Federal Defenders of New York Second Circuit Blog


Thursday, September 12th, 2019

EDNY: Officers’ good intentions can’t save unconstitutional general warrant

When agents came to search his business, Mr. Drago asked, why and what crime was being investigated? The agents said, look at the warrant. But…the warrant didn’t say what crime they were investigating. Instead, it completely failed to state any crimes at all. Even the government admitted the warrant was invalid. But, it argued that they didn’t mean to draft an unconstitutional warrant and that they were protected by their good faith intentions.

In a lengthy report and recommendation issued this week, an EDNY magistrate judge rejected that argument. The judge wrote: the “lack of intent to create a bad warrant (or to cover-up that error) does not automatically translate into a finding of objective good faith belief that the conduct was lawful.”  Instead, the conduct of the search was “sufficiently reckless such that no objective officer could have believed that they were acting in good faith.”

A rare defense …

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Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

SCOTUS watch: Is a car stop legal even when the police officer doesn’t see a traffic infraction?

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court might decide that the answer is yes. The Supreme Court has granted cert in a case out of Kansas, in which a police officer ran the license plate of a passing car (for reasons unexplained in the Kansas decision given that there was no traffic infraction) and saw that the registered owner had a suspended driver’s license. Based only on that – and with no information about whether the owner was actually driving – the police pulled over the car. Mr. Glover, who was the owner and did not have a valid driver’s license, was charged with “driving as a habitual violator.”

The Kansas Supreme Court held that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull over the car and suppressed the evidence (which in this case, seems to only be the fact that Mr. Glover was, indeed, driving). That sounds right! But Kansas sought …

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Friday, September 6th, 2019

Second Circuit upholds prolonged traffic stop based on suspicion that car was stolen, despite database check confirming that it was not stolen.

In United States v. Wallace, No. 17-0472 (2d. Cir. Sept. 3, 2019), the Second Circuit, in an opinion by District Judge Abrams (joined by Judge Winter), upheld the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion seeking suppression of a firearm recovered following a prolonged traffic stop. Judge Pooler dissented.

After being pulled over for a defective brake light at 7:20 pm, defendant Wallace produced a valid driver’s license but not his registration card. The officers noticed that the registration and inspection stickers on the car were damaged and faded and that there were marks on the car’s door suggesting that it had been pried open. Wallace explained that the stickers had been damaged by a defogging spray and that the door damage was from a prior occasion when he had locked himself out of the car. Although the Vehicle Identification Number (“VIN”) on the registration sticker was only partially …


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Categories: car stop, Fourth Amendment, reasonable suspicion, traffic stop

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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Second Circuit affirms convictions arising from a person’s alleged attempt to join ISIS in Syria. But it vacates consecutive prison sentences (of 420 months) as procedurally unreasonable because of the judge’s deficient statement of the reasons for the sentence.

Second Circuit affirms convictions arising from a person’s alleged attempt to join ISIS in Syria.  But it vacates consecutive prison sentences (of 420 months) as procedurally unreasonable because of the judge’s deficient statement of the reasons for the sentence: United States v. Pugh, No. 17-1889-cr, __F.3d__, 2019 WL 4062635  (Aug. 29, 2019). 

In United States v. Pugh, the Second Circuit rules (against the defendant) on the marital communications privilege. And it finds there was sufficient evidence of an “attempt” to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (18 U.S.C. § 2339B(a)(1)), and of obstruction and attempted obstruction of an official proceeding (18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1) and (c)(2)).

The Circuit does, however, vacate the (consecutive) sentence because of the inadequacy of the Judge’s explanation. In addition, a separate concurring opinion explicates concern about the overuse of obstruction of justice charges. Pugh, 2019 WL 2019 WL 4062635 at …


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Categories: 3553(c), evidence, marital communications privilege, Material Support, material support statute, obstruction of justice, official proceeding, sentencing, terrorism

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Second Circuit vacates a sentence as procedurally unreasonable because the district court’s “calculation of drug quantity” wasn’t supported by a preponderance of the evidence

Second Circuit vacates a sentence as procedurally unreasonable because the district court’s “calculation of drug quantity” wasn’t supported by a preponderance of the evidence: United States v. Burks, No. 18-1361-cr, __ F. App’x__, 2019 WL 4049857  (Aug. 28, 2019). 

In a summary order, the Second Circuit vacates and remands “for sentencing” because the evidence didn’t support the district court’s drug-quantity calculation.  United States v. Burks, 2019 WL 4049857 at *3.

Local police executed a search warrant at Burks apartment and recovered “1.21 grams of cocaine residue from various narcotics packaging and processing materials at the apartment and an adjoining unit.” Id. at *1. “In the Plea Agreement,” Burks admitted that, before the police search, he had “distributed cocaine in 1//2 ounce and one ounce amounts.” Id. And the drug quantity that “could be readily proven by the government” “was less than 50 grams,” resulting in a Sentencing Guidelines …


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Categories: drug quantity, sentencing, sentencing findings

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Friday, August 30th, 2019

FINAL DECISION by the Second Circuit in BARRETT

Because the residual clause of 18 U.S.C.§  924(c)(3)(B)  is unconstitutionally vague, “conspiracy” to commit Hobbs Act robbery isn’t a qualifying 924(c) predicate, since Hobbs Act conspiracy doesn’t meet the elements clause of § 924(c)(c)(3)(A). United States v. Barrett, No. 14-2641-cr, __F.3d__, 2019 WL 4121728  (Aug. 30, 2019). 

