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Thursday, May 19th, 2005

A Second 2255 Petition Need Not Satisfy 2244’s Stringent “Gatekeeping” Requirements If Filed Before the First Petition Has Become Final

Usama Whab v. United States, Docket No. 05-1214 (2d Cir. May 19, 2005) (Walker, Leval, Duplantier) (Op. by Leval): This is a surprisingly good, pro-defendant opinion — in a case litigated by a pro se petitioner, no less. (Two cheers for the Court!) Essentially, the Circuit held that if a defendant files a second 2255 motion before his first 2255 petition has become “final” (i.e., before the time for seeking cert. on the first petition has run), the defendant need not satisfy 2244(b)(3)(A)’s rigorous requirements for “second or successive petitions” (including the requirement of prior approval from the Circuit before filing) . While the traditional “abuse of the writ” doctrine would still apply to such petitions, a petitioner need not satisfy 2244’s gatekeeping requirements in such a situation.

The essential facts are as follows. After the Circuit affirmed his conviction on direct appeal, Whab filed his first …

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Thursday, May 5th, 2005

Does a District Court Have the Authority to Use the Beyond-a-Reasonable-Doubt Standard at Sentencing after Booker?

United States v. Evelyn Gonzalez, Docket No. 04-1956-cr (2d Cir. May 3, 2005) (Meskill, Calabresi, Wesley) (Op. by Meskill): This odd case has already received a good deal of attention from Professor Berman and others. And rightly so, for it seems to suggest — if only in dicta and only by silence — that a district court has the authority, after Booker, to use the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt (“BRD”) standard of proof to determine facts relevant to Guidelines enhancements.

The facts are simple. The defendant was charged with conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms of cocaine. She was convicted at trial by a jury. However, in response to two questions, the jury specfically found that Ms. Gonzalez’s offense did not involve either 5 kilograms or more, or 500 grams or more, of cocaine.

At the pre-Booker sentencing, the Government relied on Watts to argue that in determining the appropriate offense …

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Saturday, April 30th, 2005

A Blanket Order concerning Appeals with Unpreserved Booker Errors

Yesterday, April 29th, the Court issued the following blanket order, which applies to all appeals raising a Booker claim in which the error was not preserved (i.e., primarily cases in which the sentencing occurred before Blakely was decided in June 2004). It states, in is cryptic entirety,

“John M. Walker, Jr., Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, today announced the following: In cases pending on direct review involving appeals of sentences imposed prior to United States v. Booker, 125 S. Ct. 738 (2005), in which the sentencing judge’s error in applying the Sentencing Guidelines mandatorily was not preserved for appellate review by an appropriate objection, the Court will be receptive to motions agreed to by all parties to the appeal to remand pursuant to United States v. Crosby, 397 F.3d 103 (2d Cir. 2005), without the need for briefing …

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Friday, April 29th, 2005

The Guidelines Grind Continues, even after Booker

United States v. Maloney, Docket No. 03-1753 (2d Cir. April 28, 2005) (Jacobs, Pooler, Sotomayor) (Op. by Sotomayor): Some of us had hoped that Booker, rendering the Guidelines-derived range merely advisory, would put an end to the mind-numbing analyses of poorly drafted Guidelines provisions churned out by the Circuit each week. Such hopes had been increased by the Court’s decision in Rubenstein (see Blog below), in which the Court explained that because reasonableness is now the end-all-and-be-all for determining whether a sentence will be upheld on appellate review (rather than the correct application of the Guidelines), and because whether a sentence is reasonable or not is not necessarily dependent on whether it flowed from a correctly calculated Guidelines range, the Court has the authority to overlook Guidelines disputes and simply affirm or vacate a sentence based on its reasonableness (or lack thereof).

In Rubenstein, the Court decided …

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Circuit Enforces Appeal Waiver, Entered into before Blakely or Booker, to Dismiss Booker Challenge on Appeal

United States v. Morgan, Docket No. 03-1316 (2d Cir. April 27, 2005) (Straub, Pooler, Parker) (Op. by Parker): You win some, you lose some. A mixed bag for defendants from the Circuit today: a good decision in Fagans, and an awful one in Morgan. In a short opinion — issued “on reconsideration” — that is equally short on reasoning or analysis, the Circuit joined the 2 or 3 other circuits that have decided this issue and held that an appeal waiver, even if it was entered into before either Blakely or Booker was decided, will be enforced and thus will bar an appeal raising a Booker claim. This is the central passage:

“Morgan entered into his plea agreement [which included a waiver of his right to appeal any sentence within a stipulated range] after Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), but before Booker/Fanfan. …

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A Preserved Blakely / Booker Error Warrants Resentencing (and Not Merely a Crosby Remand)

