Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Former inmate Kotler sued prison officials, claiming that they planted a weapon in his housing area in retaliation for his activities on an inmate grievance committee. He also alleged violations of his due process rights in a disciplinary hearing over the incident. After a second remand, the district court dismissed Kotler’s due process claim as abandoned during prior appeals, and dismissed the alleged linchpin defendant, now-deceased Superintendent Donelli, finding that no one timely moved for substitution of Donelli’s successor after his death. A jury returned a defense verdict on Kotler’s retaliation claims.The Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The dismissal of Donelli was proper; under FRCP 25(a), the 90-day deadline for a plaintiff to move to substitute a defendant is triggered by service of a notice on the plaintiff of the defendant’s death, regardless of whether that notice was also served upon the decedent’s successor or representative. The district court gave Kotler a fair trial on his retaliation claim. The court asked witnesses questions, limited Kotler’s questioning of a witness, and told Kotler to hurry up numerous times but in light of the entire record, the court’s questions were attempts to clarify and organize information. A supplemental jury instruction did not constitute fundamental error. Kotler did not abandon his due process claim during his previous appeals, so the district court erred in dismissing it. View "Kotler v. Jubert" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. Defendants' conviction stemmed from their involvement in a scheme to defraud universities of athletic-based financial aid when they made secret cash payments to the families of college basketball recruits, thereby rendering the recruits ineligible to play for the universities.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the wire fraud convictions where defendants have not shown that the government failed to present evidence for any rational trier of fact to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was a scheme to defraud. Furthermore, the jury was also presented with enough evidence for a rational trier of fact to find that the Universities' athletic-based aid was "an object" of their scheme. In this case, the jury could have reasonably found that defendants deprived the Universities of property -- athletic-based aid that they could have awarded to students who were eligible to play -- by breaking NCAA rules and depriving the Universities of relevant information through fundamentally dishonest means. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings and did not commit reversible error in its instructions to the jury. View "United States v. Gatto" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), conspiracy to commit money laundering, substantive money laundering, and violations of the FCPA. Defendant, as an officer or director of a U.S.- based organization, paid bribes on behalf of a Chinese company to the leaders of Chad and Uganda in exchange for commercial advantages.The court held that the evidence was insufficient to support defendant's FCPA conviction under 15 U.S.C. 78dd-2; defendant offers no basis to disturb his money laundering convictions where a violation of section 78dd-3 is sufficient to establish specified unlawful activity under the money laundering statute, and a wire that passes through the United States can be covered by 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(2)(A); defendant's evidentiary challenges are without merit; and the indictment properly charged defendant under different sections of the FCPA. View "United States v. Ho" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act. While the court agreed with defendant that he was eligible for relief, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant's motion. The court explained that it was permissible for the district court to consider the fact that defendant received a below-Guidelines sentence and to consider the statements the judge made at his resentencing. Furthermore, the district court did not consider these factors to the exclusion of others. Rather, the district court made several other considerations, including defendant's past engagement in violent conduct, his offsetting exemplary conduct while incarcerated, and the relevant 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors.The court also concluded that a district court is not categorically required to hold a hearing at which the defendant is present before denying a motion for a sentence reduction under Section 404. Therefore, defendant was not entitled to a hearing at which he was present. View "United States v. Gadsden" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for one count of escape. The court held that venue was proper in the Western District of New York where, on the undisputed facts of this case, the extended limits of defendant's confinement required him to report to the VOA RRC in Rochester, New York by a designated time and his failure to appear there as required constituted an escape from the custody of the Attorney General under 18 U.S.C. 751(a) and 4082.The court also held that the district court's statements regarding defendant being in custody did not violate his right to a fair and impartial trial in violation of due process, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a mistrial. Finally, the court held that defendant failed to show a reasonable probability that a lower criminal history category and advisory range would have affected the ultimate sentence imposed; defendant also failed to show plain error in the district court's calculation of his guidelines range; the court upheld special conditions of supervised release that relate to substance abuse and mental health programs, construing the conditions to provide that the requirement that defendant contribute to services rendered is contingent upon a finding that he is able to pay such a contribution; and the court declined to consider defendant's challenge to the standard risk-notification condition. View "United States v. Rasheed" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's 55-year sentence imposed for his conviction of participating in a pattern of racketeering activity evidenced by his role in the murder of four teenagers. Defendant was 15 years old at the time of the offense and a member of the MS-13 gang when he participated in the execution-style murders of four members of a rival gang.The court assumed, for purposes of this appeal, that the district court was required to consider the factors in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), in determining that a sentence of 55 years, not subject to parole, was warranted for a defendant fifteen years old at the time of the homicide crimes. Even with this assumption, the court concluded that the district court considered the Miller factors and reasonably concluded that a further departure was not warranted. Acknowledging the broad scope of a sentencing judge's discretion and taking into account the care taken by the sentencing judge in exercising that discretion, the court concluded that defendant's sentence is not unreasonable in any legally cognizable sense. Finally, the court noted that defendant's sentence illustrates the unfortunate consequences of eliminating parole. Nevertheless, it is a sentence that a conscientious district judge concluded was appropriate and, upon review, the court affirmed. The court considered defendant's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "United States v. Portillo" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for international parental kidnapping and passport fraud. After determining that defendant's vagueness challenge fails insofar as it is premised on deficient notice, the court held that the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. In this case, the IPKCA is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to someone who retains children abroad without first abducting them, when the children had not been in the United States for several years prior to the unlawful retention.The court also held that the district court properly applied two Sentencing Guidelines enhancements for substantial interference with the administration of justice and for fraudulent use of a United States passport. View "United States v. Houtar" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied the petition for appealability, holding that assaulting a federal officer, an offense under 18 U.S.C. 111(b), is a categorical crime of violence within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A), using a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence. The court held that petitioner has not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. In this case, petitioner pleaded guilty in 2012 to assaulting a federal officer, in violation of section 111(a)(1) and (b), and to using a firearm during that assault, in violation of section 924(c). View "Gray v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's 24-month sentence following a violation of supervised release, holding that calculation of the term of imprisonment under USSG 7B1.1(a)(1)(B) includes state law enhancements that increase the maximum penalty for recidivists. Therefore, defendant's crime of second-degree manslaughter was "punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding twenty years" – a Grade A violation under section 7B1.1(a)(1)(B).The court also concluded that the district court did not err in calculating the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range, and disagreed with defendant's assertions that the district court committed other procedural errors during the sentencing hearing. In this case, defendant's procedural challenges essentially reduce down to two main points: the district court based its sentencing decision on improper evidence and the district court primarily sentenced her based on the severity of her state offense and not her breach of trust. The court concluded that neither of these arguments has merit. View "United States v. Ramos" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed Defendants Scott and Santiago's convictions for their role in the assault of an inmate at the Downstate Correctional Facility and its subsequent cover-up. Defendants were former correction officers with the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision.The court held that there is no set time for a conspiracy to form under 18 U.S.C. 241, for conspiracy to violate civil rights, so long as the surrounding facts and circumstances support the existence of an agreement. The court also held that a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1519 for falsifying records does not require knowledge of an impending federal investigation. Furthermore, the court found that the statute is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to this case. It is clear that the statute was not vague as applied to Scott's conduct, which involved the filing of a false injury report and the orchestration of false use-of-force reports and photographs designed to mislead prison administrators and others into believing that the inmate was the aggressor, as opposed to the victim of a brutal assault. View "United States v. Scott" on Justia Law