Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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Ferguson pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to 84 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. During that term of supervision, the U.S. Probation Office informed the court that Ferguson had been convicted in the Delaware County Court on seven counts of aggravated indecent assault on a person less than 13 years old, one count of criminal solicitation of a person less than 13 years old, and eight counts of indecent assault on a person less than 13 years old. Ferguson was sentenced to 10-20 years’ confinement in state custody, to be followed by seven years’ probation. Ferguson did not contest that he had violated the conditions of his supervised release. Although Ferguson’s violation carried a range of 30-37 months’ imprisonment under the USSG, the statutory maximum sentence was 24 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervision. In imposing sentence, the court described Ferguson’s arrest record and, based on his “long and serious criminal history,” imposed a sentence of 24 months imprisonment, consecutive to his state sentence, with no supervised release to follow. Neither party objected. The Third Circuit affirmed. Although the court described Ferguson’s arrest record, its characterization of his criminal history was accurate; the court did not really on the history of arrests alone. View "United States v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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Ley pleaded guilty as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). According to the presentence report (PSR), Ley sustained a 2006 conviction for felony aggravated assault in Pennsylvania, which it classified as a “crime of violence” under the career-offender Guideline, USSG 4B1.2(a)(1). The criminal history Guidelines require the cumulative counting of sentences for offenses that are separated by an intervening arrest. Without an intervening arrest, prior sentences are counted as a single sentence if imposed on the same day. Two of Ley’s criminal history points were based on prior convictions for possession of drug paraphernalia, stemming from traffic offenses. After each, the police released Ley and advised him that the case would proceed via summons. Ley pleaded guilty and was sentenced for both offenses on the same day. His total offense level and criminal history category produced a sentencing range of 46-57 months. Ley argued that the drug paraphernalia sentences should be treated as a single sentence because they were imposed on the same day and were separated not by an arrest, but by a traffic stop so that he should have had a range of 36-47 months. Ley was sentenced to 46 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit vacated, citing the “plain meaning” of the Guidelines. If the issuance of a summons should be treated as an arrest, "the Commission knows how to do so." View "United States v. Ley" on Justia Law

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Mullin, age 29, had been in and out of prison and struggled with substance abuse. Serving a sentence at a halfway house, Mullin was found in possession of contraband and was transferred to New Jersey’s Central Reception & Assignment Facility, where he was assessed and assigned to an area that did not feature extensive or individualized supervision. In his Assignment Facility cell, he fashioned a noose from a bedsheet and took his own life. Mullin’s mother, Joan, was given information that was incomplete and inaccurate; she was told that her son had died at a different facility, an error repeated on his death certificate. More than two years into Joan’s civil-rights suit, her attorney received a previously-undisclosed investigative report that contained statements by fellow inmates about a guard who allegedly refused Mullin’s requests for psychiatric assistance and urged Mullin to kill himself. Due to a clerical error, the disc containing those disclosures was misfiled, and not accessed until 10 months later. By that time, Joan’s complaint, premised on a knew-or-should-have-known theory of vulnerability to suicide, had been partially dismissed. The district court denied a request for leave to amend and granted the remaining defendant summary judgment. The Third Circuit vacated. Denying leave to amend was an impermissible exercise of discretion. Some factors relied upon to deny leave are not supported by the record or are at odds with precedent. Counsel’s mistake does not, alone, support the denial. View "Mullin v. Balicki" on Justia Law

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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