Author Archive | Edward S. Zas

Monday, July 10th, 2023

Circuit vacates condition of supervised release that limited defendant to possessing only one “Internet-capable device,” which the Probation Department could search at any time.

In United States v. Salazar, No. 22-1385-cr (2d Cir. July 6, 2023) (Livingston, Chin, Kahn) (summary order), my colleague Sarah Baumgartel persuaded the Circuit that the District Court committed reversible error by imposing a special condition of supervised release that prohibited the defendant from possessing more than one “personal Internet-capable device” and authorized the Probation Department to monitor all the data on that device at any time and for any reason.

The defendant had pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography. At sentencing, the court imposed 30 months’ imprisonment plus 5 years’ supervised release. One of the conditions of supervised release prohibited the defendant from possessing more than one “personal Internet-capable device” and authorized the Probation Department to search that device at any time  and for any reason.

On appeal, the Circuit vacated this condition. It held that the condition was “neither narrowly tailored nor carefully explained.” …


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Guilty of money laundering? Not so fast.

The federal money-laundering statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i), makes it a crime for any person, “knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity,” to conduct or attempt to conduct “such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity … knowing that the transaction is designed in whole or in part … to conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership, or the control of the proceeds of specified unlawful activity.” (Emphasis added.)

In United States v. Aybar-Peguero, Nos. 21-1711(L), 21-1847(Con) (2d Cir. July 6, 2023) (Walker, Lee, and Nathan), the defendant pleaded guilty to this offense—known as “concealment money laundering”—and to drug trafficking. He admitted that he sold narcotics out of his convenience store and deposited the proceeds into his bank accounts along with his store’s legitimate earnings. …


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Categories: money laundering, plain error

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Friday, July 7th, 2023

Statute of limitations for habeas corpus claims requires a claim-by-claim approach.

In Clemente v. Lee, No. 21-279-pr (2d Cir. July 5, 2023) (Pooler, Sack, and Park), the Circuit, deciding an issue of first impression for this Court, held that the statute of limitations for a habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1), requires a claim-by-claim approach — meaning that each claim raised in the petition must be analyzed separately for timeliness. The Court rejected the petitioner’s argument that the statute of limitations requires only that at least one claim in the petition be timely.

Clemente, the petitioner, was convicted in New York State of murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon. He ultimately filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Eastern District of New York. The district court dismissed some of the claims asserted in the petition as time-barred under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).

The Second Circuit affirmed. Joining all …


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Categories: habeas corpus, statute of limitations

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Thursday, April 13th, 2023

Second Circuit holds that prison term of one year and one day for convicted fraudster is unreasonably lenient.

In Watts v. United States, Nos. 21-2925(L), 21-3028 (2d Cir. Apr. 12, 2023) (summary order), the Circuit affirmed the defendant’s convictions for various counts involving securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. But, at the Government’s urging on its cross-appeal, the court vacated his sentence—which included a below-Guidelines term of imprisonment of one year and one day—as substantively unreasonable because it was  “shockingly low, or otherwise unsupportable as a matter of law.” Fortunately, the decision is an unpublished summary order, meaning that it has no precedential effect.

Watts was convicted in the Eastern District of New York (Seybert, J.), of charges that, over a four-year period, he and his co-defendants schemed to defraud investors in several publicly traded companies by artificially controlling the price and volume of traded shares in those companies. In brief, Watts and other insiders at public companies allegedly hired a Long Island “boiler room” to …

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Thursday, December 15th, 2022

Supreme Court Alert

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in four criminal cases to resolve the following questions. Note that in two of the cases, Lora and Samia, the Court will review decisions issued by the Second Circuit.

Lora v. United States, 22-49

Whether 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(D)(ii), which provides that “no term of imprisonment imposed … under this subsection shall run concurrently with any other term of imprisonment,” is triggered when a defendant is convicted and sentenced under 18 U.S.C. § 924(j).

United States v. Hansen, 22-179

Whether the federal criminal prohibition against encouraging or inducing unlawful immigration for commercial advantage or private financial gain, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and (B)(i), is facially unconstitutional on First Amendment overbreadth grounds.

Samia v. United States, 22-196

Whether admitting a codefendant’s redacted out-of-court confession that immediately inculpates a defendant based on the surrounding context violates the defendant’s rights …

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Wednesday, December 14th, 2022

District Court Did Not Abuse Discretion in Declining to Resentence Defendant De Novo Following Vacatur of Firearms Convictions.

In United States v. Peña, No. 20-4192 (2d Cir. Dec. 13, 2022), the Circuit ruled that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to resentence the defendant de novo following the vacatur of two firearms convictions.

