Author Archive | Matt Larsen

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Rehaif Error Prompts New Trial– Despite Stipulation as to Prior Felony and Despite PSR Suggesting Defendant’s Knowledge of Prior Felony

To secure a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), “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, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 2200 (2019).  For the most commonly charged § 922(g) violation, that means proving the defendant knew he had “been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”  § 922(g)(1).

Yet there was neither allegation nor proof of that in Wilfredo Sepulveda’s trial.  On the contrary, “the jury was wrongly instructed that ‘[t]he government need not prove that the defendant knew that his prior conviction was punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year.'”  United States v. Sepulveda, 2019 WL 5704398, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2019).

Ruling on a motion under Fed. …

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Categories: Rehaif

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Categories: Rehaif

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Friday, October 4th, 2019

Second Circuit Panel holds residual clause definition of “crime of violence” in the Bail Reform Act is not void for vagueness

In today’s United States v. Watkins, No. 18-3076, a panel of the Second Circuit held the residual clause definition of “crime of violence” in the Bail Reform Act is not void for vagueness.

This may surprise some observers, as the Bail Reform Act’s residual clause is identical to – and subject to the same categorical approach as – the residual clauses the Supreme Court struck down for vagueness in Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018), and United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019).

Moreover, the Second Circuit’s ruling is plainly moot: after being denied bail, Mr. Watkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.  See United States v. Watkins, W.D.N.Y. No. 18-cr-131.  Only now, months later, has the panel weighed in on whether the residual clause of the “crime of violence” definition in the Bail Reform Act is void for vagueness.  But …


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Categories: crime of violence, Davis, Johnson, Uncategorized

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Monday, August 5th, 2019

Second Circuit Throws Out § 924(c) Conviction Linked to Conspiracy . . . And Does Other Good Things, Including as to Rehaif

In today’s United States v. Watkins, the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Pooler, Wesley) vacated a conviction for violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) in relation to a conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery.  Because § 924(c)’s residual clause is “unconstitutionally vague,” United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319, 2336 (2019), a “crime of violence” under § 924(c) is limited to an offense that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.”  Because a conspiracy never fits that bill, “Watkins’s section 924(c)(1)(A) conviction” — and all others based on conspiracy — “must be vacated.”

And in United States v. Prado, the court (Leval, Pooler, Hall) threw out more convictions, this time under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act.  The Coast Guard had intercepted a speed boat in international waters, found three men aboard with …


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Categories: Davis, guilty plea, jurisdiction, Rehaif

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Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

The New Go-To Ruling on Insufficient Evidence

Oh, insufficient evidence– so hard to show in district court after a jury convicts, harder still on appeal with all the “deference” shown to the government.  Yet both were done in United States v. Pauling, where the government sought an enhanced charge and punishment based on five words spoken by neither the defendant nor his co-conspirator.

John Pauling was alleged to have agreed with a supplier named “Low” to sell 100 grams of heroin.  There was proof as to 89 grams, but the government needed 11 more.  So it offered the jury a wiretapped call between Pauling and some guy named “Steve” in which Steve said he wanted “same thing as last time” and referenced the “14th floor.”  The government argued that meant Pauling would get 14 more grams of heroin from Low and sell them to Steve, which would put the total of the Pauling-Low conspiracy over 100 …

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Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

Favorable Finding on First Step Act Feature

 

The First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-391, allows judges to now “impose a reduced sentence” on people sentenced before August 3, 2010, for certain offenses involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine.  There’s been a lot of litigation on the Act — yielding over 200 written decisions nationally so far — with a number of bad rulings from courts relying on pro se pleadings or meritless arguments from the government.  Judge Allyne Ross, of the Eastern District of New York, recently addressed both and issued a good ruling for people serving (or not) long crack sentences.

In United States v. Miles, the defendant had been sentenced in 2009 for a 50-gram crack offense that then carried a mandatory minimum of 10 years, which Judge Ross imposed.  After passage of the First Step Act, Miles moved pro se for a reduced sentence given that, per the …

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Categories: First Step Act of 2018

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Categories: First Step Act of 2018

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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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Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Despite the Jones Delay, EDNY Rules New York Robbery is Not a “Crime of Violence”

still-not-a-cov

As blogged about here, the Second Circuit held in United States v. Jones that New York robbery is not a “crime of violence” for federal sentencing purposes.  And as blogged about here, the Circuit then vacated that ruling pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Beckles v. United States.

