencing findings, substantive reasonableness

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Recent Cert. Grants

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in three criminal cases, the availability of sentencing reductions pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) when a Guidelines sentencing range is retroactively lowered:

Hughes v. United States, No. 17-155
Question Presented: Whether, as a four-justice plurality in Freeman v. United States concluded, a defendant who enters into a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement is generally eligible for a sentence reduction if there is a later, retroactive amendment to the relevant Sentencing Guidelines range.

Cert. papers and opinion below available here:

Hughes v. United States

Koons v. United States, No. 17-1756
Question Presented: Whether a defendant who is subject to a statutory mandatory minimum sentence, but who substantially assisted the government and received a sentence below the mandatory minimum pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), is eligible for a further sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), when the Sentencing …


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Categories: 3582(c)(2), interlocutory

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Friday, December 8th, 2017

Judge Weinstein on Incapicitory Sentencing

Today Eastern District Judge Weinstein issued a carefully researched opinion explaining the relatively lengthy—and in one case statutorily mandated—sentences of three adolescent defendants who each pled guilty to one count of brandishing a firearm. The opinion, available here, includes a balanced and detailed critique of the current methods to punish and rehabilitate young offenders who commit violent crimes, but for whom lengthy prison sentences are not necessarily appropriate.

From Judge Weinstein’s opinion:

Defendants—all adolescents—were gang-members, typically from impoverished and broken families.

They present the court with a number of troubling sentencing issues: (1) the need to prevent future acts of violence by gang members who, because of their home environment, and past affiliations, may be unable to escape the strictures of gang control; (2) the requirement that a sentencing court consider a defendant’s age, potential for rehabilitation, and culpability when crafting a sentence; (3) the limited ability of the


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Categories: mandatory minimum, sentencing, sentencing findings, youthful offender adjudication

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Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

“Unrelated inquiries that prolong or add time to a traffic stop violate the Fourth Amendment absent reasonable suspicion of a separate crime.”

The title is the holding of today’s Second Circuit opinion in United States v. Gomez (Parker, Wesley, Droney) (on appeal from D. Conn.). Specifically, the Circuit held that (1) the Fourth Amendment was violated when officers prolonged a minutes-long traffic stop to investigate matters unrelated to the pretextual basis for the stop, but that (2) suppression was not warranted because the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied. The opinion is available here.

A DEA task force had been investigating Mr. Gomez in connection with a heroin trafficking operation. One of the task force members, a Hartford police officer, testified that he observed the defendant commit three traffic violations. The officer used these violations as grounds to conduct a traffic stop. “From the moment” the officer first approached the car, “his questioning detoured from the mission of the stop (Gomez’s traffic violations) to the DEA’s heroin-trafficking investigation.” Slip …


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Categories: forfeiture, Fourth Amendment, good faith, traffic stop, waiver

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Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Second Circuit Opinion on Post-Arrest DNA Testing and the Confrontation Clause

Kenneth Washington was convicted based on DNA records created after his arrest. He did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the analysts who tested the DNA. Yesterday the Second Circuit rejected Washington’s habeas petition, which argued that the admission of these records violated clearly established law governing the Confrontation Clause. The holding of Washington v. Griffin (Katzmann, Kearse, Livingston) (affirming Block, J., EDNY), available here, is narrow. The opinion, however, includes inaccurate dicta concerning the test for whether hearsay evidence is testimonial and thus within the purview of the Confrontation Clause.

Washington was charged with multiple felony counts in connection with three separate home invasions. At each crime scene, investigators collected DNA matching that of Washington’s profile in the New York State DNA Index. He was arrested, and a detective collected a DNA sample from him using a buccal swab. At trial, an analyst from the New York City …


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Categories: Confrontation Clause, DNA

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Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Recent Criminal Forfeiture GVRs

The Supreme Court has recently reversed two drug forfeiture decisions in light of its decision in Honeycutt v. United States. Sentencing Resource Counsel Ada (“Sissy”) Phleger has the details:

“In the last two weeks the Supreme Court has granted, vacated, and remanded (GVR’ed) two cases in light of last summer’s Honeycutt v. United States, 581 U.S. ___ (2017), dealing with joint-and-several liability for forfeiture in drug conspiracies. Chittenden v. United States (No. 17-5100) and Brown v. United States (No. 16-9747).

