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Friday, April 29th, 2022

Second Circuit: State Court’s Erroneous Denial Of Defendant’s Peremptory Strike Is Not Grounds For Federal Habeas Corpus Relief

In Murray v. Noeth, No. 20-3136 (2d Cir. Apr. 26, 2022), the Circuit (Nardini, joined by Sack and Park), held that a state trial court’s erroneous denial of a defendant’s peremptory strike does not violate the federal Constitution under Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148 (2009), and therefore cannot support federal habeas corpus relief.

Murray was tried in New York state court for murder. After he exercised a number of peremptory strikes against male prospective jurors, the People raised a “reverse-Batson” challenge, arguing that Murray’s strikes were discriminating on the basis of sex. The state trial court sustained the People’s challenge and disallowed two strikes, restoring two men to the jury. Murray was convicted and the state appellate courts affirmed.

Murray filed a federal habeas corpus petition, contending that the state trial court had erred in sustaining the People’s reverse-Batson challenge. Specifically, Murray argued that …

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Monday, April 25th, 2022

Circuit affirms denial of Rule 33 motion on Brady grounds, finding lack of prejudice, but expresses “skepticism” that DOJ’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section was not “part of the prosecution team” in “unusual case”

When multiple law enforcement agencies or subdivisions are involved in a case, who is “part of the prosecution team” for Brady purposes? In United States v. Hunter, Nos. 18-3074, 18-3489, & 19-790 (2d Cir. Apr. 20, 2022) (C.J.J. Cabranes, Raggi, and Korman (sitting by designation)), the Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Rule 33 motions following belated disclosure of exculpatory information, relying on a different Brady prong. Nevertheless, in dicta, it explored this challenging question.

The case came before the Court with a torturous and troubling procedural history. The co-defendants were convicted in SDNY in April 2018, following a joint jury trial, of various murder-for-hire, conspiracy, § 924(j), and money laundering counts, based on allegations that they were part of a transnational criminal organization. The boss of this organization was cooperating witness Paul LeRoux, who had been nabbed by the DEA in Liberia in 2012. “The scale and …


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Thursday, March 17th, 2022

Lack of rationale for denying compassionate release prompts Jacobson remand.

In United States v. Nosov, No. 21-187-cr (2d Cir. March 17, 2022) (summary order), the Second Circuit ordered a limited remand for clarification of a court’s denial of a motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C, § 3582(c)(1)(A), pursuant to United States v. Jacobson, 15 F.3d 129 (2d Cir. 1994).

In Nosov, the defendant moved for a reduction of his concurrent life terms, citing his youth at the time of the offenses, his rehabilitation, and his health conditions. The government agreed that the defendant’s obesity put him at increased risk from COVID-19, and that this could constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason for a sentence reduction.

Nonetheless, without further explanation, the district court opined that the defendant had not shown “extenuating and compelling” reasons warranting a reduction and denied the motion. This finding was in tension with the government’s concession and the Circuit noted that the …

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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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Friday, January 28th, 2022

Circuit Vacates LIBOR-Rigging Convictions For Insufficient Evidence

In United States v. Connolly, No. 19-3806 (2d Cir. Jan. 27, 2022), the Circuit (Kearse, joined by Cabranes and Pooler) reversed convictions for substantive wire fraud and for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud for insufficient evidence.

This is a LIBOR-rigging prosecution. LIBOR (the “London Interbank Offered Rate”) was an interest-rate benchmark, published daily by the British Bankers’ Association (“BBA”), meant to reflect the rates at which one bank could borrow money from other banks. LIBOR also provided a reference interest rate for use in transactions between banks. The daily LIBOR for each currency was computed based on submissions from a panel of selected banks active in the interbank market for that currency. For example, to compute the U.S. currency LIBOR at issue here, the BBA instructed each of the 16 banks on the panel to submit “the rate at which it could borrow funds, were it …

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Thursday, January 27th, 2022

Second Circuit Affirms El Chapo’s Conviction

In United States v. Beltran Leyva (Guzman Loera), No. 19–2239 (2d Cir. Jan. 25, 2022), the Circuit (Newman, joined by Lynch and Park) affirmed the conviction of Guzman Loera (“El Chapo”), the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, for conducting a continuing criminal enterprise, and for drug trafficking, firearms, and money laundering offenses. The Circuit rejected all 10 of Guzman Loera’s appellate claims:

1) Guzman Loera lacked standing to raise the claim that the indictment violated the international law doctrine of specialty (which provides that an extradited defendant can only be tried for offenses described in the extradition treaty and charged in the extradition proceedings). Under United States v. Barinas, 865 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2017), the U.S.-Mexico Extradition Treaty does not confer on extradited defendants individual rights to assert violations of the Treaty, and Mexico waived any specialty objection to Guzman Loera’s prosecution in the EDNY.

