Author Archive | Anthony O'Rourke

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

A Promising Speedy Trial Decision

Today the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal with prejudice of two drug-related counts on constitutional speedy trial grounds. In U.S. v. Pennick, the government appealed a Western District judge’s order dismissing these counts after a six-and-a-half year delay between when the defendant was charged and when his trial began. Reviewing for abuse of discretion, the Circuit rejected the government’s challenge. The summary order, available here, is particularly valuable to practitioners seeking to raise speedy trial claims that are messy, but nonetheless meritorious.

The Circuit held that the district court appropriately balanced the four factors established in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), to assess whether a constitutional speedy trial violation has occurred. These factors are: (1) the length of the delay before the defendant was brought to trial, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) whether the defendant asserted his speedy trial right in advance of …

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Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Letter in Support of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Reform

Yesterday the Federal Defenders Legislative Reform Committee sent a letter in support of legislation to reform federal mandatory sentencing laws. The letter, available here, urges the Senate Judiciary Committee to support two modest attempts to reduce mandatory minimums and constrain unchecked prosecutorial charging power: (1) The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917) and (2) The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2017 (S. 1933). In detail, the letter describes how mandatory minimums are used to coerce low-level offenders into forgoing their trial rights, while enabling more serious offenders to avoid the punishments that Congress.

The letter’s subject headings offer a helpful synopsis of the Legislative Reform Committee’s position:

I.  The Human and Financial Costs of the Current Mandatory Minimum Laws Are  Unjustified.

II. Real Reform Is Necessary to Prevent the Use of Mandatory Minimums for Purposes for Which They Were Not Intended.

A. Sentences Intended for Kingpins and


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Categories: mandatory minimum, sentencing

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Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Circuits Rule that Hobbs Act and 924(c) Convictions Are Not Predicates Under the ACCA and COG.

This month two circuits held, respectively, that offenses cannot serve as predicates under the Career Offender Guideline or the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) because they can involve force against property as well as against persons.

The Tenth Circuit held that robbery under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, is not a crime of violence under the Career Offender Guideline (COG), U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2. See United States v. O’Connor. The enumerated clause of the COG identifies “robbery” as a crime of violence. The Tenth Circuit held that the elements of this generic offense include the use or threatened use of force against a person, but not against property. Hobbs Act robbery, by contrast, can involve “actual or threatened force, or violence, or fear of injury, immediate or future, to . . . [a] person or property.” 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(1) (emphasis added). The COG’s definition of robbery …


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Categories: 924(c), career offender, categorical approach, crime of violence, Johnson, robbery, sentencing

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Friday, October 27th, 2017

A Bizarre Entrapment-by-Estoppel Case

Today in United States v. Georgescu—a case with truly peculiar facts—the Second Circuit upheld a somewhat unorthodox jury instruction on the entrapment-by-estoppel defense. This defense is available when “a government agent authorizes a defendant to engage in otherwise criminal conduct and the defendant, relying thereon, commits forbidden acts in the mistaken but reasonable, good faith believe that he has in fact been authorized to do so.” United States v. Gil, 297 F.3d 93, 107 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). In Georgescu, the Circuit decided by summary order that the district court did not err by additionally instructing that “the defendant must prove that affirmative conduct or statements of a government official caused him in good faith to believe that he was authorized to engage in the charged conduct.” Opening Brief at 15. This instruction, though understandable in the context of Georgescu, may …


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Categories: entrapment by estoppel, jury instructions

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Monday, October 16th, 2017

Today’s Cert. Grants

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two criminal cases:

Dahda v. United States, No. 17-43
Question Presented: Whether Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. 2510-2520, requires suppression of evidence obtained pursuant to a wiretap order that is facially insufficient because the order exceeds the judge’s territorial jurisdiction.

Cert. papers and opinion below available here:

Dahda v. United States

Currier v. Virginia, No. 16-1348
Question Presented: Whether a defendant who consents to severance of multiple charges into sequential trials loses his right under the Double Jeopardy Clause to the issue preclusive effect of an acquittal.

Cert. papers and opinion below available here:

Currier v. Virginia

Based on the cert. petitions — but not verified by independent research — it appears that the Second Circuit has not weighed in on the question presented in either case.…


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Categories: double jeopardy, wiretaps

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Friday, October 13th, 2017

What Does a Guilty Plea (Inherently) Waive?

It’s been a slow criminal law week in the Second Circuit. Last week, however, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Class v. United States on the question of “[w]hether a guilty plea inherently waives a defendant’s right to challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction.” The stakes of this decision may be low in the plea bargaining context, where the government can insist on a waiver of the right to challenge the constitutionality of the charged offense. When the defendant takes an open plea, however, the inherent waiver question matters.

