Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Quadri Garnes was charged with threatening to assault and murder employees of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and transmitting interstate communications containing threats to injure another person. These charges stemmed from a phone call Garnes made to the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) after his unemployment benefits claim was denied. During the call, Garnes made several statements referencing his criminal record. Before trial, Garnes moved to exclude these statements, arguing they were of limited probative value and could unfairly prejudice the jury. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted his motion, excluding the statements under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.The government appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the court had exceeded its discretion in excluding the statements. The government contended that the statements were highly probative as they were a significant part of the threat (the actus reus) and substantially indicative of Garnes's intent (the mens rea).The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the government. The court found that the district court had incorrectly concluded that the statements were of limited probative value. The appellate court held that the statements were highly probative as they were both a significant part of the threat and substantially indicative of Garnes's intent. The court also found that the district court had overstated the risk of unfair prejudice. The court concluded that a jury instruction could mitigate any potential unfair prejudice. Consequently, the appellate court reversed the district court's order of exclusion and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "United States v. Garnes" on Justia Law

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Julius Williams, convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, appealed the denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). This law allows a court to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the original sentence was based on a Sentencing Guidelines range that the United States Sentencing Commission has subsequently lowered. Williams argued that the district court wrongly concluded that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines because he participated in a narcotics-related murder that subjected him to a higher Guidelines range under the “murder cross-reference” provision of U.S.S.G § 2D1.1(d)(1).The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York had denied Williams's motion for a sentence reduction, concluding that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines. The court also found that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court did not reach the issue of Williams’s eligibility for a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(2), but instead affirmed the lower court's decision based on the independent ground that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Williams’s motion for a sentence reduction. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Carlos Esteras and Raphael Frias were convicted of fentanyl trafficking charges and appealed their sentences, arguing that the district court erred in calculating their respective Guidelines ranges. Esteras contended that the district court wrongly calculated his base offense level by applying a two-level increase for maintaining a premises for narcotics trafficking and declining to apply a two-level reduction for being a minor participant in the trafficking scheme. He also argued that the district court wrongly applied a two-point increase to his criminal history score after finding that he was on parole at the time of the offense. Frias argued that the district court erred in applying the two-level premises enhancement and a four-level increase for being an organizer or leader of the scheme, and failed to adequately consider his mitigating evidence in declining to vary downwards.The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York had sentenced Esteras to 84 months' imprisonment and Frias to 135 months' imprisonment. The court had applied several sentencing enhancements, including a two-level enhancement for maintaining a premises for narcotics trafficking and a four-level enhancement for being an organizer or leader of the scheme.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed each of the district court’s sentencing decisions except its application of the organizer or leader enhancement to Frias. The court affirmed Esteras’s sentence and vacated and remanded Frias’s sentence for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The court found that Esteras's home qualified for the stash-house enhancement and that he was not a minor participant in the conspiracy. The court also found that Esteras was on parole when he committed his offenses, warranting a two-point increase to his criminal history score. However, the court found that Frias did not qualify as an organizer or leader under the Guidelines, warranting a remand for further proceedings. View "United States v. Frias" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Dwayne Barrett, was convicted on multiple counts of conspiratorial and substantive Hobbs Act robbery, the use of firearms during such robberies, and in one robbery, the murder of a robbery victim. On appeal, Barrett argued that his initial appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of his convictions. He also argued that his 50-year prison sentence was procedurally unreasonable based on the district court’s application of U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1 in calculating his Sentencing Guidelines range. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected all of Barrett’s arguments except for his consecutive sentence challenge, where it identified error by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lora v. United States. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for resentencing consistent with Lora and its opinion. View "United States v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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Antonio Ortiz, while on supervised release for a drug-trafficking conviction, was accused of repeatedly raping his teenage daughter. The district court found Ortiz guilty of three release violations related to the rapes and revoked his supervised release. Ortiz was sentenced to the statutory maximum of sixty months of imprisonment, to be served consecutively to any state court sentence he might receive.Ortiz appealed, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the evidentiary hearing and that the sentence imposed by the district court was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. He claimed his counsel failed to present medical evidence that would have corroborated his testimony that he was physically incapable of raping his daughter due to injuries from previous motorcycle accidents.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed with Ortiz's arguments. The court noted that Ortiz had not shown that the purportedly deficient performance of his counsel prejudiced his defense. The court also concluded that the rationale for the sentence was evident from the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing it. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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A U.S. citizen, Maalik Alim Jones, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges for his involvement with al-Shabaab, an Islamist military organization in Kenya and Somalia. The district court accepted his plea and sentenced him to 25 years of imprisonment. Jones challenged his plea agreement and sentence, arguing that a prior mandate of the court precluded the government from charging him in a superseding indictment, that the language of his plea agreement was ambiguous and inapplicable to him, and that his sentence was based on erroneous factual findings and constitutionally impermissible factors.Jones was initially indicted on five counts related to his support and training with al-Shabaab. He later consented to a superseding information, which reduced the charges to three counts. Jones pleaded guilty to these charges and was sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment. However, following a Supreme Court ruling that found a section of the law under which Jones was charged to be unconstitutionally vague, Jones appealed his conviction on one of the counts. The court vacated this conviction and remanded for resentencing on the remaining counts. On remand, the district court denied the government's motion to reinstate the initial indictment but did not preclude the government from seeking a superseding indictment. The government subsequently filed a superseding indictment, which Jones moved to dismiss.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected Jones's arguments and affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court found that the mandate did not preclude a superseding indictment, and that the plea agreement unambiguously allowed for new charges if a conviction was vacated. The court also found that Jones's sentence was not based on erroneous factual findings or constitutionally impermissible factors, and that his challenges were barred by the appeal waiver in the plea agreement. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Patrick Dai, a student at Cornell University, who was charged with making interstate threats of violence against Jewish students at the university. The government sought to detain Dai pretrial, citing 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(A), which allows for pretrial detention of defendants charged with a crime of violence, a violation of section 1591, or an offense listed in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed. Dai argued that this provision did not apply to him as his charge, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), was punishable by at most five years in prison. He contended that the phrase "for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed" applied to "crime of violence," thus excluding crimes of violence punishable by less than 10 years.The district court rejected Dai's argument, and he appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that § 3142(f)(1)(A) permits the government to seek detention of defendants charged with any crime of violence, not just those punishable by 10 years or more. The court reasoned that the government's interpretation avoided surplusage, made grammatical sense, and was supported by statutory history. The court concluded that the phrase "for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed" did not modify "crime of violence" in § 3142(f)(1)(A). View "United States v. Dai" on Justia Law