United States v. Fagans, Docket No. 04-4845-cr (2d Cir. April 27, 2005) (Newman, Cabranes, Pooler) (Op. by Newman): This is the most recent of a long line of opinions authored by Judge Newman that discuss the application of Booker to cases pending on review. It answers an open question about whether a Crosby remand (i.e., a proceeding in which the district court decides whether to resentence) or whether a full resentencing is the appropriate remedy when the defendant raised a Blakely-based objection at sentencing. And the lesson is simple: If your client raised a Blakely objection to the Guidelines at sentencing (regardless of whether the objection was made in the form of a “Blakely-ized Guidelines” objections or in the form of a “Guidelines as a whole are unconstitutional” objection) , then you get a full resentencing and not merely a Crosby remand. Fagans also …

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Friday, April 22nd, 2005

Government’s Breach of Plea Agreement Leads to Resentencing

United States v. Vaval, No. 04-121-cr (April 12, 2005)(Winter, Sotomayor, and Parker)(op. by Winter). In this opinion, the Court addressed two important issues regarding guilty plea practice – the sufficiency of the allocution and the government’s obligations under a plea agreement.

Facts
Troy Vaval and his confederates made arrangements to sell firearms to a confidential informant. When the CI showed up to close the deal, Vaval and the others robbed him, stealing the buy money, his wallet and jewelry, and his car.

Vaval pled guilty to one count of robbery of federal property with a dangerous weapon, pursuant to a plea agreement. The agreement listed the relevant statutory maxima, but had “N/A” next to the line for restitution. In addition, although the government retained the right to describe to the court Vaval’s criminal conduct, it agreed to “take no position concerning” where within the applicable guideline range Vaval should …

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Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

On Mail Fraud, Property and Cheap Gas

Oscar Porcelli v. United States, Docket No. 04-2000-pr (2d Cir. April 12, 2005): Those driving automobiles in the New York area in the early 1980’s will remember Oscar Porcelli fondly as the owner of the Gaseteria chain of discount gas stations, an operation that was able to charge prices for gas significantly lower than all other outlets. The reason for that ability, it turned out, was that Porcelli simply failed to collect state sales taxes on the gas he sold while filing false sales tax returns. Although this conduct was at worst a misdemeanor under New York law, it led to Porcelli’s conviction in Federal court of one count of Rackeetering (RICO) and numerous counts of mail fraud. It also led (alas!) to the demise of the Gaseteria chain and to a whole lot of post-conviction litigation.

On direct appeal in 1989, the Circuit recognized that it “pushed the …

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Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Some Choice Dicta about the Reasonableness Standard

United States v. Susan Godding, Docket No. 04-3643 (2d Cir. April 19, 2005) (Oakes, Kearse, Sack) (per curiam): Many of us are waiting for a definitive say from the Circuit about the meaning of Booker‘s reasonableness standard of review, beyond the generic statements in Crosby and Fleming that reasonableness is a “flexible” concept and that the Circuit will “exhibit restraint, not micromanagement” in performing this appellate function. This odd little case is, unfortunately, not that definitive statement. Nonetheless, the Circuit — while ultimately simply remanding for a Crosby determination by the district court — suggests that the sentence imposed, as well as some remarks made by the district court at the original sentencing, were unreasonable.

The opinion tells us very little about the offense or the defendant. Ms. Godding worked for a bank and, over a 5-year period, managed to embezzle over $366,000 from her employer. Although her …

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Monday, April 18th, 2005

Circuit Affirms Grant of Habeas, and Clarifies the Exhaustion Standard

Jackson v. Edwards, Docket No. 03-2805 (2d Cir. April 14, 2005) (Newman, Sack, Parker) (Op. by Parker): In this case, the Circuit affirms a grant of habeas by Judge Weinstein, and in so doing clarifies an issue regarding exhaustion. The substantive issue is fact specific — it concerns whether the defendant was entitled to a justification charge during his state trial for homicide and criminal possession of a weapon. Readers interested in that issue should consult the opinion. Suffice it to say that the Second Circuit concluded that, under the specific facts of this case, the state trial court violated the defendant’s Due Process right when it refused to give a justification charge.

The exhaustion question concerned whether the defendant’s brief to the Appellate Division “fairly presented” the federal Due Process claim — the subject of the instant habeas petition — when it “argued only that the trial …

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Saturday, April 16th, 2005

Circuit Again Vacates an Erroneous Enhancement without Conducting Reasonableness Review

United States v. Capanelli, Docket Nos. 03-1376 & 03-1439 (2d Cir. April 14, 2005) (Oakes, Jacobs & Cabranes) (Op. by Jacobs): In this opinion, the Circuit — as it did recently in United States v. Rubenstein, No. 03-1721 (see Blog, below) — vacates an erroneously imposed 5-level Guidelines enhancement; exercises its discretion to correct the error and remand for resentencing without conducting Booker‘s reasonableness review; and leaves open (again) the question of whether a sentence imposed pursuant to an erroneously calculated Guideline range could nonetheless be reasonable. Thus, the Big Question posed by Rubenstein — whether a sentence imposed upon an erroneously calculated Guidelines range could nonetheless be upheld on appeal as reasonable (and, conversely, whether a sentence imposed pursuant to a correctly calculated range could nonetheless be vacated on appeal as unreasonable) — remains unanswered.

Defendant was convicted after trial of conspiring to rob a federal …

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