Author Archive | Matt Larsen

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

Did the Second Circuit Just Read Rule 33 Out of Existence?

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) authorizes a judge to “grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.”  This rule has traditionally been understood to “confer[] broad discretion upon a trial court to set aside a jury verdict and order a new trial to avert a perceived miscarriage of justice.”  United States v. Sanchez, 969 F.2d 1409, 1413 (2d Cir. 1992).

But in a ruling yesterday, a panel of the Second Circuit held “a district court may not grant a Rule 33 motion based on the weight of the evidence alone unless the evidence preponderates heavily against the verdict.”  United States v. Archer, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 5924196, at *4 (2d Cir. Oct. 7, 2020).  And in reviewing the evidence, the “district court must ‘defer to the jury’s resolution of conflicting evidence'” and consider the “trial evidence as a whole.”  Id. at *5.…

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Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

Keep Fighting Those Mandatory Guideline Sentences

Do you have a client who was deemed a career offender pursuant to the residual clause of the mandatory (pre-Booker) Career Offender Guideline?  If so, keep fighting that sentence!  There are at least a couple ways:

1) If the client has a petition pending under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, make sure to argue the sentence is unconstitutional given Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015).  That argument is currently foreclosed by Nunez v. United States, 954 F.3d 465 (2d Cir. 2020), but there’s a circuit split on the issue that just deepened: the First Circuit has joined the Seventh in holding Johnson effectively invalidated the residual clause of the mandatory Guideline.  See Shea v. United States, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 5755462 (1st Cir. Sept. 28, 2020).  The Supreme Court refused to resolve this split when the Seventh Circuit was the sole outlier, but …


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Categories: 3582(c)(1)(A), Johnson, mandatory guidelines

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Thursday, July 9th, 2020

Glimmer of Hope for Challenging pre-Rehaif Guilty Pleas to § 922(g)(1)?

In “a prosecution 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).

The most common § 922(g) offense is gun possession by someone “who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”  § 922(g)(1).  Rehaif requires such a person to have known — when he possessed the gun — that he had previously been convicted of such a crime.

In United States v. Balde, 943 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2019), the Second Circuit held someone wishing to challenge his pre-Rehaif guilty plea must show a “reasonable probability that . . . [he] would not have entered the plea” if he …

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Categories: Rehaif

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Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

Supreme Court REALLY Keeps the Faith

Monday’s post, titled Supreme Court Keeps the Faith, discussed the Court’s distaste for “faithless electors.”

In two 7-2 rulings today, the Court took its distaste for the faithless to a new level, ruling labor and health laws largely do not apply to religious organizations.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, two teachers sued the Catholic schools that fired them.  One teacher said she was fired because she’d asked for a leave of absence to treat her breast cancer (she later died); the other said she was fired for being too old.  In neither case did the school cite a religious reason for the firings (the reasons were, respectively, an unspecified failure to follow the curriculum and keep classroom order, and difficulty administering a reading and writing program).  Though the teachers were not nuns or religious instructors (or, for one teacher, even Catholic), their duties included conveying …

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Monday, July 6th, 2020

Supreme Court Keeps the Faith

Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court in today’s Chiafalo v. Washington, Justice Kagan upheld a state’s power to not just replace — but also to punish — “faithless electors.”  Such electors refuse to cast their Electoral College ballots for the presidential candidate the voters of their state selected.

The Electoral College is, of course, an anti-majoritarian abomination designed over 200 years ago to, among other things, placate white men who owned other human beings.  Seee.g., Juan F. Perea, Echoes of Slavery II: How Slavery’s Legacy Distorts Democracy, 51 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1081 (2018).  Justice Kagan’s opinion notes some framers’ argument that the Electoral College would “entrust[] the Presidency to ‘men most capable of analyzing the qualities’ needed for the office,” and “would ‘be composed of the most enlightened and respectable citizens,’ whose choices would reflect ‘discretion and discernment.'”  Chiafalo, Slip. Op. at 12.  …

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Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

A Crime that Can be Committed by Inaction is Not a “Crime of Violence”

The Second Circuit held this week that an offense is not a “crime of violence [if] it can be committed by complete inaction and therefore without the use of force.”  United States v. Scott, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 1522825, at *1 (2d Cir. Mar. 31, 2020).

Mr. Scott had originally been subjected to the Armed Career Criminal Act’s 15-year mandatory minimum, along with the Career Offender Guideline, based on two prior convictions for New York manslaughter in the first degree.  Someone is guilty of that offense when, “[w]ith intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person.”  N.Y. Penal Law § 125.20(1).  New York’s highest court has said this statute reaches a parent’s “failure to obtain medical care for a child.”  People v. Steinberg, 79 N.Y.2d 673, 680 (1992).  See also id(“The Penal …


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Categories: ACCA, career offender, crime of violence

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Saturday, March 28th, 2020

A Note on § 922(g) Clients

As the defense community continues to focus on clients at elevated risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent ruling from the Fourth Circuit offers new support for vacating the convictions of clients who pleaded guilty to gun possession in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).  An element of that offense is that, at the time the defendant possessed a gun, 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 most clients, that means knowing of a prior conviction for “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”  § 922(g)(1).

In United States v. Gary, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 1443528 (4th Cir. Mar. 25, 2020), the court held the failure to advise a defendant of the Rehaif element at his guilty plea is “a structural error that requires …

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Categories: 922(g), Rehaif

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Categories: 922(g), Rehaif

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Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

Another Court Rules Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery is NOT a “Crime of Violence”

As blogged about here, Judge Johnson of the E.D.N.Y. has ruled that attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

He’s just been joined by Judge Telesca of the W.D.N.Y.  “[A]ttempted Hobbs Act robbery does not categorically entail the use, threatened use, or attempted use of force.”  Lofton v. United States, 2020 WL 362348, at *9 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 22, 2020).  That is because the “requisite categorical approach,” by “which a court must examine ‘the minimum criminal conduct necessary for conviction,’” shows that the crime can be committed “‘without any use, attempted use, or threatened use of violence.’”  Id. at *7 (citations omitted).

As briefed in a pending case, United States v. Pica, E.D.N.Y. 08-559, the minimum conduct for attempted Hobbs Act robbery is surveilling a target with the intent to rob him but not actually use force: in short, to bluff.  …


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Categories: 924(c), crime of violence, Hobbs Act, robbery

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Rehaif Claims — Keep ‘Em Comin’!

To convict someone of unlawful gun possession 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 was subjectively aware of the fact — at the moment he possessed the gun — that he had “been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”  § 922(g)(1).

The mere fact of having a felony conviction is not enough.  There must be proof the defendant was subjectively aware of the conviction at the moment he possessed the gun.  Judge Sullivan explained this in a ruling blogged about here.  See also Rehaif, 139 S. …

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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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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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