The Supreme Court vacated the Second Circuit’s original judgment that affirmed Barrett’s conviction (see 903 F.3d 166). And it remanded the case to the Circuit for further consideration in light of United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (June 24, 2019). See  Barrett v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2774 (June 28, 2019) (“petition for writ of certiorari granted. Judgment vacated, and case remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for further consideration in light of United States v. Davis[.]”).

In United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), the Supreme …


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Categories: 924(c), conspiracy, crime of violence, Davis, Hobbs Act, Johnson

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Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Second Circuit Vacates Civil Forfeiture Judgement Based on Suppression Issue and Other Errors

On August 9, 2019, the Second Circuit vacated a high-profile civil forfeiture judgment, in an opinion that may be of interest to criminal practitioners. The litigation involves the government’s efforts to seize 650 Fifth Avenue, a skyscraper in midtown, and other property, based on allegations that the property owners violated federal law through their relationships with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In In re 650 Fifth Avenue and Related Properties, No. 17-3258(L) (2d Cir. Aug. 9, 2019), 2019 WL 3756033, the Circuit held that, among other errors, the trial court mistakenly denied a motion to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to a defective search warrant. In a prior 2016 appeal in the case, the Circuit ruled that a certain search warrant was constitutionally deficient because, on its face, it lacked particularity as to the alleged crimes.

Thus, the Circuit had already found a Fourth Amendment violation. The only question was …

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Federal Second-Degree Murder is Not a Crime of Violence …

In the Ninth Circuit, at least. This week in United States v. Begay, No. 14-10080, 2019 WL 3884261 (9th Cir. Aug. 19, 2019), the Ninth Circuit held that second-degree murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111, is not a crime of violence for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

In Begay, the defendant, “[a]fter a few hours of drinking and smoking methamphetamine,” “shot [the victim] in the head with a handgun,” killing him. The defendant was convicted of second-degree murder and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii).

The Ninth Circuit vacated the § 924(c) conviction. The Circuit applied the categorical approach to determine whether second-degree murder qualifies as a crime of violence, looking to the elements of that offense rather than the specific facts of the case. (And after United States v. Davis, an offense must qualify …


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Categories: 924(c), crime of violence, murder

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Second Circuit Grants Habeas Relief in State Murder Case Based on Right to Present a Complete Defense

In Scrimo v. Lee, No. 17-3434 (2d Cir. Aug. 20, 2019), the Second Circuit ordered the grant of a writ of habeas corpus, undoing the defendant’s 2002 second-degree murder conviction.

Defendant Paul Scrimo was convicted of second-degree murder following trial in New York state court and sentenced to 25 years to life. Briefly, the defendant was charged with strangling a woman in her apartment early in the morning, after drinking with her and a man named John Kane at various bars. The chief evidence against the defendant was the testimony of John Kane. Kane admitted that he was with the victim and the defendant on the night of the murder, and in the victim’s apartment during the crime. Kane claimed that he saw the defendant strangle the victim after she insulted him.

There was little to corroborate Kane’s account of the murder and, in fact, other evidence pointed to …


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Categories: cumulative impact, evidence, harmless error, right to present a defense; Rule 403, state

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Monday, August 19th, 2019

Second Circuit Vacates Excessive Community Service Condition

Today in United States v. Parkins, No. 18-1019 (2d Cir. Aug. 19, 2019), the Second Circuit—for the second time—reversed a district court’s imposition of more than 400 hours of community service as a special condition of supervised release.

Back in 2017, the defendant was sentenced to time served and three years of supervised release for his role in bank and health care fraud conspiracies. As a special condition of supervised release, the district court imposed 300 hours of community service per year, for a total of 900 hours.

The defendant appealed, arguing that this amount of community service violated 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d) because it was not reasonably related to any legitimate statutory purpose of supervised released; it involved a greater deprivation of liberty than reasonably necessary; and it was inconsistent with Sentencing Guidelines Section 5F1.3 Application Note 1, which states that community service “generally should not be imposed …


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Categories: sentencing, supervised release

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Friday, August 16th, 2019

Second Circuit Affirms 4-level Enhancement For Using Or Possessing A Firearm “In Connection With Another Felony Offense.”

In United States v. Ryan, No. 17-3919 (2d Cir. Aug. 16), the Circuit affirmed the application of this enhancement under Guideline 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) based on the defendant’s sale of a firearm and drugs in the same transaction to a person to whom he had sold drugs in the past (an informant). The Court held that the firearm sale was “in connection with” the drug sale because it facilitated that sale and future sales. The Court went on to hold that the enhancement would also have been justified under the alternative clause of the Guideline for possessing or transferring a firearm having “knowledge or reason to believe that it would be used or possessed in connection with another felony offense.” The prior sales of drugs to the same buyer gave the defendant “reason to believe” that he was drug dealer and wanted the gun for his business.…

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