Federal Defenders of New York Second Circuit Blog


Friday, July 14th, 2017

Second Circuit Vacates Silver Conviction, Denies Second or Successive Habeas Petition

The Second Circuit vacated former New York Speaker of the House Sheldon Silver’s convictions for honest services fraud, Hobbs Act extortion, and money laundering based on an erroneous jury instruction.  You can access the opinion here.  At trial, the District Court instructed the jury that an “official act” within the meaning of the charges was “any action taken or to be taken under color of official authority.”  After Silver’s conviction, the Supreme Court decided McDonnell v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2355 (2016).  In McDonnell, the Supreme Court defined “official act” within the meaning of honest services fraud and extortion charges as “a decision or action on a ‘question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” involving “a formal exercise of governmental power.”  In light of the McDonnell decision, the Second Circuit vacated Silver’s conviction, finding that the error in instructing the jury was not harmless, even though the …


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Categories: honest services fraud

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Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Circuit overturns decision to withhold acceptance of responsibility despite guilty plea

In an opinion issued today, the Circuit vacated and remanded a decision by SDNY Judge Katherine B. Forrest to deny the defendant a reduction in offense level based on acceptance of responsibility despite his guilty plea.  You can access the decision in United States v. Delacruz, No. 15-4174, here.

The Circuit held that “[I]n light of a defendant’s due process right to contest alleged factual errors in his PSR, his good-faith objections to material PSR statements that he disputes does not provide a proper foundation for denial of the acceptance-of-responsibility credit.”  Op. at 22.  If the defendant objects to, and denies, facts that are neither part of the count(s) of conviction nor “relevant conduct” within the meaning of U.S.S.G. Section 1B1.3, the District Court may not deny an acceptance-of-responsibility reduction based on the defendant’s objections or denials.  Op. at 28. It may, however, consider in its analysis pursuant …


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Categories: acceptance of responsibility

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Useful Link Regarding Collateral Consequences of Convictions and the Restoration of Rights

The Restoration of Rights project has a useful website that can help you determine the collateral consequences of conviction your client may face.  The project offers executive and judicial mechanisms for avoiding or mitigating those consequences and advice regarding non-discrimination in employment following a conviction.  The project tracks this information for each state and for federal rights and benefits.  The information can be found at http://restoration.ccresourcecenter.org/.…


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Categories: collateral consequences

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Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Circuit Holds that NYPL 220.31 – Criminal Sale 5th – Is Not A Controlled Substance Offense (for Immigration Purposes)

Today, the Circuit held in Harbin v. Sessions, No. 14-1433-ag, that the New York offense of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the 5th degree, NYPL 220.31, is not a controlled substance offense for immigration purposes.

You can access the opinion here.

The analysis is straightforward: (1) The NY statute prohibits the sale of a “controlled substance.” That element is indivisible under Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016). (2) The NY controlled substance schedule is categorically broader than the federal schedule because the former includes at least one substance (human chorionic gonadotropin, HCG) that the latter does not.

If your client has a prior conviction under 220.31, you should be arguing that 220.31 is not a controlled substance offense under the Guidelines (for example, under the felon-in-possession or career-offender guidelines), or any other enhancement provision. Although not controlling, Harbin is extremely helpful on …


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Categories: categorical approach

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Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Judge Nathan Grants Suppression in Fraud Case

Southern District Judge Alison Nathan suppressed evidence obtained as a result of “essentially limitless” warrants that were “insufficiently particularized.”  The 92-page opinion in United States v. Wey,  15-cr-611 (AJN), can be accessed here.  Agents executing the searches collected, among other things, personal documents and materials from Wey’s home and office.  The Court found that the “catch-all” gathering of all of this material had no “linkage to the suspected criminal activity, or indeed any meaningful content-based parameter or other limiting principle” and that the Agents’ actions ran afoul of “well-established constitutional principles that provide a bulwark against the execution of general warrants.”  Recognizing that it was and “extraordinary remedy,” the Court ordered suppression of all evidence gathered from both search locations.…


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Categories: Fourth Amendment, search warrant

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Monday, June 12th, 2017

Multiple Conspiracies, Reasonable Foreseeability, and Government Misconduct in Closing, Oh My… A Clean Sweep for the Defendant as Judge Oetken Grants Rule 29 and Rule 33 Motions in a Noteworthy Opinion

John Pauling contested two counts at trial in an eight-count indictment relating to various drug and gun charges. First, he challenged a 924c charge (possessing a gun in furtherance of a drug conspiracy) and was acquitted by the jury.  Second, he challenged the weight of the drugs in the drug conspiracy count that would have triggered a five-year mandatory minimum.  The jury convicted him on that count.  Judge Oetken now vacates that conviction, leaving Pauling with no mandatory minimum.  A copy of the opinion is attached here.

