Archive | jury charge

Friday, October 11th, 2019

Internally inconsistent verdict on a single count (involving a single defendant) requires dismissal

It is long settled that inconsistency between or among counts of conviction is not a ground for dismissal. See, e.g., Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393 (1932); and United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 61-69 (1984). The same rule applies to jury verdicts that are inconsistent as to different defendants in a joint trial. See United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 279 (1943). As the Supreme Court broadly stated in Rivera v. Harris, 454 U.S. 339, 345-46 (1981), the jury possesses “the unreviewable power [] to return a verdict of not guilty for impermissible reasons” and “[i]nconsistency in a verdict is not a sufficient reason for setting it aside.”

None of those cases, however, concerned a verdict that is internally inconsistent as to the same count and the same defendant. The Second Circuit recently encountered that situation in United States v. Janine

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Categories: charge, jury, jury charge, jury trial, verdict

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Friday, September 29th, 2017

Abu Ghayth and the Material Support Statute

In a summary order, the Second Circuit upheld the convictions of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth (a son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden) for offenses including conspiracy to murder Americans and providing material support for terrorist activities.  The outcome is unsurprising, but the decision nevertheless offers some hope for differently situated defendants charged under the material support statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2339A.

The order, available here, serves as a troubling reminder of the potential breadth of the material support statute. Abu Ghayth’s material support conviction was based on his speeches in the wake of September 11 urging Muslims to fight for Al Qaeda and threatening attacks on “new American targets.” Slip op. at 8. The Circuit rejected a sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge to this conviction, and observed that “speech alone” can serve to establish a material support violation. Id. at 7 (quoting United States v. Rahman, 189 F.3d 88, 116-17 (2d Cir. 1999)). …

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Categories: aiding and abetting, conspiracy, jury charge, jury instructions, material support statute, plain error, prejudice, sufficiency, summary order, terrorism

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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Second Circuit affirms above-guideline sentence; declines to consider one IAC claim on direct review, but rejects another where record below was sufficiently developed on the point

In United States v. Pendergrass, 15-1965, the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction of Terrence Pendergrass, a former captain at Rikers Island, on one count of willfully violating the constitutional rights of an inmate, who died following the ingestion of cleaning supplies, by refusing to get him medical attention and prohibiting other guards from getting him medical attention.  Pendergrass raised three issues:  that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, that the District Court improperly instructed the jury regarding willfulness and conscious avoidance, and that his above-guideline sentence was unreasonable.

With respect to the ineffective assistance of counsel claims, the Court declined to consider Pendergrass’s first claim (that Pendergrass’s attorney was ineffective because he failed to call witnesses that would have been material to the defense) because the record with respect to the witnesses’ potential testimony was insufficiently developed to be considered on direct review.  The Court did reach …

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Categories: conscious avoidance, ineffective assistance of counsel, jury charge, substantive reasonableness, willful causation

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Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Reefer Gladness

United States v. Needham, No. 06-5652-cr (2d Cir. May 14, 2010) (Cabranes, Katzmann, Parker, CJJ)

The three defendants here were part of a larger group that was in the business of robbing drug dealers of drugs and drug proceeds. They were all convicted of a Hobbs Act conspiracy, which included robberies of cocaine and heroin dealers, and each was also convicted of one substantive count involving the robbery of a marijuana dealer. Consistent with circuit law at the time, the district court instructed the jury that “all illegal drug activity, even if it is purely local in nature,” affects interstate commerce. While the defendants’ appeal was pending, the circuit held that this instruction was wrong: proof of drug trafficking does not automatically prove an affect on interstate commerce. Instead, “even in drug cases, the jury must find such an effect as part of its verdict.” Finding plain error in the …

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Categories: interstate commerce, jury charge, plain error, Uncategorized

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Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Sexually Charged

United States v. Rivera, No. 06-4946-cr (2d Cir. October 15, 2008) (Jacobs, Kearse, Katzmann, CJJ)

Carlos Rivera was convicted of various offenses relating to the sexual exploitation of children. One count involved the production of child pornography for which Rivera, a recidivist, received a mandatory life sentence. His primary argument on appeal was that the district court incorrectly charged the jury on the definition of “lascivious” with respect to that count. Finding no error, the court of appeals affirmed.

At issue were six photographs that Rivera took of a sixteen-year old boy lying naked on a hotel bed, in various suggestive poses. The statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), prohibits coercing or enticing a minor to engage in “sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct.” “Sexually explicit conduct” is defined to include the “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person.”…

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Categories: child pornography, jury charge, Uncategorized

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Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Romeo and “Julie”

United States v. Joseph, No. 06-5911-cr (2d Cir. September 9, 2008) (Newman, Walker, Sotomayor, CJJ)

Dennis Joseph, through an internet chat room called “I Love Older Men,” met “Julie,” an FBI agent posing as a thirteen-year-old girl. He began exchanging messages with her describing sexual acts he wanted to perform with her, and over time, they made a plan to meet at a café in Manhattan. As the meeting date grew closer, Joseph balked, but “Julie” made him promise that he would really show up. He did, and was arrested. In a post-arrest statement, he indicated that he had no intention of having sex with “Julie.”

Joseph was charged with enticement, under 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). At trial, he pursued a lack-of-intent defense. Both he and his wife described him as having a proclivity for muscular women, and asserted that he used the internet primarily for role-playing purposes. Indeed, Joseph …

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Categories: evidence, jury charge, Uncategorized

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Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Flight Cancellation

United States v. Mundy, No. 06-1190-cr (2d Cir. August 21, 2008) (Kearse, Leval, Cabranes, CJJ).

In this decision, the court all but eliminates the “flight as consciousness of guilt” jury instruction from Second Circuit jurisprudence.

The facts here were somewhat unusual because it was the the defendant who sought the instruction with respect to a co-defendant. The defendant was trying to bolster his argument that drugs and guns in they apartment where they were both arrested belonged to the other guy. Naturally, the government objected.

On appeal, the circuit held that district court did not err in refusing to give the instruction. But it also went on to map out the multitude of reasons why such an instruction, if objected to, should not be given, regardless of which party is seeking it.

First, there are many inferences that can be drawn from a person’s flight and, while the standard instruction …

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Categories: consciousness of guilt, jury charge, Uncategorized

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Saturday, January 19th, 2008


United States v. Glover, No. 05-5047-cr (2d Cir. January 4, 2008) (Pooler, Raggi, CJJ, McMahon, DJ)

At this firearms trial, the judge charged the jury, over objection, that “the crucial, hard-core question” to answer was, “Where do you find the truth?” He also instructed: “The only triumph in any case, whether it be civil or criminal, is whether or not the truth [has] triumphed.” One defendant was acquitted; the other was not and appealed.

The circuit affirmed. It agreed that these instructions, in isolation, would be error because they do not ensure that the jury will have a correct understanding of the presumption of innocence or the government’s burden of proof. In addition, the court strongly discouraged their use in the future: “[T]o the extent that a trial court thinks it appropriate in a criminal case to identify for the jury a single ‘crucial, hard-core question,’ that question should be …

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Categories: burden of proof, jury charge, presumption of innocence, Uncategorized

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