Federal Defenders of New York Second Circuit Blog


Friday, September 29th, 2023

Supreme Court will revisit the application of the Confrontation Clause to forensic evidence.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Smith v. Arizona, No. 22-899. The question presented is:

Whether the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment permits the prosecution in a criminal trial to present testimony by a substitute expert conveying the testimonial statements of a nontestifying forensic analyst, on the grounds that (a) the testifying expert offers some independent opinion and the analyst’s statements are offered not for their truth but to explain the expert’s opinion, and (b) the defendant did not independently seek to subpoena the analyst.

Defense counsel should be sure to make Confrontation Clause objections whenever the government seeks to use or admit forensic evidence at trial without calling the individual (or all of the individuals) who actually performed all of the underlying forensic testing.

Smith will hopefully bring some clarity to this area of law. The Supreme Court has long held that criminal defendants have a …


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Categories: Confrontation Clause, Sixth Amendment

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Friday, September 22nd, 2023

A Panel of the Second Circuit holds (over a dissent) that a non-citizen is removable for a crime involving moral turpitude “for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed” — under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(i) — even though New York subsequently reduced the maximum sentence for Class A misdemeanors from one year to “364 days” and made the change retroactive. Vasquez v. Garland, No. 21-6380, __ F.4th ____ (2d Cir. Sept. 13, 2023) (C.J.J.’s Jacobs and Chin; C.J.J. Robinson dissenting).

I. Background

Under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(i) —  which is Section 237(a)(2)(A)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) — a non-citizen “is deportable” if “convicted of a crime of moral turpitude” (committed within a specified period “after the date of admission”) “for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed.” (emphasis added).

“Peguero Vasquez . . . was admitted to the United States as a permanent resident in 2012.” See Opinion (“Op”) at 5. In 2017, he pleaded guilty to the New York offense of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the third degree, a Class A misdemeanor, because of “his use of a fraudulent license plate.” Op at 3-5; see N.Y. Penal Law  § 170.20.

But “[i]n 2019, the New York legislature reduced the maximum possible sentence for Class A misdemeanors … (including the forged instrument offense to which Peguero Vasquez pleaded …

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Wednesday, September 20th, 2023

Second Circuit Affirms 18 U.S.C. § 115(a)(1)(B) Conviction And Sentence For Defendant Who Posted “Kill Your Senators” Video Online

In United States v. Hunt, No. 21-3020 (2d Cir. Sept. 20, 2023) (Walker, joined by Parker and Bianco), the Circuit affirmed Hunt’s conviction and sentence for threatening to assault and murder United States officials, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 115(a)(1)(B), based on Hunt’s online posting of a video entitled “Kill Your Senators.” In the video, which was posted on January 8, 2021, Hunt said, among other things: “We need to go back to the U.S. Capitol when all of the Senators and a lot of the Representatives are back there and this time we have to show up with our guns and we need to slaughter these motherfuckers …. If anybody has a gun, give me it. I will go there myself and shoot them and kill them.”

The Circuit held:

  1. The evidence was sufficient. In so holding, the Circuit rejected Hunt’s argument for application of the “constitutional
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Wednesday, September 6th, 2023

Drug-distribution premises sentencing enhancement applies to dealing drugs from premises formerly used as residence

In United States v. Vinales, No. 22-331-cr (Aug. 29, 2023), the panel (Lynch, Lohier, and Bianco) issued a per curiam opinion affirming application of the drug-distribution premises enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(12).

Vinales was charged with selling drugs out of an apartment where he had once resided, but no longer did at the time of arrest. On appeal, he argued that the two-point enhancement should not apply because he did not maintain the premises after moving out “for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance.” In its first published opinion on this enhancement, the Circuit relied on guidelines commentary to endorse the “totality-of-the-circumstances” test employed below. It held the enhancement was applicable, reasoning that Vinales maintained the apartment and continued to sell drugs from it once he moved out. Thus, even if he still socialized there after moving out, the district court properly determined that, at his arrest, …


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Categories: 2D1.1, drug distribution, sentencing findings

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Selling cocaine in NY is not a “serious drug offense” under ACCA

Affirming Judge Koeltl, the Second Circuit has ruled in U.S. v. Minter that selling cocaine, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 220.39(1), is not a “serious drug offense” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).

Why not?  Because “New York’s definition of cocaine is categorically broader than its federal counterpart.”  Slip Op. at 3.  Specifically, federal law “prohibits possession of only optical and geometric isomers of cocaine, while New York’s statute prohibits possession of all cocaine isomers.”  Slip Op. at 5 (emphasis in original).

The government argued Minter should have to pass the “realisitic probability” test by poining to a New York case in which the defendant was convicted for selling something other than an optical or geometric isomer of cocaine.  But the Court said no: “the New York statute applies on its face to all cocaine isomers; [federal law] does not.  ‘When the state law …

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Friday, August 11th, 2023

Another Day, Another 922(g) Section Found Unconstitutional under Bruen: this time it’s 922(g)(3) prohibiting an “unlawful” drug user from having a gun

This week, in United States v. Daniels, the Fifth Circuit held that a person’s conviction under 922(g)(3) was unconstitutional following Bruen. The facts of Daniels are straightforward: Daniels was found with guns and marijuana in his car and then admitted he was a habitual marijuana user. He was charged and convicted of violating Section 922(g)(3). The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that history and tradition did not justify disarming a “sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage.”

