Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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Despite repeatedly asserting his innocence, Satterfield was convicted of first-degree murder in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison. After years of direct and collateral litigation, the district court, acting on his habeas petition, found that his ineffective assistance of counsel claim meritorious. The Third Circuit reversed, finding his petition barred by Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA’s) one-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1). Years later, the Supreme Court decided, in McQuiggin v. Perkin, that a petitioner who can make a credible showing of actual innocence can overcome that limitations period. Satterfield sought relief from the judgment denying his habeas petition, characterizing McQuiggin’s change in law as an extraordinary circumstance to justify relief under FRCP 60(b)(6). The district court denied Satterfield’s motion. The Third Circuit vacated, holding that changes in decisional law may, under certain circumstances, justify Rule 60(b)(6) relief. “A district court addressing a Rule 60(b)(6) motion premised on a change in decisional law must examine the full panoply of equitable circumstances in the particular case.” In this case, the court did not articulate the requisite equitable analysis. If Satterfield can make the required credible showing of actual innocence, an equitable analysis would weigh heavily in favor of deeming McQuiggin’s change in law, as applied to Satterfield’s case, an exceptional circumstance justifying Rule 60(b)(6) relief. View "Satterfield v. District Attorney Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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From 2006 through 2011, Poulson tricked homeowners facing foreclosure into selling him their homes and engaged in a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in those distressed properties. Poulson pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341. The district court calculated his total fraud to be $2,721,240.94; concluded that this fraud resulted in “substantial financial hardship” for more than 25 victims; and sentenced Poulson to 70 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release, with a condition prohibiting Poulson from working in the real estate industry for five years. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, upholding the court’s determination of the number of victims who suffered a “substantial financial hardship” under U.S.S.G 2B1.1. The court reasoned that the Guidelines give the court considerable discretion. The court vacated the imposition of a five-year occupational restriction on his three-year term of supervised release, the statutory maximum, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Poulson" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Wilkerson and Hill had a verbal confrontation. Wilkerson struck Hill in the head with a gun, then shot Hill in the chest. Wilkerson was charged with multiple crimes. In jury instructions, the judge stated that an attempted murder conviction would require a finding Wilkerson “did a certain act,” “alleged to be a shooting,” while a conviction for aggravated assault would require finding “that [Wilkerson] caused or attempted to cause serious bodily injury.” The judge did not specify that the shooting could not both serve as the basis for an attempted murder conviction and as the “attempt[] to cause serious bodily injury” for aggravated assault. The jury convicted on both counts on a general verdict form that did not specify whether the “serious bodily injury” finding underlying the aggravated assault conviction related to the shooting or the preceding assault. In federal habeas proceedings, the Third Circuit rejected Wilkerson’s double jeopardy argument that the jury instructions permitted conviction on both offenses based on the shooting alone. The state court’s rejection of that claim was not “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.” The court rejected, as untimely, Wilkerson’s “Apprendi” challenge to the imposition of an enhanced sentence for attempted murder based on a finding by the judge, but not the jury, that the victim suffered serious bodily injury and a claim that counsel was ineffective for not objecting to that finding. View "Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Hoffner was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine, and unlawful use of a communication facility. The district court applied the career offender guideline, U.S.S.G. 4B1.1, based upon Pennsylvania convictions Hoffner incurred in the 1980s, one for simple assault and another for burglary, robbery, and conspiracy. Hoffner’s direct appeal and habeas corpus petition were unsuccessful. In 2012, he filed an unauthorized second habeas corpus petition. In 2015, he filed the pro se motion seeking to file a successive habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. 2255(h)(2), citing the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Johnson” holding that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutionally vague. Hoffner was sentenced under an identical residual clause that existed until recently in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines’ career offender guideline, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a)(2). The Third Circuit granted the petition. Hoffner made a “prima facie showing,” 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(3)(C), of the pre-filing requirements for a successive habeas corpus petition: the rule on which his claim relies is a new rule of constitutional law that has been made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court and the claim was previously unavailable. View "In re: Hoffner" on Justia Law

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Mateo, a 21-year-old citizen of the Dominican Republic, was admitted to the U.S. in 2010 as a lawful permanent resident. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to the felony charge of criminal conspiracy for an underlying offense Robbery of a Motor Vehicle. A “person commits a felony of the first degree if he steals or takes a motor vehicle from another person in the presence of that person or any other person in lawful possession of the motor vehicle.” Mateo was charged as removable as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A). DHS stated that his conviction constituted an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), and was a “crime of violence” as defined in 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(F), which incorporates 18 U.S.C. 16, which defines “crime of violence” as (a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense. The Third Circuit vacated Mateo’s removal order, holding that, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States (2015), section 16(b), as incorporated, is unconstitutionally vague. View "Mateo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Powell was carrying $33,550 in cash deposits from a K-Mart to an armored vehicle and met his supervisor, Bougouneau. In the parking lot, a man, whose face was partially covered, shot Powell three times and Bourgouneau once and took the bag. Schneider, an off-duty Virgin Islands police officer, happened to be present and recognized Hodge as the shooter. Hodge was apprehended. Both Powell and Bougouneau survived. Hodge was charged with: Interference with Commerce by Robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951; multiple counts of Use and Discharge of a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime of Violence (robbery and attempted murder), 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A); two counts of Attempted First Degree Murder, 14 V.I.C. 921, 922(a)(2); multiple counts of Using an Unlicensed Firearm During Commission of a Crime of Violence (attempted murder, robbery, first-degree assault), 14 V.I.C. 2253(a); two counts of First Degree Assault with Intent to Commit Murder, 14 V.I.C. 295(1); two counts of First Degree Robbery, 14 V.I.C. 1861 and 1862(1); and First Degree Reckless Endangerment, 14 V.I.C. 625(a). Before trial, Hodge indicated he wanted substitute counsel, but none was arranged. The Third Circuit vacated in part. Hodge’s multiple convictions under the Virgin Islands firearms statute violated his right against double jeopardy. The court rejected claims based on the denials of his motions to substitute counsel and to strike three jurors for cause, admission of prejudicial evidence at trial, alleged insufficiency of the evidence, and error in the jury instructions. View "United States v. Hodge" on Justia Law

