Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In 2015, former Virgin Islands Senator James was charged with wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and federal programs embezzlement, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(A), stemming from his use of legislative funds to ostensibly obtain historical documents from Denmark related to the Fireburn, an 1878 St. Croix uprising. The indictment specified: obtaining cash advances from the Legislature but retaining a portion of those funds for his personal use; double-billing for expenses for which he had already received a cash advance; submitting invoices and receiving funds for translation work that was never done; and submitting invoices and receiving funds for translation work that was completed before his election to the Legislature. James, who argued that he was engaged in legislative fact-finding, moved to dismiss the indictment on legislative immunity grounds. The district court denied the motion, stating that James’ actions were not legislative acts worthy of statutory protection under the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands. The Third Circuit affirmed. Under 48 U.S.C. 1572(d) legislators are protected from being “held to answer before any tribunal other than the legislature for any speech or debate in the legislature." The conduct underlying the government’s allegations concerning James is clearly not legislative conduct protected by section 1572(d). View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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In 2015, former Virgin Islands Senator James was charged with wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and federal programs embezzlement, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(A), stemming from his use of legislative funds to ostensibly obtain historical documents from Denmark related to the Fireburn, an 1878 St. Croix uprising. The indictment specified: obtaining cash advances from the Legislature but retaining a portion of those funds for his personal use; double-billing for expenses for which he had already received a cash advance; submitting invoices and receiving funds for translation work that was never done; and submitting invoices and receiving funds for translation work that was completed before his election to the Legislature. James, who argued that he was engaged in legislative fact-finding, moved to dismiss the indictment on legislative immunity grounds. The district court denied the motion, stating that James’ actions were not legislative acts worthy of statutory protection under the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands. The Third Circuit affirmed. Under 48 U.S.C. 1572(d) legislators are protected from being “held to answer before any tribunal other than the legislature for any speech or debate in the legislature." The conduct underlying the government’s allegations concerning James is clearly not legislative conduct protected by section 1572(d). View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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Grant was 16 years old when he committed crimes that led to his incarceration. He was convicted in 1992 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and for drug trafficking. The court determined that Grant would never be fit to reenter society and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for the RICO convictions with a concurrent 40-year term for the drug convictions and a mandatory consecutive five-year term for a gun conviction. In 2012, the Supreme Court decided, in Miller v. Alabama, that only incorrigible juvenile homicide offenders who have no capacity to reform may be sentenced to LWOP and that all non-incorrigible juvenile offenders are entitled to a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The court resentenced Grant to a term of 65 years without parole. Grant argued that the sentence constitutes de facto LWOP. The Third Circuit vacated Grant’s sentence. A sentence that either meets or exceeds a non-incorrigible juvenile offender’s life expectancy violates the Eighth Amendment; courts must hold evidentiary hearings to determine the non-incorrigible juvenile offender’s life expectancy and must consider as sentencing factors his life expectancy and the national age of retirement, with the section 3553(a) factors, to properly structure a meaningful opportunity for release. View "United States v. Grant" on Justia Law

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Moreno, a 49-year-old citizen of Argentina, was admitted to the U.S. under a grant of humanitarian parole in 1980. In 2015, Moreno pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography under Pennsylvania’s “Sexual abuse of children” statute and was sentenced to five years of probation and required to register as a sex offender. DHS initiated removal proceedings in 2016, charging Moreno as removable for having been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude under 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(I). The Immigration Judge ordered him removed; the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected Moreno’s appeal. The Third Circuit denied his petition for review, rejecting Moreno’s argument that, under the categorical approach, the least culpable conduct hypothetically necessary to sustain a conviction under the statute of his conviction is not morally turpitudinous. Pennsylvania’s Pennsylvania’s community consensus, as gauged by case law and legislative enactments, condemns the least culpable conduct punishable under the statute as morally turpitudinous. View "Moreno v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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.In 1990, 19-year-old Bennett was sitting in the passenger seat of a getaway car when his conspirator entered a jewelry store to commit a robbery, shooting the clerk and killing her. Bennett was convicted of first-degree murder. After a capital sentencing hearing, the jury returned a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two state courts later vacated Bennett’s first-degree murder conviction, finding that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it could convict Bennett of first-degree murder based on the shooter’s intent to kill. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the conviction. The Third Circuit granted Bennett’s federal habeas corpus petition, finding that the trial court’s erroneous jury instructions deprived him of due process of law. The court analyzed the issue de novo, concluding that Bennett’s due process claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court. Due process is violated when a jury instruction relieves the government of its burden of proving every element beyond a reasonable doubt. There is “‘a reasonable likelihood’ that the jury at Bennett’s trial applied the instructions in a way that relieved the state of its burden of proving the specific intent to kill. View "Bennett v. Superintendent Graterford SCI" on Justia Law

