Federal Defenders of New York Second Circuit Blog


Monday, November 15th, 2021

On appeal, a preserved challenge to a Rule 11 error at the guilty plea is reviewed for harmless error, and it’s the government’s burden to prove that the Rule 11 error was harmless. United States v. Freeman, No. 19-2432, __F.4th__ , 2021 WL 5114918 (2d Cir. Nov. 4, 2021) (C.J.J. Sullivan, Park, and Nardini).

During a guilty plea allocution to a drug conspiracy, the district court erroneously stated that the mandatory minimum term of supervised release term was 5 years, when it actually was 10 years, thereby violating Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(I)’s requirement the defendant be accurately informed about punishment, including “any mandatory minimum penalty.” Freeman preserved his challenge to the Rule 11 error by moving to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing. The district court denied the motion. And the Circuit affirmed, saying the error was harmless (under Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(h)). But the Opinion’s stated purpose is to “clarify” that “a preserved challenge to a Rule 11 error is subject to harmless error review on appeal and that the government bears the burden of showing that the error had no effect on the defendant’s substantial rights.” Op at 3.

BACKGROUND

The grand jury returned a one-count  indictment charging Freeman with a drug conspiracy in violation of …

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Monday, September 13th, 2021

Second Circuit reverses and remands an order of restitution, imposed under the Mandatory Victim’s Restitution Act of 1996 (“MVRA”) — 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(a)(2), (c) — because the Government failed to prove, by a preponderance, the proximate cause element: i.e., that the losses to the victims were foreseeable to the defendant in the course of committing the “offense of conviction.” United States v. Goodrich, No. 19-208, __F.4th__ , 2021 WL 3889801 (2d Cir. Sept. 1, 2021) (C.J.J. Calabresi, Pooler, Carney).

The Circuit reversed, in part, an Amended Judgment that imposed restitution under the MVRA, because, although the defendant was responsible for the $479,000 losses to purchasers of stocks traded on the public market, the government didn’t establish that the $1.85 million of losses from the “private placement” trades were foreseeable to Goodrich.

Defendant Goodrich, a broker-dealer in the over-the-counter securities market,  pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit securities fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Goodrich executed fraudulent trades with co-defendants to artificially inflate the share price of a sham company named, Cubed, Inc.  Op at 3-4 (They allegedly engaged in a “pump and dump” market manipulation scheme, through “wash” and “matched” trades); see Op at 4, 6, footnotes 1 & 4 defining a pump & dump scheme and wash and matched trades).

Goodrich executed trades in the public market, while “his co-defendants, who are not appellants here, …

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Categories: MVRA, restitution

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Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Convictions for “actual and attempted Hobbs Act robbery” are crimes of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). And the imposition of 6 consecutive mandatory minimum prison sentences, totaling 115 years’ (based on the “stacking” of five § 924(c) convictions, running consecutively to a 10-year minimum drug sentence), doesn’t violate the Eighth Amendment. United States v.  Waite, No. 18-2651, __F.4th__, 2021 WL 3870712 (2d Cir. Aug. 31, 2021) (C.J.J. Cabranes, Raggi, Sullivan).

Waite was originally sentenced in 2011, principally to 125 years’ imprisonment based on five 924(c) counts and a drug conspiracy count. The Circuit vacated his original sentence (in 2016) because of an issue with the drug sentence. At the resentencing in March 2018, the district court subtracted 10 years from the original (20-year) drug sentence, making the new sentence 115 years, which was “the then-applicable mandatory minimum sentence for Waite’s counts of conviction”; his five § 924(c) sentences had to be “stacked” — i.e., made consecutive to each other for a total of 105 years — and the stacked 924(c) sentences had to be consecutive to the 10-year drug sentence. A few months after the resentencing, however, the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”) eliminated the “stacking” requirement for § 924(c) sentences.