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Parker, an indigent prisoner and prolific pro se litigant, initiated about 40 civil matters over a short period of time. In 2014, Parker filed suit, claiming that officials subjected him to false arrest, malicious prosecution, and the use of excessive force during his 2011 arrest, and sought to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). The court granted the IFP motion and considered the case under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), which directs a court to dismiss a case “at any time” if it determines that the “action or appeal is frivolous or malicious; fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” The court concluded that Parker’s claims were time-barred and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. This was Parker’s first strike under the PLRA “three strikes” rule. which limits a prisoner’s ability to proceed IFP if the prisoner abuses the judicial system by filing frivolous actions. Parker’s next strikes arose from the dismissals, as “frivolous,” of two 2015 civil rights complaints. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that an indigent prisoner appealing a district court’s imposition of his “third strike” may not proceed IFP for that appeal without demonstrating that he is in imminent danger of serious physical injury. View "Parker v. Montgomery County Correctional Facility" on Justia Law

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At voir dire for Penn’s retrial on felon-in-possession charges, Prospective Juror #207 indicated that jury service would be a hardship because he attended school on a full-time basis, the trial, which would last two-three days and would conflict with his scheduled tonsillectomy, and rescheduling surgery would conflict with basketball preseason practice, which started the following week. The appointment was the earliest that he could secure after getting sick with bronchitis four times; #207 was a varsity basketball player on a basketball scholarship and would be unable to perform activities for two weeks after the surgery. The judge said he had no objection to keeping him, adding, “I don’t believe him . . . if he truly was having surgery on Wednesday, he would have notified the jury office ... and his doctor would send a note.” The student was seated as the ninth juror. The morning after opening statements, the court received a doctor’s note and learned that the surgery could be rescheduled. The judge advised counsel, overruled defense counsel’s objection, excused the student, and seated an alternate juror. Defense counsel argued that the student was African-American and that there was only one other African-American on the jury, a middle-aged woman. The jury convicted Penn. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that making the substitution without findings deprived Penn of his constitutional rights to due process, fundamental fairness, equal protection, and an impartial jury. View "United States v. Penn" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Mathias was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder based on a shooting that killed one person and severely injured another. The judge properly instructed the jurors they must find the accomplice himself had the specific intent to kill but, over defense counsel’s objection and contrary to Pennsylvania law, also indicated that the jurors could convict an accomplice based on the specific intent of the principal. While appellate counsel raised the jury instructions on criminal conspiracy, he did not raise the murder instructions. The state court observed that appellate counsel had not adequately briefed any of Mathias’s claims and deemed them waived but rejected the conspiracy instruction claim on the merits. Mathias filed a pro se petition under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act, untimely raising a claim for ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Superior Court rejected it on the merits. Mathias filed a pro se petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Third Circuit reversed a grant of habeas relief on Mathias’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel and due process claims based on the murder instruction despite waiving the Rule 4(a)(3) timeliness requirement. Regardless of whether counsel’s performance was deficient, the state court did not clearly err in determining there was no prejudice and its decision was not an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent on internally inconsistent jury instructions. View "Mathias v. Superintendent Frackville SCI" on Justia Law

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Acting on apparent insider information from a drug courier, Washington and his co-conspirators planned to rob a Philadelphia property where they thought 10 kilograms of cocaine were stored. The “stash house” was a trap; the “courier” was an undercover ATF agent. The cocaine did not exist. Washington was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery and drug charges (18 U.S.C. 1951(a) and 21 U.S.C. 846) but acquitted on a gun charge. The fictitious amount of cocaine triggered a 20-year mandatory minimum. Washington was sentenced to 264 months in prison. Washington claimed that people of color are swept up in such stings in disproportionate numbers, that the use of the statutory mandatory minimum term violated his due process rights, and that his attorney rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance. The Third Circuit rejected those arguments but remanded for limited post-judgment discovery. While stash-house reverse stings can raise constitutional concerns, the use of a mandatory minimum sentence did not deprive Washington of due process. With respect to denial of pretrial discovery on ATF’s operations and enforcement statistics, the court agreed that a district court may exercise its discretion to grant limited discovery, or otherwise to conduct in camera analysis of government data before deciding whether limited discovery is warranted even if a defendant seeking discovery on a selective enforcement claim has not otherwise met his full burden under Supreme Court precedent concerning selective prosecution. View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law