Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by applying a three-level sentencing enhancement for defendant's role in the offense where the evidence supported the district court's findings that he exercised the requisite control and authority over others to qualify as a manager or supervisor, and that the criminal activity involved five or more participants or was otherwise extensive. The court also did not clearly err by applying a two-level sentencing enhancement for committing an offense as part of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood. In this case, considering the totality of the circumstances, the district court did not clearly err by finding that defendant's criminal conduct was his primary occupation and, even if the application of the enhancement was inappropriate, the error was harmless. View "United States v. Moran" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for crimes related to his involvement in a violent gang, drug trafficking operation. The Second Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support each count of conviction, including murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering under 18 U.S.C. 1959. However, the court held that defendant's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated when the district court failed to ensure that defendant understood the full scope of the consequences arising from counsel's conflict of interest, including the disadvantages of a trial severance that counsel proposed. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's convictions and remanded for a new trial. View "United States v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order setting aside a jury's verdict finding defendant guilty of narcotics conspiracy. The court held that, although it was unfortunate that the jury was not afforded an opportunity to reconsider its findings, the verdict was inconsistent with the jury's findings and the appropriate remedy for the inconsistency was to set aside the guilty verdict, especially in view of the government's unhelpful role in the proceedings. View "United States v. Pierce" on Justia Law

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A supervisee does not have the right to expand allocution by presenting mitigation witnesses at a revocation hearing. The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence following a second revocation-of-supervised-release hearing. The court held that the district court did not plainly err by denying defendant's mother an opportunity to address the district court at a revocation hearing; the district court did not impermissibly delegate its judicial authority to the probation office in imposing a curfew as a special condition of supervised release; even if the probation office exceeded its lawfully delegated supervisory authority by unilaterally imposing a two-day lockdown, defendant failed to demonstrate that his violations of this condition affected the outcome of his revocation hearing; and defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Degroate" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that the government was entitled to a detention hearing under 18 U.S.C. 3142(f)(1)(A) or 3142(f)(1)(E) of the Bail Reform Act. The court rejected defendant's vagueness challenge to the residual clause in the Bail Reform Act's definition of "crime of violence;" held that possession of ammunition by a convicted felon is categorically a crime of violence under the residual clause, and therefore satisfies section 3142(f)(1)(A); and held that, pursuant to a conduct-specific injury, defendant's offense also involved the possession or use of a firearm under section 3142(f)(1)(E) because he discharged the ammunition from a firearm. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's decision affirming a detention order and denied defendant's motion for bail. View "United States v. Watkins" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's denial of petitioner's application for asylum and for withholding and deferral of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The court held that petitioner's second‐degree assault conviction under NYPL 120.05(2) qualifies as an aggravated felony crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 16(a). Therefore, petitioner was removable and ineligible for asylum. The court rejected petitioner's remaining claims, which challenged the BIA's determination that his assault was a particularly serious crime and his CAT deferral, as lacking in merit. View "Singh v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Shortly after defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud, the Second Circuit decided United States v. Litvak, 889 2 F.3d 56 (2d Cir. 2018) (Litvak II), which held in the context of a similar prosecution that the erroneous and idiosyncratic viewpoint of a defendant's counterparty could not be relevant to the objective, "reasonable investor" standard for materiality in a securities fraud prosecution. The district court relied on Litvak II to grant defendant's motion for a new trial on the basis that counterparty testimony had been improperly admitted against defendant at trial. The court held, however, that the counterparty testimony at defendant's trial was not improperly admitted and did not implicate the court's holding in Litvak II. In this case, the testimony did not reflect the counterparty's idiosyncratic and erroneous belief, and the testimony was relevant to the jury's assessment of materiality under FRE 401. Furthermore, the testimony did not advance the government's theory of materiality in an impermissible manner. The court held that, even if the admission of the testimony did constitute error, the error was harmless. Finally, the district court's cumulative prejudice analysis did not provide a valid alternative ground for affirmance. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Gramins" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's denial of defendant's motion to stay and vacate a writ of execution on his retirement account. The court held that the district court's reasons for denying defendant's motions were erroneous. In this case, the district court neither allowed discovery nor conducted an evidentiary hearing, and thus the record did not provide a basis for a complete understanding of what happened in the course of the plea negotiations and thereafter. The court held that the evidence was sufficient in these circumstances to require of the district court that it take evidence and make findings to determine such questions as whether the merger clause should be strictly enforced in accordance with its terms, whether the Office of the United States Attorney's undertaking to recommend restoration was fulfilled, whether its expression of optimism that its recommendation of restoration would be accepted was misleading, and whether defendant was entitled to any relief. View "United States v. Feldman" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint under the three strikes provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The court held that the district court erred in determining that plaintiff had accrued three strikes under the PLRA, because one action was dismissed for a remedial procedural defect; the district court did not grant summary judgment against plaintiff in a second action based on the grounds enumerated in the PLRA; and the third action was dismissed on both PLRA and non-PLRA grounds. Therefore, three of the five cases at issue did not count as strikes. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Escalera v. Samaritan Village" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a foreign currency exchange transaction with Cairn Energy. Defendant was the former global head of the foreign exchange trading desk at the investment bank HSBC. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to convict defendant on the right‐to‐control theory because a reasonable jury could conclude that his misrepresentations to Cairn related to the price of the transaction, which was an essential element of the parties' bargain, and were capable of influencing Cairn's decisionmaking. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law