On this appeal, Waite argued that: (1) four of his (five) § 924(c) convictions are invalid under …

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Categories: 924(c), Davis, Eighth Amendment, Johnson

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Friday, July 30th, 2021

A district court may consider the defendant’s future earning potential to conclude that the defendant is “non-indigent” and thus subject to the mandatory $5,000 “special assessment” under 18 U.S.C. § 3014(a)

Section 3014(a) of Title 18, enacted as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (“JVTA”), requires district courts to impose a $5,000 special assessment on “non-indigent” persons convicted of certain sex- and trafficking-related offenses.1 Carlos Rosario is an indigent person represented by this Office. After he pleaded guilty to three qualifying offenses, the district court considered his future earning capacity, concluded that he was “non-indigent” in light of that capacity, and imposed the $5,000 special assessment. Rosario argued on appeal that this was error.

The Circuit affirms Rosario’s sentence. United States v. Rosario, No. 20-2268 (2d Cir. July 29, 2021). Writing for himself and Judge Sack, Judge Park concludes that “the ordinary meaning of ‘indigent’ encompasses not only a lack of present resources, but also includes a forward-looking assessment of the defendant’s ‘means’ or ability to pay.” This reading, moreover, is consistent with “all …

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A substance can be an “analogue” of fentanyl for purposes of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi) — requiring a 5-year minimum sentence where the offense involved “10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of any analogue of” fentanyl — even if it does not qualify as a “controlled substance analogue” under 21 U.S.C. § 802(32).

Torri McCray was charged under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi) for distributing 10 grams or more of “butyryl fentanyl,” an analogue of fentanyl under the ordinary meaning of the term “analogue.” As Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary puts it, an “analogue” in the relevant chemistry context is “a chemical compound structurally similar to another but differing often by a single element of the same valence and group of the periodic table as the element it replaces.”

Everyone, including McCray, agrees that butyryl fentanyl is an analogue of fentanyl under this definition. And if this definition governed for purposes of § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi), then McCray would be subject to a 5-year mandatory minimum: Such a sentence is required when the defendant distributes “10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of any analogue of” fentanyl.

But McCray disagrees that the ordinary definition of “analogue” applies to § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi). He …

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District court’s egregious flouting of long-established procedures regarding a jury note and a proposed Allen charge does not constitute “plain error” because its mistakes did not prejudice the defendant

In United States v. Catherine Melhuish, No. 19-485 (2d Cir. July 27, 2021) (opinion by Judge Nardini, joined by Judges Walker and Wesley), the Circuit rejects the defendant’s argument that the trial judge erred in responding to a jury note and in proposing an Allen charge during deliberations; concludes that 18 U.S.C. § 111, prohibiting the assault of a federal officer, is a general-intent offense; and remands for further fact-finding on the defendant’s claim that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to introduce evidence supporting an insanity defense. The first is worth discussing.

The principal issue is the trial judge’s egregious refusal to follow the Circuit’s long-established procedures for how to deal with jury notes and supplemental instructions during deliberations. These are the steps that a trial judge must follow:

(1) the jury inquiry should be in writing; (2) the note should be marked as the court’s exhibit …

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Thursday, July 29th, 2021

Panel upholds 40-year prison sentence for Hizballah “sleeper agent” who did not injure anyone or engage in violence; Judge Pooler dissents on the ground that the Guidelines’ terrorism enhancements yield inappropriately high ranges that can result in sentences that, like this one, “shock[] the conscience.”

Ali Kournai was a “sleeper agent” working on behalf of Hizballah1 and the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) in the United States and Canada for over a decade. In United States v. Kourani, No. 19-4292 (2d Cir. July 27, 2021) (opinion by Judge Cabranes, joined by Judge Kearse), the Circuit affirms the judgment below, rejecting Kourani’s challenges to his conviction following trial as well as to his 480-month sentence.

