Archive | substantive reasonableness

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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Monday, June 3rd, 2019

Supreme Court to decide whether plain-error review applies when defendant does not object to sentence as substantively unreasonable at sentencing

Today the Supreme Court granted cert. in Holguin-Hernandez v. United States, S. Ct. No. 18-7739, to resolve the earth-shattering question of whether plain-error review applies to an appellate claim of substantive unreasonableness (i.e., “The sentence is too damn long!”) when defense counsel did not object to the sentence’s unreasonableness at sentencing. The case comes out of the 5th Circuit, the only Circuit to apply plain-error review in this situation. Eight Circuits have held that a post-sentence objection is not required to invoke regular ol’ “substantive reasonableness” review (i.e., abuse of discretion review) on appeal. The Second Circuit has dodged this question, concluding every time that it need not resolve the issue because the challenged sentence is proper even under ordinary reasonableness review. See, e.g., United States v. Nesbitt, 757 F. App’x 13, 14 (2d Cir. Nov. 26, 2018).


As we breathlessly await The Nine’s …

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Categories: plain error, Rule 52, substantive reasonableness

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Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Second Circuit Upholds “Barbaric,” but Somehow Substantively Reasonable, Sentence

In a remarkably fatalistic opinion, the Second Circuit rejected a substantive reasonableness challenge to a 25 year sentence for child pornography sentence charges. The sentence, the panel explained, was “barbaric without being all that unusual.” United States v. Sawyer, No. 15-2276 (2d Cir. Oct. 6, 2018) (Jacobs, Pooler, Crawford (D. Vt.)), available here.

The defendant in Sawyer was initially sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment on charges of sexual exploitation and receiving child pornography. The defendant’s PSR documented that the defendant suffered a childhood of severe physical and sexual abuse. The district judge described this childhood as “horrific” and “nightmarish,” but admonished the defendant that “I can’t excuse that darkness in your heart and soul that made you prey upon two innocent children.” Slip op. at 3-4. (The defendant was prosecuted for having, but not distributing, graphic cellphone photos of two young girls with whom he had …

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Categories: child pornography, law-of-the-case doctrine, substantive reasonableness

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Friday, May 4th, 2018

Second Circuit Vacates Imposition of Lifetime Supervised Release

It’s been a busy week for the Second Circuit. On Wednesday, the Circuit reversed a sentence imposing a life term of supervised release for a defendant who had initially been convicted of drug offenses. See United States v. Brooks, No. 16-4063 (2d Cir. 2018) (per curiam) (Parker, Lynch, Chin) (appeal from Kaplan, J., SDNY). The opinion, available here, contains great language for use at sentencings and appeals.

The defendant in Brooks had initially pled guilty to distributing and possessing with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin, in violation statutes including 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). After release from prison, he was charged with numerous supervised release violations, and pled guilty to violating three conditions related to drug use. At his revocation hearing, the defendant’s attorney noted the defendant’s “serious drug problem” as a “huge underlying and contributing factor” to his violations. Neither the government nor Probation recommended a specific …

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Categories: drug distribution, procedural reasonableness, sentencing, substantive reasonableness, supervised release

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Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Second Circuit Vacates Above-Guidelines Illegal Reentry Sentence As Procedurally and Substantively Unreasonable

Today the Second Circuit issued an opinion vacating a 60-month illegal reentry sentence as both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. The opinion in United States v. Latchman Singh, No. 16-1111 (Kearse, Hall, Chin) (appeal from Forrest, J., SDNY), is available here. Judge Chin’s opinion touches on a number of recurring sentencing issues, and includes an important analysis of the distinction between presenting mitigating evidence and avoiding responsibility for one’s crimes.

Mr. Singh pleaded guilty to one count of illegal reentry after being removed following an aggravated felony conviction, see 8 U.S.C. § 1326(b). His record includes a number of convictions for non-violent offenses, several of which occurred more than a decade ago. The 15-21 Guidelines range for Mr. Singh’s sentence reflected a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. Prior to sentencing, he wrote a letter to the district court expressing remorse his actions and explaining the pressures that …

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Categories: acceptance of responsibility, illegal reentry, procedural reasonableness, sentencing, sentencing findings, substantive reasonableness

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Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

How Severe is Too Severe (for Production of Child Porn)?