“The Court in Honeycutt considered the language of 21 U.S.C. § 853(a)(1), mandating forfeiture of “any property constituting, or derived from, any proceeds the person obtained, directly or indirectly, as the result of” certain drug crimes. At the Government’s urging, the Sixth Circuit had interpreted this language to hold the defendant jointly-and-severally liable for all proceeds of the conspiracy, even though the Government conceded that the defendant himself …

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Categories: fofeiture

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Categories: fofeiture

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Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Second Circuit Enforces Rule 11

Yesterday the Second Circuit vacated a conviction because a Northern District court violated the requirements of Rule 11 concerning the acceptance of a guilty plea. The summary order in United States v. Coffin (Walker, Raggi, Hall) is available here.

Mr. Coffin agreed to plead guilty to one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) . “Rule 11 requires that the district court, before accepting a plea of guilty, ‘determine that the defendant understands . . . the nature of each charge to which the defendant is pleading.'” Slip op. at 3-4 (quoting Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(1)(G)). The district court, however, did not adduce any facts that would establish such an understanding. Instead, it simply said that the plea agreement contained facts that would support his guilty plea, and asked Mr. Coffin whether those facts were true.…

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Categories: 924(c), Rule 11

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Categories: 924(c), Rule 11

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Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

EDNY Holds That ICE Can’t Detain a Defendant for Criminal Prosecution

Chief Judge Irizarry recently issued the first EDNY decision holding that once a defendant has been granted pretrial release under the Bail Reform Act, the defendant may not be detained by ICE while his prosecution is pending. In United States v. Rosario Ventura, 17-cr-418, Judge Irizarry held that “the Government must either release Defendant under the bond conditions set in this case and continue the instant prosecution, or dismiss the indictment without prejudice, forego its illegal reentry prosecution, and proceed with Defendant’s removal.” The decision is available here. (As we’ve reported, Southern District Judge Caproni recently issued a similar decision.)

Mr. Rosario Ventura met the bail conditions set by a magistrate judge pursuant to the Bail Reform Act. Immediately after his release from criminal custody, however, ICE detained Mr. Rosario Ventura and held him in immigration custody. He then filed a motion to compel ICE to release …

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Categories: bail, ICE detention

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Categories: bail, ICE detention

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Monday, November 13th, 2017

This Week’s Cert. Grants

The Supreme Court has recently granted certiorari in three First Amendment cases relevant to criminal practice:

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, No. 17-21
Question presented: Does the existence of probable cause defeat a First Amendment retaliatory-arrest claim as a matter of law?

Cert. papers and opinion below available here:

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, No. 16-1435
Question Presented: Is Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11, which broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment?

Cert. papers and opinion below available here:

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, No. 16-1140
Question Presented: Whether the Free Speech Clause or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits California from compelling licensed pro-life centers to post information on how to obtain a state-funded abortion and from compelling …


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Categories: First Amendment, Fourth Amendment

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Friday, November 10th, 2017

Second Circuit Preserves Ban On Compelled Cross-Border Testimony

Yesterday the Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc of a case that places an important constraint on cross-border prosecutions. United States v. Allen, No. 16-898 (Cabranes, Pooler, Lynch), available here. As we previously wrote, the 81-page opinion in Allen holds that the Fifth Amendment prohibits the use of testimony in a U.S. criminal prosecution that was compelled by a foreign sovereign. This post elaborates on the substance and implications of this decision.

Allen involved a cooperative investigation by U.S. law enforcement and the U.K’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) into the LIBOR scandal. The FCA required the Allen defendants to be interviewed under oath. Had they refused, they would have risked imprisonment. (The FCA granted the defendants “direct use” immunity, but not “derivative use” immunity as is required if a witness is compelled to testify in the United States). The FCA subsequently brought an enforcement action …


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Categories: cross-border prosecution, Fifth Amendment

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Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Inability to Pay Criminal Forfeiture

Today the Second Circuit vacated a criminal forfeiture order so that the district court could evaluate the defendant’s ability to pay in setting the amount. The summary order in United States v. Muzaffar, 16-579 (appeal from EDNY, Cogan, J.) is available here.

The Supreme Court, in United States v. Bajakaijan, 524 U.S. 321 (1998), identified four factors that a court must  consider to determine whether a punitive forfeiture is unconstitionally excessive: “(1) the essence of the crime and its relation to other criminal activity; (2) whether the defendant fits into the class of persons for whom the statute was principally designed; (3) the maximum sentence and fine that could have been imposed; and (4) the nature of the harm caused by the defendant’s conduct.” United States v. Viloski, 814 F.3d 104, 108 (2d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). In Viloski, the Second Circuit held …


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Categories: forfeiture, Uncategorized

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