Although 922(g)(3) isn’t a a common charge, there is helpful language in the Daniels opinion for Bruen motions under 922(g)(1). And, the steady drumbeat of 922(g) reversals will hopefully give judges pause in relying on pre-Bruen decisions without a careful analysis.

In Daniels, the government relied on the same language and history that they point to for 922(g)(1) cases. The Fifth Circuit roundly rejected those arguments. The Circuit …

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Friday, August 4th, 2023

De novo resentencing required after district court imposed a supervised-release term, following revocation, that exceeded the statutory maximum

In United States v. Sire Gaye, 2d Cir. No. 22-251-cr (August 4, 2023), the panel (Judges Park, Nardini, and Nathan) issued a per curiam opinion vacating the district court’s revocation sentence and remanded for de novo resentencing. Although only the supervised-release portion of the revocation sentence was unlawful – the five-year term exceeded the statutory maximum – the Court decided that, instead of simply lowering that term to the true maximum (18 months) and leaving alone the imprisonment portion of the sentence (three years’ imprisonment) – as the Government wanted — the district court should decide in the first instance how to apportion the imprisonment and supervised release portions of its revocation sentence on remand (as Gaye desired).

Here’s the gist. Gaye pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2018 and was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release – the statutory maximum. The court …


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Categories: plain error, supervised release

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Thursday, July 20th, 2023

Plaintiff can pursue punitive damages related to his unlawful state supervision

In Aponte v. Perez, No. 20-2186 (2d Cir. July 20, 2023), the Second Circuit rules largely in favor of the plaintiff-appellant, who brought a civil rights suit after he was wrongfully subjected to post-release supervision.

 In 2000, plaintiff Felix Aponte was sentenced in New York State court to 8 years in prison for robbery. After sentencing, the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) “administratively added a five-year term of post-release supervision” (PRS). This practice seems obviously unconstitutional and, in 2006, the Second Circuit so held. Aponte was eventually resentenced in 2008.

In the meantime, Aponte was subject to this illegal supervision term. He was imprisoned for violating the terms of his (illegal) supervision.

Aponte, acting pro se, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against DOCS and others, seeking damages related to his unlawful supervision and incarceration.

The district court found a violation of Aponte’s due …

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Wednesday, July 19th, 2023

For computer offenses of “causing damage” to a computer, Second Circuit allows venue in the location of any computer that was prevented from accessing files that were unlawfully deleted from the remote server of a software vendor.

In United States v. Calonge, No. 21-3089 (2d Cir. July 14, 2023) (Parker, Lynch, Lohier), the Circuit affirmed convictions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) in the Southern District of New York for transmitting a program code or command and intentionally “caus[ing] damage” to a computer and accessing a computer without authorization and recklessly “caus[ing] damage,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§1030(a)(5)(A) and (B).  The defendant’s conduct of deleting files from a software vendor used by her employer was committed in Florida. Venue in New York had been based on the loss of access to those files by the computers at the New York headquarters of her employer.  Calonge argued that no New York computer was “damaged” and that venue could only lie in Florida, where the conduct was committed, or in Virginia or California, where the deleted data resided on the vendor’s servers. The …

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Second Circuit finds that VICAR murder may categorically qualify as a crime of violence

This week, in United States v. Davis, No. 21-1486-cr (2d Cir. July 18, 2023), the Circuit holds that murder in aid of racketeering (also known as “VICAR murder”), 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1), may categorically qualify as a “crime of violence” for purposes of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and 924(j)(1).

In Davis, the defendant argued that VICAR murder is not categorically a crime of violence because it includes generic, second-degree murder, which can be committed recklessly. And offenses with a mens rea of recklessness do not categorically qualify as violent felonies. See Borden v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1817, 1834 (2021).

The Circuit rejected this argument. The Circuit found that VICAR murder is divisible, meaning a court must apply the “modified categorical approach” to determine the specific elements of a defendant’s underlying murder offense. Here the defendant’s jury instructions established that he was charged with and convicted …


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Friday, July 14th, 2023

Application of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (“MDLEA”) to foreign conspirators who were never on the high seas, and where neither the defendants nor the scheme have a nexus to the United States, does not violate Due Process or Article I.

In United States v. Antonius, No. 21-1083 (2d Cir. July 10, 2023) (Calabresi, Lynch, and Robinson), the Second Circuit affirmed the convictions of three land-based foreign nationals for conspiracy to traffic drugs on the high seas using a stateless vessel where neither the defendants nor the conspiracy had any connection to the United States. The defendants had never been on the high seas but conspired from land to send drugs from Guyana to the Netherlands on the high seas in a stateless vessel. The Circuit had previously held that MDLEA reached foreign land-based conspirators whose plan involved no travel through United States waters but who had minor contact with the United States in furtherance of the conspiracy. United States v. Alarcon-Sanchez, 972 F.3d 156 (2d Cir. 2022).The Antonius defendants argued that their prosecution under the MDLEA statute violated due process because their conduct had no nexus …


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