“Serious nonhomicide crimes may be devastating in their harm[,] but in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, they cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irreovocability.”  So said the Second Circuit today in United States v. Brown, No. 13-1706-cr (June 14, 2016)  (quoting the Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Flordia, 560 U.S. 48, 69 (2010)), in remanding a 60-year sentence for production of child pornography on procedural grounds that look awfully substantive.  The opinion contains must-use language for advocates at sentencing for a less-than-extreme sentence in any non-homicide case.

The majority opinion (written by J. Pooler with J. Sack signing on) found that the District Court (J. Sharpe, NDNY) may have misunderstood certain facts in imposing a virtual life sentence for photographing and disseminating sexual images of three young girls and possessing thousands of other images of …

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Categories: child pornography, procedural reasonableness, sentencing, substantive reasonableness, Uncategorized

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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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Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Woe Betide Those Who Park on the Wrong Side of the Street (and those who produce child pornography)


No relevant opinions today; two summary orders.

In United States v. Grady, Syracuse police noticed that Grady’s car was parked in violation of the city’s odd/even street parking rules.  They approached the car, shone their flashlights inside and saw, in plain view, a bag of crack cocaine on Grady’s lap.  A loaded gun was also found in the car.

Assuming the officers’ approach of the car constituted a stop, the Court (Jacobs, Hall, Lynch, CJJ) held there was reasonable suspicion given the car’s being parked on the wrong side of the street.  Though a car isn’t “parked” if it’s stopped only to load or unload goods or passengers, the officers observed no such activity and the Court held they watched the car for long enough — 10 seconds — before deciding to approach.  “The officers were not required to conduct surveillance long enough to ‘rule out the possibility of …

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Categories: car stop, child pornography, expert witnesses, Fourth Amendment, reasonable suspicion, substantive reasonableness

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Saturday, October 27th, 2012

PC World

United States v. Oehne, No. 11-2286 (2d Cir. October 25, 2012) (Kearse, Katzmann, CJJ, Gleeson, DJ) (per curiam)

This latest per curiam looks at the pretrial ruling on a motion to suppress, and the long sentence imposed in a child pornography production and distribution case. Finding no error, the circuit affirms.

The suppression issue involved custodial statements.  Oehne claimed that he unequivocally invoked his right to counsel by telling the agents that he had an attorney in a separate, unrelated case. But the circuit reminded that the right to counsel is “offense specific.” And, since Oehne never requested counsel at all in the case he was being questioned about, he did not invoke his right to counsel.  Nor did he invoke his right to remain silent by not signing the Miranda waiver form. The record here showed not that he refused to sign it – although even that might not …

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Categories: Miranda, substantive reasonableness, Uncategorized

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Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

PC World

United States v. Perez-Frias, No. 10-1401-cr (2d Cir. March 31, 2011) (Jacobs, Calabresi, Lohier, CJJ) (per curiam)

Pedro Ruben Perez-Frias appealed his 42-month, below-Guideline illegal reenty sentence, arguing that it was substantively unreasonable. The circuit affirmed.

His case presented a particularly unsympathetic set of facts. In 1995, Perez-Frias was convicted of a drug-related manslaughter. He was selling marijuana at the time, and told his friends that he was having trouble with a rival dealer. This inspired someone else to kill the rival. Perez-Frias received a 7-to-21-year state sentence, and served about 14 years before being paroled to immigration authorities, who immediately deported him. He returned to the United States in August of 2009 and, two months later, was arrested for possessing marijuana. Within a few months he was in federal custody facing an illegal reentry charge.

Perez-Frias’ primary argument at sentencing was that a Guideline sentence was greater than necessary …

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Categories: illegal reentry, substantive reasonableness, Uncategorized

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Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Deconstruction Project

United States v. Dorvee, No. 09-0648 (2d Cir. May 11, 2010) (Cabranes, Parker, CJJ, Underhill, DJ)

In this first-of-a-kind opinion, the court (1) held that a within Guideline – albeit statutory maximum – sentence was substantively unreasonable and (2) found that an offense Guideline other than the crack Guideline was not the product of the Commission’s traditional empirical role and hence, under Kimbrough, was not entitled to deference.


While chatting online with undercover officers posing as teenage boys, Justin Dorvee sent them computer files containing child pornography. He was arrested when set out to meet one of the boys. A search of his home revealed several thousand still images and more than 100 videos containing child pornography. He ultimately pled guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography.

Under a correct application of U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2, which prescribed a base offense level of 22 plus enhancements for such …

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Categories: child pornography, procedural reasonableness, substantive reasonableness, Uncategorized

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