In an opinion worth reading for its explanation of the distinction between a single conspiracy and multiple conspiracies, Judge Oetken in referencing the common wheel analogy, found that the government failed to show there was “a ‘rim’ around the ‘spokes,’ such that the spokes became coconspiractors.” At trial, the Court gave a multiple conspiracies instruction over the government’s objection, finding the government’s …


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Categories: conspiracy, Rule 29, Rule 33

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Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

“Toxic” Hearsay Warrants New Trial

In an opinion yesterday, the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Pooler, Hall) ordered a retrial of Armani Cummings based on the admission of non-harmless hearsay.

Cummings was charged with killing two people in the course of committing drug crimes.  A government witness testified, in essence: “Someone told me Cummings threatened to kill me.”  The Court explained that this was not an admissible statement by Cummings (the party opponent) but, rather, was double hearsay from a third party “someone” and thus inadmissible.

The error of admitting the statement, the Court further held, was not harmless: “The hearsay was especially toxic because it created a grave risk that the jury would use it as evidence of Cummings’s murderous propensity” and thus convict him for being a “bad man” rather than for committing the two alleged murders.

Of particular note, the Court ordered a retrial even though (1) the jury heard evidence that Cummings …

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Categories: harmless error, hearsay

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Categories: harmless error, hearsay

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Friday, May 12th, 2017

Johnson Win in WD Va – Court Holds New York First Degree Robbery is Divisible and Does not Satisfy the Force Clause; Sessions Memo Replaces Holder Memo on Charging Decisions

In U.S. v Batista, a Western District of Virginia  judge hold that New York first degree robbery is divisible, that defendant does not have the burden to produce Shepard documents, and the offense does not satisfy the force clause.
In less uplifting news, say goodbye to the Holder Memo.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent this memo on charging and sentencing policy to AUSAs this week, instructing them to charge and pursue the most serious charges.
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Categories: charge, Johnson

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Monday, May 8th, 2017

Second Circuit Holds that Beckles does not Foreclose Johnson Claims Challenging Pre-Booker Sentences

In Nelson Vargas v. United States, No. 16-2112, the Second Circuit granted a motion for leave to file a second or successive Johnson-based 2255 petition challenging a 480- month pre-Booker career offender sentence.  The Court wrote:

“Although the Supreme Court held in Beckles v. United States that ‘[b]ecause they merely guide the district courts’ discretion, the Guidelines are not amenable to a vagueness challenge, ‘ 137 S.Ct. 886, 894 (2017), Beckles did not clearly foreclose the argument that this reasoning is inapplicable to the Petitioner’s circumstances, given that his sentence was imposed prior to United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), which rendered the previously mandatory Guidelines discretionary.”

NB:  The Federal Defenders represents Mr. Vargas.

 …

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Categories: 2255, Johnson

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Monday, April 17th, 2017

Second Circuit Vacates 225-month Sentence in Child Pornography Case as Substantively Unreasonable

Today, in United States v. Jenkins, the Second Circuit concluded that a 225-month sentence for the possession and transportation of child pornography was substantively unreasonable and vacated and remanded for resentencing, concluding that the district court’s sentence “went far overboard” and was “shockingly high”  Opinion at 11, 12.

Jenkins was convicted after trial of one count of possession of child pornography (18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(5)(B)) and one count of transportation of child pornography (18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(1)).  He was sentenced to concurrent time of 120 months on the possession count (the statutory maximum) and 225 months on the transportation count (just below the statutory maximum of 240 months), and to 25 years of supervised release.  The child pornography he possessed (and brought with him on a family vacation to Canada) was for personal use.  He did not produce or distribute child pornography and did not attempt to contact a minor.  This …


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Categories: child pornography, guideline

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“How to Become a State or Federal Defender,” NYC Bar Association Panel, Monday, April 17

The New York City Bar Association will be hosting a panel on “How to Become a State or Federal Defender” on Monday, April 17, 6pm – 8pm. Register here.

Description:
This panel will discuss the qualifications for and application process to become a public criminal State or Federal Defender in New York. Panelists will consist of State and Federal defenders from the regions encompassing the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.

Panelists:
Shannon Cumberbatch, Recruiting and Hiring Manager, Bronx Defenders
Amanda David, Assistant Federal Defender, Federal Defenders of New York, Eastern District of New York
Jennifer Brown, Attorney-in-Charge of the SDNY Trial Unit, Federal Defenders of New York, Southern District of New York
Timothy B. Rountree, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice, Queens County, The Legal Aid Society

Moderator:
Vincent Southerland, Executive Director, NYU Law School’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law…

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