Author Archive | Darrell Fields

Monday, March 9th, 2020

The evidence sufficiently proved the defendant “had a reasonable opportunity to observe” the underage victim, under 18 U.S.C. § 1591(b)(1) (sex trafficking of minors). And it wasn’t procedural error when the court used the defendant’s “false [trial] testimony” as an aggravating factor under § 3553(a) — in imposing a substantially below-Guidelines sentence — without finding the testimony qualified as perjury under Guidelines § 3C1.1. United States v. Almonte, No. 18-3769, __F.3d__, 2020 WL 1056786 (March 5, 2020).

1. Sufficiency of evidence of sex trafficking involving underage victim

The defendant was convicted, after trial,  of several offenses, including  sex trafficking of a minor who was less than 14 years old, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) and (b)(1).  She moved unsuccessfully for a judgment of acquittal (Fed.R.Crim.P. 29), arguing the evidence didn’t  establish she “had a reasonable opportunity to observe” the underage victim as required by 18 U.S.C. § 1591(c).  The Circuit affirms the district court’s denial of the Rule 29 motion. Almonte, 2020 WL 1056786 at *1.

Section 1591(c) states that in a prosecution for sex trafficking under § 1591(a)(1), “in which the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the [underage victim] . . ., the Government need not prove that the defendant knew, or recklessly disregarded the fact, that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.” 18 U.S.C. § 1591(c). …


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Categories: 3553(a), obstruction of justice, procedural reasonableness, sex offenses, substantive reasonableness

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Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

A district court’s order granting a criminal defendant bail under the Bail Reform Act (“BRA”), doesn’t preclude immigration authorities from then detaining that person under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (“INA”). United States v. Lett, No. 18-749-cr, __ F. 3d__, 2019 WL 6752763 (Dec. 12, 2019).

The Second Circuit joins the Third, Sixth, and D.C. Circuits and holds “that immigration authorities may lawfully detain a criminal defendant ordered to be released under the BRA  pursuant to their authority under the INA to detain aliens seeking admission into the United States who are not ‘clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to be admitted[.]’”United States v. Lett, 2019 WL 6752763 at *1, *2 (2d Cir. Dec. 12, 2019) [18-749_Documents] (quoting 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(2)(A)); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3142 (bail reform act); 8 U.S.C. § 1101, et seq. (immigration and naturalization act).

Several district courts in this Circuit and around the country had held “that pretrial release under the BRA forecloses detention under the INA” — including the district court in Lett’s case.  2019 WL 6752763 at *3.  But the Circuit holds to the contrary. It rejects the argument that a person granted …

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Categories: bail, detention, immigration, INA

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Categories: bail, detention, immigration, INA

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

The Second Circuit issues an amended opinion in United States v. Pugh, No. 17-1889-cr, __F.3d__, 2019 WL 6708812 (Dec. 10, 2019) (“Pugh II”), a material support to terrorism case. As in the initial opinion — that was discussed in this blog on Sept. 3, 2019 — the Circuit affirms the convictions, but vacates consecutive prison sentences (totaling 420 months) as procedurally unreasonable because of the inadequate statement of reasons for the sentences.

Yesterday, the Circuit issued an amended opinion in United States v. Pugh. The initial decision issued on August 29, 2019 (United States v. Pugh, 937 F.3d 108) and was discussed in this blog. See infra, posting of Sept. 3, 2019.

The Amended Opinion reaches the same results as the initial opinion. The Circuit  (1) rules against the defendant on the marital communications privilege, Pugh II, 2019 WL 6708812 at *2-*4 ; (2) finds sufficient evidence of an “attempt” to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (18 U.S.C. § 2339B(a)(1)), id. at *4-*6; and (3) finds sufficient evidence of obstruction and attempted obstruction of an “official proceeding” (18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(1),  (c)(2)), id. at *6-*7 ; but (4) vacates consecutive sentences totaling 420 months’ imprisonment because of the inadequacy of the Judge’s explanation for the consecutive sentences. Id. at *8-*12.

The Amended Opinion corrected …


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

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

Second Circuit restates its holding that Connecticut’s simple robbery statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-133, qualifies as a violent felony under ACCA’s force clause. Estremera v. United States, No. 17-831-pr, __ F. 3d__, 2019 WL 6690775 (Dec. 9, 2019).

In Shabazz v. United States, 912 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2019), the Circuit held that Connecticut’s simple robbery statute, Connecticut General Statute § 53a-133, qualifies as a violent felony under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) (“ACCA”). Id. at 78.

Here, the Circuit holds that Shabazz “resolves” Petitioner Nelson Estremera’s claims that his Connecticut convictions for first-degree robbery and attempted robbery, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 53a-134(a)(3) and 53a-49, and for second-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 53a-135(a)(1) and 53a-48 do not qualify as ACCA predicates. Estremera, 2019 WL 6690775 at * 2.  [17-831_Documents.]

