Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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Over seven years, Dr. Greenspan referred more than 100,000 blood tests to Biodiagnostic Laboratory, which made more than $3 million off these tests. In exchange, the Lab gave Greenspan and his associates more than $200,000 in cash, gifts, and other benefits. A jury convicted Greenspan of accepting kickbacks, 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7(b)(1)(A); using interstate facilities with the intent to commit commercial bribery, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(1), (3); honest-services wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1346; and conspiracy to do all of those things. The Third Circuit affirmed, characterizing the evidence of his guilt as overwhelming. The district court erred in instructing the jury that Greenspan had to “demonstrate” the prerequisites for an advice-of-counsel defense; in excluding as hearsay some of his testimony about that legal advice; in asking only Greenspan’s counsel, not Greenspan personally, whether he wished to speak at sentencing; and in limiting the scope of the defense to five particular agreements rather than all eight, but all of those errors were harmless. The court properly excluded evidence that the blood tests were medically necessary. That evidence was only marginally relevant and risked misleading the jury. View "United States v. Greenspan" on Justia Law

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Pierce was arrested after about 10 grams of marijuana and 40 grams of heroin were discovered in the rental car he was driving. Pierce offered to cooperate and subsequently made controlled transactions under surveillance. On June 25, Pierce paid Rowe $3900 and received 198.86 grams of heroin; on June 27, Pierce paid him $7000 in pre-recorded bills for heroin Pierce had previously received. Rowe was arrested. Officers recovered a notebook, several cell phones, and cash that matched the pre-recorded bills. Charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute 1000 grams of heroin, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A), Rowe conceded that he distributed approximately 200 grams. The jury returned a general verdict finding Rowe guilty of the offense in the amounts of both 1000 grams or more and 100 grams or more. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for entry of judgment based on 100 grams. The evidence was insufficient to support the 1000-gram verdict. The government did not present evidence of a single distribution involving 1000 grams or more of heroin. The prosecutor mistakenly believed that distribution of 1000 grams could be proven by combining several distributions. The district court confirmed that the government was mistaken, but erroneously found that because Rowe was also charged with possession with intent to distribute, a continuing offense, the verdict could stand. View "United States v. Rowe" on Justia Law

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A store owner and her son were forced to lie face down, their hands and mouths taped, while Thomas and Emmanuel stole one million dollars’ worth of jewelry. Miller waited outside in a getaway car, listening to a police scanner with Ayala in the front passenger seat. The men testified that Ayala paid for their plane tickets to St. Thomas; reserved and paid for their hotel rooms; and picked up and paid for the rental car. After the robbery, she paid for their work. Based on accomplice liability, Ayala was indicted for Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951; conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery; brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A); and first-degree robbery under Virgin Islands law. Ayala claimed that two men told her to participate in the robbery and that she only agreed because she feared for her life and for her brother, who was a cellmate of one of the men. The Third Circuit affirmed her conviction and sentence of 48 months of imprisonment on three counts, to run concurrently, and 84 months on Count Three to run consecutively. The court rejected arguments that the District Court of the Virgin Islands lacked jurisdiction to hear cases to which the United States is a party; that its judges are prohibited from serving beyond 10-year statutory terms; that Ayala’s convictions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause; and that the court erred in limiting her cross-examination and in permitting her to be shackled at sentencing. View "United States v. Ayala" on Justia Law

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Reese was convicted of six counts each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft and sentenced to 70 months’ imprisonment, restitution, and three years of supervised release. Three weeks before the scheduled date of Reese’s trial, after more than 50 days had expired on Reese’s 70–day time limit under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. 3161-3174, the district court ordered a sua sponte continuance that postponed Reese’s trial by an additional 79 days, at least 71 of which were not automatically excluded under the Act. The order did not state a reason for the continuance other than to say it was “in accordance with the Court’s calendar” and that the delay in Reese’s trial would be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act because “[t]his Court finds that the ends of justice served by this order outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial." The Third Circuit vacated Reese’s conviction and remanded for dismissal of the indictment; the district court should, based on the Act, determine in the first instance whether the dismissal is with or without prejudice. View "United States v. Reese" on Justia Law