2) …

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Friday, July 30th, 2021

A district court may consider the defendant’s future earning potential to conclude that the defendant is “non-indigent” and thus subject to the mandatory $5,000 “special assessment” under 18 U.S.C. § 3014(a)

Section 3014(a) of Title 18, enacted as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (“JVTA”), requires district courts to impose a $5,000 special assessment on “non-indigent” persons convicted of certain sex- and trafficking-related offenses.1 Carlos Rosario is an indigent person represented by this Office. After he pleaded guilty to three qualifying offenses, the district court considered his future earning capacity, concluded that he was “non-indigent” in light of that capacity, and imposed the $5,000 special assessment. Rosario argued on appeal that this was error.

The Circuit affirms Rosario’s sentence. United States v. Rosario, No. 20-2268 (2d Cir. July 29, 2021). Writing for himself and Judge Sack, Judge Park concludes that “the ordinary meaning of ‘indigent’ encompasses not only a lack of present resources, but also includes a forward-looking assessment of the defendant’s ‘means’ or ability to pay.” This reading, moreover, is consistent with “all …

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A substance can be an “analogue” of fentanyl for purposes of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi) — requiring a 5-year minimum sentence where the offense involved “10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of any analogue of” fentanyl — even if it does not qualify as a “controlled substance analogue” under 21 U.S.C. § 802(32).

Torri McCray was charged under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi) for distributing 10 grams or more of “butyryl fentanyl,” an analogue of fentanyl under the ordinary meaning of the term “analogue.” As Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary puts it, an “analogue” in the relevant chemistry context is “a chemical compound structurally similar to another but differing often by a single element of the same valence and group of the periodic table as the element it replaces.”

Everyone, including McCray, agrees that butyryl fentanyl is an analogue of fentanyl under this definition. And if this definition governed for purposes of § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi), then McCray would be subject to a 5-year mandatory minimum: Such a sentence is required when the defendant distributes “10 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of any analogue of” fentanyl.

But McCray disagrees that the ordinary definition of “analogue” applies to § 841(b)(1)(B)(vi). He …

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Friday, June 25th, 2021

Police can’t chase a suspected misdemeanant into his home without a warrant—except when they can, which is probably most of the time.

In Lange v. California, No. 21-18, 594 U.S. __ (June 23, 2021), the Supreme Court holds that pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not categorically qualify as an exigent circumstance that permits police to enter a home without a warrant. That is: if a New York police officer tries to stop and ticket you for littering, and you run away, the officer cannot necessarily chase you into your home.

But sometimes, probably even most times, he can. Per the Supreme Court: “A great many misdemeanor pursuits involve exigencies allowing warrantless entry,” so it “turns on the particular facts of the case.”

In Lange, the defendant drove past California highway patrol officers “listening to loud music with his windows down and repeatedly honking his horn.” This prompted officers to follow Lange and then signal for him to pull over. By the time police turned on their signal, Lange …

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Monday, June 14th, 2021

Raising an unpreserved Rehaif claim? You now face an “uphill climb.”

Anyone appealing a criminal conviction is used to uphill battles. Now there is one more. In a near-unanimous decision issued today, the Supreme Court held that the strict plain-error test applies to unpreserved Rehaif claims, explicitly stating that anyone raising this type of claim faces an “uphill climb.” Why? According to Kavanaugh, J., writing for the 8 justice majority: “If a person is a felon, he ordinarily knows he is a felon.”

Just a little refresher: In Rehaif, decided just two years ago, the Supreme Court held that “the Government must prove that a defendant knows of his status as a person barred from possessing a firearm,” for example because of a prior felony conviction. The Rehaif court explained that this element was “crucial” in “separating innocent from wrongful conduct.” Following Rehaif, the Fourth Circuit held in United States v. Gary that pre-Rehaif guilty pleas must be …


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Thursday, May 27th, 2021

Supreme Court overrules the “watershed rule of criminal procedure” portion of Teague v. Lane.

The issue in Edwards v. Vannoy, decided May 17, 2021, was whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S. Ct. 1390 (2020), will apply retroactively to cases on federal collateral review.  Ramos is the case which decided that unanimous jury verdicts are required in state felony cases, thus outlawing the non-unanimous jury practices that existed in only two states – Louisiana and Oregon.  In a 6-to-3 vote, the Supreme Court decided against retroactive application, which means, as Justice Kagan tells us in dissent, that Mr. Edwards, unlike Mr. Ramos, “will serve the rest of is life in prison based on a 10-to-2 jury verdict.”

As many of us recall, when the Supreme Court promulgates a new rule of criminal procedure, it applies not just to future cases but also to cases that are already on direct appeal.  See Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 …

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