Federal Defenders of New York Second Circuit Blog


Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

Mandamus Granted: Trial Judge Prohibited from Bifurcating Prior Felony Element in Felon-in-Possession Trial

United States v. Amar Amante, Docket No. 05-3067-op (2d Cir. August 9, 2005) (Op. by Walker): There is little new in this opinion, disappointing and wrong-headed though it is. It simply follows upon three bad cases in the Circuit — United States v. Gilliam, 994 F.2d 97 (2d Cir. 1993), United States v. Belk, 346 F.3d 305 (2d Cir. 2003) (yours truly for appellant), and United States v. Chevere, 368 F.3d 120 (2d Cir. 2004) — holding generally that, except in an “extraordinarily unusual case” (and not merely an “ordinarily unusual case”?), bifurcation of the prior felony element in a felon-in-possession prosecution under 18 USC § 922(g)(1) is error. Amante merely clarifies that such an error is a mandamus-able one. Thus, in the future, if a trial judge should order bifurcation, the Government will be able to seek and obtain a writ of mandamus from the …

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Make Sure You Check Out Those Old Convictions!

United States v. Jimmy Glen, Docket No. 04-2394-cr (2d Cir. August 10, 2005) (Op. by Winter): This is a great little case that serves as further reminder that counsel must always check out the details of prior convictions used to enhance a current sentence. Here, defendant pled guilty to a 21 USC § 841(b)(1)(A) charge (involving more than 50 grams of cocaine base). The Government also filed a prior felony information, alleging 2 prior drug convictions (in 1977 and 1996). The effect of these priors was a mandatory minimum life sentence on the current charge, which the district judge imposed.

The Circuit vacated the sentence on appeal, finding that the 1977 conviction was not yet “final” as required under § 841. (There were actually two 1977 convictions, but that is of no moment as neither was “final”). This was so because Glen filed timely notices of appeal from the …

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A Preserved Booker Error Will Almost Never Be Found Harmless on Appeal

United States v. Francisco Lake, Docket No. 04-3238-cr (2d Cir. August 15, 2005) (Op. by Newman): Judge Newman’s monopoly in shaping Circuit law concerning appellate review of pre-Booker sentences in the wake of Booker continues. In this opinion, the Court confirms what Fagans implicitly held and what the Circuit’s practice has been since that decision: Where a defendant, pre-Booker, objected to the use of mandatory Guidelines at sentencing, the result on appeal will almost inevitably be a remand for resentencing. Lake spells out what Fagans left unsaid: Remand for resentencing is required because the Government will almost never be able to meet its burden of showing that the Booker error was harmless.

Lake was sentenced to 540 months’ imprisonment, a sentence neither at the bottom nor top of the applicable ranges. Since his sentencing occurred after Blakely but before Booker, he raised a Sixth Amendment …

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Crawford Rule Not Applicable to Out-of-Court Statements Not Offered at Trial for Their Truth

United States v. Andre O. Logan, Docket No. 03-1290 (2d Cir. August 15, 2005) (Op. by Cardamone): This opinion discusses some mildly interesting Confrontation Clause issues related to Crawford v. Washington, and also upholds the federal arson statute, 18 USC § 844, against a Commerce Clause challenge. It holds that (1) an out-of-court statement offered not for its truth need not satisfy the requirements of Crawford, which concerns only true hearsay (i.e., an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter stated); and (2) § 844 does not violate the Commerce Clause when applied to the arson of a rented residence, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Jones v. United States, 529 U.S. 848, 854 (2000) (explicitly re-affirming Russell v. United States, 471 U.s. 858, 859-60 & n.4 (1985) (holding that congressional power extends to regulation of rented residence)).

The essential …

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Monday, August 15th, 2005

No IAC Claim Available When Counsel Acts Pursuant to Defendant’s Foolish Wishes

United States v. Dennis Wellington, Docket No. 04-3198-cr (2d Cir. August 3, 2005) (Op. by Cabranes): The addage that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client applies equally to a defendant who, though represented by counsel, insists that counsel abide by his every whim regarding trial strategy, regardless of how illogical or foolish. In this case, the defendant was charged with illegal reentry and, after several failed pretrial motions to dismiss the indictment, insisted on proceeding to a bench trial on stipulated facts. Counsel told the court that defendant wished to do so because of a desire to preserve certain issues for appeal without foreclosing the possibility of an acceptance-of-responsibility reduction at sentencing. Defendant executed a written waiver of his right to a jury trial, and then stipulated in writing to every element of the charged offense.