Judge Pooler agrees that “Kourani received a fair trial and was properly adjudicated guilty by a jury.” But she dissents on the punishment: Although “[h]is crimes were undeniably serious” and “[i]t is not lost on me that Kourani’s actions could have culminated in far more injurious results,” she explains, “[n]evertheless, they did not, and accordingly, the sentence imposed is disproportionately high.”

Here are the relevant facts as recounted by Judge Cabranes; whether 40 years is “unreasonably long” is the principal …

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District court lacks jurisdiction to amend a clerical error in the judgment (under Rule 36) while an appeal is pending from the court’s denial of a prior Rule 36 motion

In an opinion by Judge Kearse, the Circuit ruled in United States v. Jacques, No. 20-1762(L) (2d Cir. July 26, 2021), that a district court lacks authority under Rule 36 (of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure) to correct a clerical error in the judgment while an appeal is pending in the Circuit from the court’s denial of the defendant’s prior Rule 36 motion. This simply applies the general rule that “the filing of a notice of appeal confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal.” Op. 14.

Although Rule 36 states that the court “may at any time correct a clerical error in the judgment,” the Circuit reads this as “meant literally in the temporal sense, rather than in a situational sense.” That is, Rule 36 empowers a court to correct …

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Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

But is it one conspiracy? And is it securities fraud?

The answer to those questions is pretty much always “yes.” In United States v. Khalupsky, Nos. 19-197-cr, 19-780-cr (2d Cir. July 19, 2021), the Second Circuit affirmed the trial convictions of two defendants, rejecting various legal challenges. According to the circuit, the evidence at trial established that the defendants participated in a multi-year scheme to use stolen pre-publication press releases to make securities trades. Specifically, “hackers in Ukraine” “hacked into three newswires” that disseminated press releases for publicly traded companies, and passed those press releases to an intermediary (Dubovoy) before they were published. This intermediary then equipped and funded each defendant for trading, and gave them access to the releases. The defendants traded, kept a percentage of trading profits for themselves, and passed the rest back to Dubovoy.

On appeal, the defendants argued that there was not sufficient evidence to establish the existence of the single charged conspiracy, since …


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Categories: conscious avoidance, conspiracy, constructive amendment, securities law

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Second Circuit rules no double jeopardy violation to admit the same evidence of a cocaine conspiracy that resulted in acquittal in the first trial to prove a RICO conspiracy in a second trial.

In United States v. Hicks, No. 19-590 (2d Cir. July 16, 2021), the defendant was tried for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, a 924(c) violation, and a RICO conspiracy. He was convicted of the marijuana conspiracy but acquitted of both the conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base and the 924(c) count. The jury hung on the RICO conspiracy count, which was retried. At the second trial, the government relied “on substantially the same evidence” as it presented in the first trial, including “the same evidence that it had used unsuccessfully in the first trial to convict Hicks of engaging in a cocaine conspiracy.” The defense objected to this on double jeopardy grounds, but the second jury was allowed to convict on this evidence.

The Second Circuit held there was no double jeopardy violation. First, it held that double jeopardy did not bar …


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Second Circuit holds that the district court is not required to consider the sentencing factors of 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) in deciding whether to reduce a sentence under §404 of the First Step Act.

In United States v. Moyhernandez, No. 20-625 (2d Cir. July 15, 2021), a split panel of the Second Circuit held that a district judge need not consider the sentencing factors of section 3553(a), deepening a Circuit split. (Jacobs, Park in the majority, Pooler dissenting) The district court denied defendant’s motion for a reduction in a 360-month sentence for a conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, after concluding that he was eligible for relief under the First Step Act.

The original sentence was imposed under the mandatory career offender guideline and the sentencing judge made clear at the time that he would have imposed a lower sentence if not for the mandatory guideline. In the defendant’s  motion for a  reduced sentence, he urged the new judge to consider the §3553(a) factors and exercise her discretion to impose a lower sentence. In denying the motion because of the defendant’s lengthy record …

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