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On January 28, 2014, Williams, was charged with discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school zone. Before Williams was arraigned, Williams’s counsel sought a competency hearing. Williams refused to participate in the court-ordered psychological examination. On June 11, the court ordered that Williams be transported to North Carolina for a psychological examination. On June 12, a grand jury returned an Indictment. On June 18, Williams was arraigned. Williams arrived in North Carolina on July 29. On October 31, a forensic psychologist submitted a report. On November 5, the court held a hearing, determined that Williams lacked competency to stand trial and committed Williams under 18 U.S.C. 4241(d). The government sought to involuntarily medicate Williams. On October 9, 2015, the court held a hearing. A physician testified that Williams was competent to stand trial. The court did not set a trial date; no pleadings were filed until December 2, when the government moved to exclude evidence regarding Williams’s competency.” On December 18, Williams moved to dismiss the Indictment under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. 3161–3174, which gives the government 70 days to bring a case to trial. The court required briefing but took no action. On July 15, 2016, Williams filed a second motion to dismiss. Three months later Williams sought mandamus relief. The district court then set a trial date. Williams conditionally pleaded guilty and was sentenced to “time served.” The Third Circuit vacated, with an order to dismiss the indictment. The 37 days between June 21 and July 29, 2014, are non-excludable; the government has not overcome the presumption that this delay in transporting Williams was unreasonable. The government conceded a 53-day period of non-excludable delay elapsed between October 9 and December 2, 2015. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Piasecki was convicted of 15 counts of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to three years’ probation. Pennsylvania sex offenders were then subject to “Megan’s Law” registration requirements. While Piasecki pursued appellate relief, that law expired and was replaced with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to “bring the Commonwealth into substantial compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006,” which applied retroactively to Megan’s Law registrants. SORNA had increased registration and reporting requirements. Among other restrictions, Piasecki was required to register in-person every three months for the rest of his life and to appear, in-person, at a registration site if he were to change his name, address, employment, student status, phone number, or vehicle ownership. As a Tier III SORNA registrant, he could petition a court to exempt him from the requirements after 25 years. Piasecki was only subject to the SORNA restrictions when he filed his 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition, challenging his conviction. His probation and conditions of supervision had expired. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit held that Piasecki was “in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State Court,” as required for jurisdiction. SORNA’s registration requirements were sufficiently restrictive to constitute custody and were imposed pursuant to the state court judgment of sentence. View "Piasecki v. Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Island was sentenced to 110 months’ imprisonment and three years’ supervised release for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Island commenced supervised release in June 2013; it was scheduled to end on June 25, 2016. In September 2015, Island’s probation officer alleged violation by failing to notify his probation officer of a changed address and failing several drug tests. The petition chronicled multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact Island. The Court issued a warrant, which remained outstanding. On June 27, 2016, the probation office filed an “amended” petition, alleging a serious violation on June 21 by firing a weapon at police officers, hitting one. Island was arrested and was convicted in July 2017 of attempted murder, then sentenced to 33 to 100 years’ imprisonment. The court subsequently held a supervised release revocation hearing and imposed a revocation sentence of 24 months, consecutive to Island’s state sentence, based on the second violation petition. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the court’s jurisdiction over his supervised release ended in June 2016 . A defendant does not serve his supervised release term while he deliberately absconds from the court’s supervision; the supervised release term tolls while he is of fugitive status. Island’s term of supervised release had not yet expired when the later warrant was issued. View "United States v. Island" on Justia Law

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Garner asked Saber to be the getaway driver for a bank robbery. Saber, a government informant, set up his phone to send the conversation to the voicemail of FBI Agent Reed. Reed and Saber later recorded several calls with Garner, who instructed Saber to surveil the bank and that Marshall would be involved. On the day of the planned robbery, the FBI arrested Garner in Saber’s car. The FBI found on Garner’s person 17 packets of crack cocaine and, in Saber’s car, a backpack not present before Garner entered, containing ski masks, a loaded gun, gloves, two-way radios, and ammunition. Garner was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 371, attempted bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113(a), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and aiding and abetting that crime, 18 U.S.C. 2 & 924(c)(1) and was sentenced to 101 months’ imprisonment. Marshall, who was not charged with attempted bank robbery, was acquitted. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument the evidence was insufficient to establish either conspiracy or an attempt to commit armed bank robbery because the chief prosecution witness was not credible. A defendant may commit an attempt even where he stops short of “the last act necessary” for the actual commission of the crime. View "United States v. Garner" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Chapman pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. After several continuances, the district court set a date for Chapman’s sentencing hearing. On the scheduled date, Chapman immediately informed the court that he was never told of the hearing due to his counsel’s error and had been unable to notify his family of his sentencing. He requested a continuance so that his family could be present and provide letters of support. The district court acknowledged that defense counsel’s error caused Chapman’s lack of notice but denied the request, stating that proceeding with the sentencing as scheduled would not impact his substantive rights. The Third Circuit vacated the sentence. The ruling constituted an abuse of discretion because it interfered with Chapman’s right to allocution as codified in the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4)(A), which allows a defendant to present any information that could persuade a court to impose a lesser sentence. View "United States v. Chapman" on Justia Law

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Daniels entered a guilty plea to one count of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(e). He had at least three previous convictions under the Pennsylvania drug statute, 35 Pa. Stat. 780-113(a)(30), for possession with intent to deliver cocaine. Daniels reserved his right to challenge the government’s allegation that he was an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. 924(e), which triggered a 15-year mandatory minimum. Without his armed career criminal designation, his Guidelines range would have been 92 to 115 months. The Third Circuit affirmed his 180-month sentence. Section 924(e)(2)(A)(ii)’s definition of a “serious drug offense” encompasses attempts (as defined under federal law) to manufacture, distribute, or possess with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance and the scope of attempt and accomplice liability under Pennsylvania law is coextensive with the meaning of those terms under federal law. View "United States v. Daniels" on Justia Law