Interestingly, the petitioner’s certiorari petition highlights an apparent conflict in the Second Circuit’s case law on this question.

From the petitioner’s brief:

“In United States v. Curcio, 712 F.2d 1532 (2d Cir. 1983), Judge Friendly’s opinion for the court correctly summarized the Blackledge/Menna rule: “[A] defendant who has been convicted ona plea of guilty may challenge his …

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Friday, October 6th, 2017

Judge Engelmayer Issues a Significant 404(b) Opinion

Yesterday, Southern District Judge Paul Engelmayer issued a carefully reasoned and highly instructive opinion holding that a defendant’s prior drug offenses were inadmissible under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) to prove his intent to distribute crack cocaine. The short opinion, available here, is a must-read.

The defendant in United States v. Robinson, 17-cr-249, is charged with one count of possessing crack cocaine with intent to distribute. He concedes that he possessed an 18-gram rock of crack cocaine, but argues that the possession was for personal use. To rebut this argument, the government sought to introduce the defendant’s four prior, crack-related convictions. Judge Engelmayer determined, however, that these convictions were not sufficiently similar to the charged conduct to be admissible.

Rule 404(b)(1) provides that “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the …


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Categories: drug distribution, intent, rule 404(b)

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Recent Cert. Grants

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on a number of criminal cases in orders from its September 25 conference. The details are below, courtesy of Sentencing Resource Counsel:

City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt, No. 16-1495
Question Presented: Whether the Fifth Amendment is violated when statements are used at a probable cause hearing but not at a criminal trial.

Cert papers and opinion below available here:
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/city-hays-kansas-v-vogt/

Collins v. Virginia, No. 16-1027
Question Presented: Whether the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception permits a police officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter private property, approach a house and search a vehicle parked a few feet from the house.

Cert papers and opinion below available here:
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/collins-v-virginia/

Byrd v. United States, No. 16-1371
Question Presented: Does a driver have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car when he has the renter’s permission to drive the car but is …


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Categories: certiorari, due process, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, plain error, probable cause

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Friday, September 29th, 2017

Abu Ghayth and the Material Support Statute

In a summary order, the Second Circuit upheld the convictions of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth (a son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden) for offenses including conspiracy to murder Americans and providing material support for terrorist activities.  The outcome is unsurprising, but the decision nevertheless offers some hope for differently situated defendants charged under the material support statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2339A.

The order, available here, serves as a troubling reminder of the potential breadth of the material support statute. Abu Ghayth’s material support conviction was based on his speeches in the wake of September 11 urging Muslims to fight for Al Qaeda and threatening attacks on “new American targets.” Slip op. at 8. The Circuit rejected a sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge to this conviction, and observed that “speech alone” can serve to establish a material support violation. Id. at 7 (quoting United States v. Rahman, 189 F.3d 88, 116-17 (2d Cir. 1999)). …


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Categories: aiding and abetting, conspiracy, jury charge, jury instructions, material support statute, plain error, prejudice, sufficiency, summary order, terrorism

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Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Second Circuit Reverses Skelos Convictions

In a relatively lengthy summary order, the Second Circuit reversed Dean and Adam Skelos’s convictions in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016). The order is available here.

Dean Skelos and his son were convicted under the Hobbs Act and the honest services and federal bribery statutes. Each of their charged offenses included the performance of an “official act” as an element. The district court’s jury instructions provided that an “official act” does “not need to be specifically described in any law, rule, or job description, but may also include acts customarily performed by a public official with a particular position.” Sum. Order at 3. Consistent with this definition, a government witness testified that the “official duties” of a state senator included “assist[ing] individuals or companies in getting meetings with state agencies.” Id. at 11. Subsequent to trial, the …


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Categories: bribery, harmless error, Hobbs Act, honest services fraud

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Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Anthony Weiner’s Sentencing Memo

The Second Circuit’s most recent criminal opinions involve rather boutique issues. The Circuit has addressed, for example, whether a bail bond forfeiture must be vacated if a defendant dies while his appeal his pending (no), and whether the Circuit has jurisdiction to review a conviction when the defendant writes in the administrative section of the appeal form that he only seeking review of his sentence (yes).

Meanwhile, in the Southern District, Anthony Weiner’s attorneys have filed an interesting and detailed sentencing memorandum. The memo is instructive to attorneys representing defendants in child pornography cases. Of particular interest is the memo’s exhaustively researched argument section. Part I argues that the Guidelines provide an unreliable benchmark for determining the appropriate sentence in child pornography cases. Part II.A identifies aggravating factors that are often present in child pornography cases but which are absent from this case. The case discussion in …


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Categories: child pornography, forfeiture, sentencing, sentencing findings, sex offenses

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