The court of course found the defendant guilty. …

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Some Restitution Issues for the Well-to-Do Defendant

United States v. Bernard Jaffe. Jr., Docket No. 04-1278-cr (2d Cir. August 2, 2005) (Winter, Katzmann, Raggi) (Op. by Winter): This case addresses a host of related issues concerning restitution. Jaffe pled guilty to making false statements in connection with securing a $20 million loan from a bank, and the district court ordered restitution in the full amount of the victim’s loss, as required by the MVRA, 18 USC § 3663A et seq. Additionally, the district court imposed a schedule of restitution payments that, among other things, required a $1.5 million payment by September 2005 and subsequent payments of at least $150,000 each January. Jaffe objected to the schedule on numerous grounds, claiming inter alia that (1) the district court ignored his non-legal obligation to support a 43-year-old adult daughter; and (2) the schedule violated ERISA and Florida’s homestead exemption law because the only way that he could meet …

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Defendant in “Deadbeat Parents” Prosecution Cannot Collaterally Challenge Legitimacy of Underlying Child-Support Order, even on Jurisdictional Grounds

United States v. Clifford Kerley, Docket No. 04-4537-cr (2d Cir. 2005) (McLaughlin, Straub, Hall) (Op. by McLaughlin): This is a prosecution under the federal Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, 18 U.S.C. § 228, and based on defendant’s failure to comply with a child-support order issued by a New York state court. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment, agreeing with Kerley that a state hearing officer did not have “subject matter jurisdiction” to enter the underlying order of support because he failed to, as apparently required by New York law, first enter a temporary order of support.

The Circuit reversed, on 2 grounds. First and foremost, the Court ruled that “defendants charged with violating the DPPA cannot collaterally challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the state court that entered the underlying support order.” Op. at 3. This ruling creates somewhat of a Circuit split, as the …

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Government Did Not Breach Plea Agreement Where Overall Circumstances Indicate that It Did Not Take Position Contrary to that Taken in Agreement

United States v. Allan F. Peters et al., Docket No. 03-1435-cr (2d Cir. July 26, 2005) (Walker, Leval, Katzmann) (Op. by Leval): This case primarily holds that so long as the Government’s conduct, when looked at in light of all the circumstances, does not reasonably appear to constitute an effort to influence the sentencing court in a manner inconsistent with the plea agreement, there will be no finding of a breach. It also contains some encouraging dicta concerning the applicability of the sophisticated means enhancement where the defendant himself did not know about the use of such means by other participants in the scheme.

Here, the Circuit found no breach despite the fact that (1) the Government initially told the court erroneously that it agreed with everything in the PSR — even though the PSR included 2 enhancements not included in the plea agreement; and (2) the Government’s subsequent …

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Saturday, July 23rd, 2005

Thank Goodness for Booker

United States v. Tammy Brady, Docket No. 04-0729-cr (2d Cir. July 22, 2005) (Cardamone, Cabranes, Sotomayor) (Op. by Cardamone): This case is a good illustration of how the pre-Booker mandatory Guidelines regime often produced irrational and unnecessarily harsh results that fail to comport with our basic sense of justice. At a pre-Booker sentencing, Judge Gleeson — no softie — granted a relatively small downward departure from a range of 12 to 18 months and imposed a sentence of 5 years’ probation with 3 months’ home detention. The departure was made under U.S.S.G. § 5H1.3 — as recommended by the EDNY Probation Office (also no bargain, as defense lawyers are well aware) — to account for (1) the horrific abuse that Ms. Brady suffered throughout her childhood and adolescence, which (2) created a mental disease or condition that (3) in turn contributed to her commission of the instant …

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Thursday, July 21st, 2005

Obstructive Conduct during State Investigation Triggers Obstruction Enhancement upon Federal Conviction for Different but Related Offense

United States v. Marshall Ayers, Docket No. 04-0103 (2d Cir. July 21, 2005) (Sack, Raggi, Hall) (per curiam): Some of us cynically speak of the “Rule of Severity” occasionally applied in criminal cases, especially when ugly facts are involved. The Rule is simple: Where a statute or rule can reasonably be interpreted in one of two ways, the Court will adopt the interpretation that results in greater punishment for the well-deserving defendant. Unlike its much better known cousin, the Rule of Lenity, the Rule of Severity does not of course officially exist. Yet its force is well-known to those who practice in this field.

The issue in this case is whether the defendant’s effort to obstruct the state‘s investigation of his crime, which preceded the federal investigation and prosecution of a different but related crime, triggers the obstruction enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 for purposes of the federal …

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