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Adis Medunjanin was arrested in 2010 and charged with nine terrorism-related counts, including attempting to commit an act of terrorism and possessing a destructive device in furtherance of crimes of violence. The charges stemmed from a plot to conduct coordinated suicide bombings in the New York City subway system. Medunjanin was convicted on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment.Medunjanin appealed his conviction, arguing that his convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for possessing a destructive device in furtherance of crimes of violence should be vacated. He claimed that the crimes were predicated on invalid "crimes of violence" in light of a Supreme Court decision, Sessions v. Dimaya. The District Court agreed with the government that one of the § 924(c) convictions should be vacated, but upheld the other because it was predicated on attempted terrorism, which remained a crime of violence.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Medunjanin argued that the attempted terrorism count was an invalid predicate because the jury may have found him guilty of attempted terrorism based on aiding and abetting liability. The court disagreed, holding that the fact that a defendant may have been convicted of an otherwise valid crime of violence based on an aiding and abetting theory of liability has no effect on the crime’s validity as a § 924(c) predicate. The court affirmed the judgment of the District Court. View "Medunjanin v. United States" on Justia Law

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Rodger Freeman, convicted of a felony in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, was sentenced to imprisonment followed by a term of supervised release. After completing his federal prison sentence, Freeman was transferred to New York State custody to face a pending indictment. The New York Appellate Division vacated Freeman’s state convictions due to procedural error and ordered a new trial. Freeman was held in state custody for over four years pending retrial. The state eventually dismissed the charges against Freeman and released him from pre-trial detention.The District Court held that Freeman's term of supervised release began only after his release from state custody, not upon his release from federal custody. The court based its decision on United States v. Johnson, which established that a term of federal supervised release does not begin until a defendant’s imprisonment has ended.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court's interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 3624(e), which states that a term of supervised release commences on the day the person is released from imprisonment. The court held that Freeman's term of supervised release began on the day he was released from state custody, not federal custody. The court did not address the question of whether Freeman’s federal term of supervised release was “tolled” during his years in state custody following the vacatur of his state convictions. View "United States v. Freeman" on Justia Law

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The case in question involves a defendant, Saba Rosario Ventura, who was initially detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the District Court ordered his release on bail pending his criminal trial. The District Court later dismissed the indictment against Ventura, arguing that ICE had detained him in bad faith, aiming to circumvent the bail order. The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which previously remanded the case to the District Court to clarify whether it had found that ICE's detention of Ventura was a direct violation of a federal court order releasing him under the Bail Reform Act.On remand, the District Court reasserted its claim that ICE's detention of Ventura was pretextual and in bad faith, not for removal, but to detain him pending his criminal trial. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, finding no substantial evidence to support the District Court's assertion. The Court of Appeals noted that the District Court's finding was based on legal arguments rather than factual evidence. It also noted that, even if ICE disagreed with the District Court's assessment of Ventura's risk of flight, it was not enough to prove that ICE's detention was pretextual.The Court of Appeals ultimately reversed the District Court's orders, concluding that the finding of ICE's pretextual and bad faith detention of Ventura was clearly erroneous, given the lack of factual evidence. View "United States v. Ventura" on Justia Law