Notwithstanding Jones being put on hold, Judge Cogan of the Eastern District of New York has ruled — like the Jones court and Judges Ross and Weinstein in pre-Jones rulings — that New York robbery is not a “crime of violence.”  The decision, available here, explains that New York robbery can be committed with less than the “violent” force required by the force clause of the Career Offender Guideline (which controls in felon-in-possession cases), and that the Guideline’s residual clause was effectively invalidated by Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015).  Because the Guideline’s …

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Categories: crime of violence, robbery

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Categories: crime of violence, robbery

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Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Restitution Isn’t A Windfall

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In today’s United States v. Stevens, the Second Circuit (Winter, Chin, Droney) remanded a case for further proceedings because it was unclear whether the district court made the findings needed to support its restitution order.

Stevens fraudulently obtained a loan, ultimately acquired by Capital One Bank, for his business partnership.  The partnership later repaid Capital One in full and Stevens pleaded guilty to fraud in federal court.  The judge, in addition to ordering Stevens’s imprisonment, ordered him to pay restitution to the partnership.  The Second Circuit remanded, however, because “the district court did not make sufficient factual findings, which are necessary to our review of the restitution award.”

“Because restitution is intended to make the victim whole, it must be based only on the actual loss caused by the scheme.  Restitution is not intended to provide a victim with a windfall.”  And where a victim is reimbursed by a …

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Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Manslaughter is Not a “Crime of Violence”

keep-calm

In a recent ruling, Judge Woods of the Southern District held first-degree manslaughter in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 125.20(1) is not a “crime of violence” under the pre-August 1, 2016, Career Offender Guideline, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2.  A person commits such manslaughter when, “[w]ith intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person.”

Judge Woods first held this offense does not qualify under the Guideline’s residual clause as that clause was “rendered void” by Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015).  The judge next held the offense does not qualify under the Guideline’s force clause because “one can be found guilty of manslaughter under the New York statute on the basis of an omission.” Specifically, “the failure to perform a legally imposed duty” permits conviction if the inaction leads to another’s death.  People


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Categories: ACCA, career offender, crime of violence, manslaughter, murder

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Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

U.S. v. Jones: Hold That Thought…

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In United States v. Jones, previously blogged about here, the Second Circuit held New York robbery is not a categorical “crime of violence” under the Career Offender Guideline, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2.  The Court’s opinion was based in part on the view, shared by the government and all but one of the circuits, that the Guideline’s residual clause is “likely void for vagueness in light of the Supreme Court’s analysis of the ACCA’s [Armed Career Criminal Act’s] identical phrase in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015).”

In an order published yesterday, the Court vacated the Jones opinion pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Beckles v. United States.  Beckles will decide whether the Guideline’s residual clause survived Johnson.  After Beckles is decided, a final judgment will issue in Jones.

Takeaways for the Defense Bar

1.  In ACCA cases, the absence of Jones poses …


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Categories: ACCA, career offender, Johnson, robbery

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Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Is Hobbs Act Extortion a “Crime of Violence”?

In today’s United States v. Sheehan, the Second Circuit (Winter, Wesley, Lynch) affirmed a conviction for using a “destructive device” during a “crime of violence,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(B)(ii).

Wearing a wig, an arm sling and makeup, Sheehan planted an almost-complete pipe bomb in a Home Depot on Long Island.  He sent a letter to the store, saying there was a bomb and demanding $2 million so he could “go[] to a warm climate with thin brown girls and drink [him]self to death.”  He promised to repay the money in the form of a $2 million “life insurance policy naming Home Depot beneficiary.”  The almost-complete bomb was recovered and no one was hurt.

Arrested and brought to trial, Sheehan conceded guilt on what was charged as the underlying “crime of violence” — Hobbs Act extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 — but denied …

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Categories: explosives, extortion

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