All Connecticut first-degree robbery offenses — the Circuit holds — are qualifying ACCA predicates. It states that although Connecticut’s first-degree robbery statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-134(a), enumerates different ways of committing first-degree robbery, “every …

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Categories: ACCA, Johnson, violent felony

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Categories: ACCA, Johnson, violent felony

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Monday, October 7th, 2019

Second Circuit reverses district court’s grant of a new trial in securities fraud case: United States v. Gramins, No. 18-2007-cr, __ F. 3d__, 2019 WL 4554521 (Sept. 20, 2019).

This was a government appeal from the district court’s grant of a new trial motion, under Fed.R.Crim.P. 33, on a count of conspiracy to commit security fraud,  in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. See 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b) (securities fraud).  The Circuit, however, reversed the district court and remanded “with instructions to reinstate the conviction and proceed to sentencing.” 2019 WL 4554521 at *1.

The case concerned the distinctive market of Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (“RMBS”). The district court granted the defendant’s Rule 33 motion on the only count on which the jury convicted (out of 9 total counts), on evidentiary grounds relying on  United States v. Litvak, 889 F.3d 56 (2d Cir. 2018) (“Litvak II”), which concerned the same RMBS market. The district court found that —  similar to what occurred in Litvak II  — a government witness misstated relevant agency law in a way …


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Categories: fraud, Rule 403, securities law

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Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Second Circuit vacates and remands for fact-finding on claim the government breached a plea agreement by its oral representations during plea negotiations, despite the agreement’s “merger clause” (saying the written agreement is “the total agreement” between the parties). United States v. Feldman, Nos. 17-2868-cr, 17-2869-cr,  __F.3d__, 2019 WL 4419378  (Sept. 17,  2019). 

In United States v. Feldman, an opinion authored by Judge Pierre Leval, the Circuit addresses the government’s obligations under a plea agreement based on oral representations “made by the government to the defendant in the course of plea negotiations[.]” 2019 WL 4419378 at *1.

The defendant in this case wasn’t seeking vacatur of his guilty plea. He sought rather to vacate and stay a writ of execution that the government obtained to seize his retirement account and use for restitution. But the government had made representations during plea negotiations indicating the retirement account would be safe. The district court denied the defendant’s motion to vacate and stay the writ of execution on the account. The Circuit, however, vacated the district court’s order denying the defendant’s motion, and remanded for “factfinding and reconsideration of Feldman’s motions.” The Opinion provides an important discussion of the government’s obligations concerning plea agreements.

Facts

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Categories: breach, plea agreement

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Categories: breach, plea agreement

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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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Monday, June 24th, 2019

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court holds that in prosecutions under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and § 924(a)(2), “the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.” Rehaif v. United States, Sup. Ct. No. 17-9560, __ S.Ct.__, 2019 WL 2552487 (June 21, 2019).

The Supreme Court holds that, to convict a defendant of violating § 922(g) and § 924(a)(2),  the government must show not only that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm, but “also that he knew he had the relevant status when he possessed it.” Opinion (“Op.”)  at 1. The Court states: “We conclude that in a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and § 924(a)(2), the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.” See Opinion (“Op.”) at 11 (emphases added).

This holding was reached in a 7-2 decision in Rehaif v. United States, Sup. Ct. No. 17-9560, 2019, __S.Ct.__, WL 2552487 (June 21, 2019), authored by Justice Breyer. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Thomas.

Petitioner Ali Rehaif came to the United States “on …

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Categories: 922(g), mens rea

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Categories: 922(g), mens rea

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The Supreme Court reverses death sentence for State inmate because of violations of Batson v. Kentucky (proscribing racially based exercises of peremptory challenges in jury selection): Flowers v. Mississippi, No. 17-9572, __S.Ct. __, 2019 WL 2552489 (June 21, 2019).

In Flowers v. Mississippi, No. 17-9572, __U.S.__ , 2019 WL 2552489  (June 21, 2019), the Court reversed a death sentence because of a violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), which prohibits the racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges.

Curtis Flowers was tried in six separate trials, by the “same lead prosecutor” for an offense that occurred in 1996. The first trial was reversed for prosecutorial misconduct; the second and third trials involved judicial findings of Batson violations;  and after the fourth and fifth trials resulted in hung juries, in the sixth trial, the prosecutor struck five of the six black prospective jurors, and Flowers was convicted. Op. at 1-2.  In a 7-2 decision, authored by Justice Kavanagh, the Court reversed the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court affirming the conviction.

The Court cited four critical facts that taken together required reversal. “First, in …


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Categories: Batson, government misconduct, jury selection

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