Peña was convicted in 2013 of three counts charging him with conspiring to commit, and committing, murder for hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958. He was also convicted of two counts of using a firearm to commit murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(j). The District Court sentenced him to five concurrent terms of life imprisonment.

Peña later filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion alleging that his two § 924(j) convictions were invalid. The District Court agreed and vacated those convictions. But the court refused to resentence Peña de novo on the remaining murder-for-hire counts, concluding that resentencing would be pointless because he was …

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Tuesday, December 13th, 2022

Third Circuit holds that “loss,” for Guidelines purposes, means actual loss, not intended loss.

The Sentencing Guidelines provide that the base offense level for certain crimes must be increased based on the amount of financial “loss.” E.g., U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(1). The commentary to the Guidelines says that “loss” means the actual or intended loss, whichever is greater. Id. cmt. n.3(A).

In an important new ruling, the Third Circuit held in United States v. Banks, — F.4th —-, 2022 WL 17333797 (3d Cir. Nov. 30, 2022), that this commentary is invalid because, under Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), it improperly expands the plain meaning of “loss,” which refers to the actual loss only. In the court’s words:

Our review of common dictionary definitions of “loss” point to an ordinary meaning of “actual loss.” None of these definitions suggest an ordinary understanding that “loss” means “intended loss.” […]

Because the commentary expands the definition of “loss” by explaining that generally …

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Thursday, November 17th, 2022

Defendants may not use a purported motion to correct a sentence under Rule 35 to circumvent an appeal waiver.

The Circuit held today, in United States v. Rakhmatov, No. 21-151(L) (2d Cir. Nov. 17, 2022), that “when a challenge to a prison sentence purportedly under [Fed. R. Crim. P.] 35(a) does not fall within the narrow scope of Rule 35(a), an appeal waiver can bar consideration of the motion.”

Rakhmatov pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist group. His plea agreement said he would not appeal or “otherwise challenge” any prison sentence of 150 months or less.

Three days after being sentenced to 150 months, Rakhmatov moved to correct the sentence, citing Rule 35(a).  The motion argued that the district court “failed to properly apply the sentencing factors,” producing a sentence that was “unreasonable” and “greater than necessary.”  The district court denied the motion, holding that it was not a proper Rule 35(a) motion and, in any event, was barred by the appeal waiver. …

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Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Supreme Court to Clarify the Scope of Aggravated Identity Theft

In case you missed it, the Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Dubin v. United States, No. 22-10, which presents the question whether a person commits aggravated identity theft any time he or she mentions or otherwise recites someone else’s name while committing a predicate offense.

David Dubin was convicted of Medicaid fraud. As the case arrives at the Supreme Court, he is challenging a separate conviction under a federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1)) that makes it a crime to use another person’s “means of identification” during and in relation to certain other crimes, including healthcare fraud. Federal prosecutors contend that Dubin’s use of his patient’s name on a false Medicaid claim violated the statute, adding an extra two years to his one-year sentence for fraud.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Dubin’s conviction and sentence, and on rehearing a …

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Thursday, September 8th, 2022

Three Interesting Cert. Petitions

Our friends at Scotusblog.com recently discussed three pending cert. petitions that present important and interesting criminal issues. Because these issues may arise in your practice, I note them again here so that you can preserve them for review:

  1. Shaw v. United States, No. 22-118.

Issues:  (1) Whether the jury clauses of Article III and the Sixth Amendment or the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment bar a court from imposing a more severe criminal sentence on the basis of conduct that a jury necessarily rejected, given its verdicts of acquittal on other counts at the same trial; (2) whether the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Watts should be overruled; and (3) whether, in avoidance of the constitutional question, the rules of issue preclusion, as applied in federal criminal cases, bar imposition of an aggravated sentence on a factual predicate necessarily rejected by the jury at trial …


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Thursday, February 24th, 2022

Evidentiary Errors Prompt Second Circuit to Vacate Forced-Labor Convictions.

Our friend Alexandra Shapiro of Shapiro Arato Bach, LLP, earned an important victory this week in United States v. Dan Zhong, No. 19-4110 (2d Cir. Feb. 23, 2022), persuading the Court to vacate her client’s conviction on three forced-labor charges. (While the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions on two other counts, those convictions carry far shorter sentences.)

The ruling represents a rare defense victory based on multiple evidentiary errors. The Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Menashi, granted a new trial as to three forced-labor counts. The decision provides ammunition for defendants in future trials trying to rein in the Government’s efforts to introduce evidence of uncharged conduct, to curtail defense cross-examination of Government witnesses, and to use experts in improper ways.

First, the District Court had permitted the Government to introduce evidence of uncharged criminal conduct that pre-dated the charged conduct by nearly a decade and involved violence …

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