Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Some Summary Orders: Bikes, Guns, Fines

On April 27, 2020, the Second Circuit issued three summary orders in criminal matters.

In United States. v. Cuello, No. 19-2053, the Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of suppression of a gun found during a traffic stop. This “traffic” stop was of a bike that did not have proper “head and tail lights,” in violation of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1236(a). During the stop, police asked the bike rider for identification and his “bicycle registration.”

Did you know that “bicycle registration” is a thing? Apparently, the Syracuse Revised General Ordinances, Section 29-1 requires every person in the city of Syracuse who owns a bicycle operated in the city to register that bicycle “with the chief of police.” Well.

When the bike rider failed to produce his registration, police asked him about a black backpack he was wearing. Because how suspicious is it to be riding your bike without your bicycle registration—but with a backpack? Police took the backpack and noted that it was “unusually heavy.” At this point, the defendant dropped his bike and “fled.” Officers caught him, searched the backpack, and found a gun.

The Second Circuit found this all completely reasonable. The initial “traffic” stop was justified by the rider’s lack of “bike lights.” And the stop was not unnecessarily prolonged because officers had “reasonable suspicion” because this “traffic stop” took place at 3:20 AM, “in a high crime neighborhood,” and the bike rider “had no ID and appeared nervous.”

In United States v. Hayes, No. 18-173, the Circuit affirmed another 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) conviction, along with a conviction under § 924(a)(2). This was a trial case and the Circuit rejects several challenges to the convictions, including a sufficiency argument and an objection to the trial court’s failure to give the exact theory of defense charge that was requested (concluding that the instructions as a whole adequately apprised the jury of the defense and the relevant law).

The Circuit also rejects a Rehaif challenge to the § 922(g)(1) conviction, based on its recent decisions in United States v. Balde, 943 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2019), and United States v. Miller, No. 16-3734, 954 F.3d 551 (2d Cir. 2020). As in Miller, the Circuit concludes that the failure to prove at trial the defendant’s knowledge of his felon status did not seriously affect the fairness and integrity of the proceedings—and therefore was not “plain” error—because, looking beyond the trial record, the Circuit concludes that the defendant had served more than a year in prison on a prior felony conviction.

Justice Alito was likely heartened by the holding in Miller, but others may be interested to note that the defendant’s petition for rehearing in that case was filed and is currently pending.

Finally, in United States v. John Doe #1, No. 18-1590, the Circuit mostly upholds the sentences imposed on these unnamed defendants for their unnamed crimes, with one exception: The Circuit vacates the fines imposed on each defendant and remands to the district court for further findings. To determine whether a defendant can pay a fine, a district court must consider “a defendant’s income, earning capacity, and financial resources.” A defendant must prove indigency, but this can be done through the presentence report or independent evidence. Here the PSR indicated the defendants’ “lack of financial resources” and they were represented by appointed counsel. The Circuit found this sufficient to meet the defendants’ burden to show indigency, even if they may have received money in the past over many years (since this does not “necessarily establish a present ability to pay”). As a result, the Circuit vacated the fines and remanded to the district court for further findings.

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