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Nixon suffered from mental health problems. He sometimes lived with his long-time partner, Haberle, and their children. On May 20, 2013, he had “a serious mental health episode,” told Haberle that he was suicidal, broke into a friend’s home and took a handgun, then went to his cousin’s apartment. Haberle contacted Nazareth Police. Officer Troxell obtained a warrant for Nixon’s arrest and went to the apartment with other officers, who suggested getting Pennsylvania State Police crisis negotiators or asking Haberle to communicate with Nixon. Troxell called the other officers “a bunch of f[---]ing pussies.” He knocked and identified himself as a police officer. Nixon promptly shot himself. The Third Circuit affirmed, in part, the dismissal of Haberle’s suit. She claimed that Troxell unconstitutionally seized Nixon and that Nixon’s suicide was the foreseeable result of a danger that Troxell created, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101-213 by failing to modify Borough policies and procedures to ensure that disabled individuals would have their needs met during police interactions. Troxell merely knocked on the door and announced his presence, which is not enough to violate the Fourth Amendment. Even if there had been a seizure, it would have been pursuant to a valid warrant and not unlawful. Troxell’s actions do not “shock the conscience.” The court remanded to allow Haberle to amend her ADA claim. View "Haberle v. Troxell" on Justia Law

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Lewin, a citizen of Jamaica, was admitted to the U.S. in 1987 as a legal permanent resident. In 2000, Lewin was convicted of receiving stolen property in the third degree, N.J. Stat. 2C:20-7(a), and was sentenced to five years of probation. Seven years later, following a finding that he violated the terms of his probation, Lewin was resentenced to four years of imprisonment. Another seven years later, Lewin was charged as removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii)(iii). An Immigration Judge concluded that Lewin is removable for having been convicted of an aggravated felony under section 1101(a)(43)(G), based on his 2000 conviction for receipt of stolen property and later resentencing and that the conviction barred him from relief in the form of cancellation of removal. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. The Third Circuit denied Lewin’s petition for review, applying the categorical approach element-by-element analysis to determine whether Lewin’s New Jersey receiving stolen property conviction “fit” the generic definition of receiving stolen property under section 1101(a)(43)(G). On its face, the New Jersey statute’s language, “knowing that [the property] has been stolen, or believing that it is probably stolen,” refers to a specific defendant’s knowledge or belief, and that element must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Lewin v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Douglas was charged with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. While on bail, Douglas booked a flight to Jamaica. Douglas failed to appear for the first day of trial. The next day he submitted documents showing that he had been admitted to the emergency room, with chest pain. Douglas’s EKG revealed possible heart blockage. His blood tests indicated a possible heart attack. He was convicted. The court noted testimony that Douglas smuggled 10-13 kilograms of cocaine, 40-50 times, that Douglas used his airport security clearance, and Douglas’s failure to appear, and imposed a 240-month sentence. The Third Circuit initially affirmed as to the drug quantity and application of the abuse of a position of trust enhancement and reversed the obstruction of justice enhancement, but subsequently vacated the sentence. Sentencing Guideline 3B1.3 describes a two-level enhancement “[i]f the defendant abused a position of public or private trust . . . in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission or concealment of the offense.” The commentary defines “position of public or private trust” as one “characterized by professional or managerial discretion.” Douglas is not subject to the enhancement by virtue of his position as an airline mechanic, which did not involve “professional or managerial discretion.” View "United States v. Douglas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Huynh paid an employee of a California car dealership to give him customer identification and credit reporting information, which he used, with photographs of his co-conspirators, to obtain counterfeit driver’s licenses and credit cards. At jewelry stores in 16 states, Huynh’s co-conspirators used those documents to obtain credit to purchase luxury wristwatches with a total value of $815,553. Huynh sold the watches to a "fence." Huynh selected the jewelry stores, made all travel arrangements, and supplied the credit information. Huynh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349. The parties stipulated to a 12-level increase in his sentencing base level for the amount of loss; a two-level increase for the number of victims; and a two-level increase because the scheme used an unlawfully produced means of identification, The government was permitted to seek a four-level enhancement for Huynh’s role as an “organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants or was otherwise extensive.” The parties did not address a two-level enhancement for relocating “a fraudulent scheme to another jurisdiction to evade law enforcement.” The court adopted both enhancements. The Third Circuit affirmed Huynh’s 70-month sentence, rejecting an argument that the government breached the plea agreement and noting Huynh’s pattern of targeting stores at great distances from California and from one another, and specific efforts to evade detection. Huynh exercised significant “control over others in the commission of the offense.” View "United States v. Huynh" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Mondragon-Gonzalez was admitted to the U.S. in 2008 on an immigrant visa. In 2015, he pled guilty under Pennsylvania law, which provides: A person commits an offense if he is intentionally in contact with a minor" for specified purposes. He admitted to sending a girl pictures of his penis and was sentenced to a prison term of eight to 23 months. DHS commenced deportation proceedings. An Immigration Judge found that Mondragon-Gonzalez’s conviction fell within 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(E)(i), which provides that “[a]ny alien who at any time after admission is convicted of . . . a crime of child abuse . . . is deportable.” The BIA dismissed his appeal, comparing the elements of the state conviction and its interpretation of a “crime of child abuse” in Matter of Velazquez-Herrera. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. Given Congress’ intent to make crimes that harm children deportable offenses, the BIA’s interpretation is not “arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute. The Pennsylvania law requires intentional contact with a minor for the purpose of engaging in sexual abuse of children; it meets the generic definitional requirement in section 1227(a)(2)(E)(i), that the act constitute maltreatment of a child such that there was a sufficiently high risk of harm to a child’s physical or mental well-being. View "Mondragon-Gonzalez v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law