Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The five Petitioners were convicted, among other offenses, of violating 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), which proscribes the use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a “crime of violence” or “drug trafficking crime,” as well as the possession of a firearm in furtherance of any such crime. Section 924(c)(3) defines “crime of violence” to mean a felony offense that “(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another” (elements clause) or “(B) 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” (residual clause). Each petitioner filed a second or successive habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255(h)(2) to challenge their sentences section 924(c), arguing that 924(c)(3)’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague, given its textual similarity to the residual clauses found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States, (2015), and Sessions v. Dimaya (2018). The Supreme Court subsequently found 924(c)(3)(B) unconstitutionally vague, United States v. Davis, (2019). The Third Circuit granted the petitions, noting that they are now timely under Davis, precluding the need for analysis of the applicability of Johnson and Dimaya. View "In re: Williams" on Justia Law

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Inmate Mammana felt ill after eating and visited the medical ward. A physician assistant checked Mammana’s blood sugar level, and told Mammana “to return the following day after eating.” For several days, Mammana continued to feel ill after eating and returned to the medical ward. The physician assistant referred Mammana to Allenwood’s psychologist, who could not determine the cause of Mammana’s discomfort. Medical Assistant Taylor said she would not re-admit Mammana to the medical ward, despite having never examined Mammana. Nonetheless, Mammana was escorted back to the medical ward. After taking his blood pressure, Taylor accused him of “harassment, stalking, and interference with the performance of duties.” Mammana was transferred to administrative segregation. Mammana refused his assigned segregation cell and was placed into the “Yellow Room,” which was regarded as “mental and physical abuse.” Mammana was stripped of his clothing and given only “paper-like” coverings; the room had a “bright light” "24 hours a day” and was “uncomfortably cold.” Mammana had no bedding or toilet paper. Mammana continued to feel ill, yet his requests for medical treatment were refused. Mammana remained in the Yellow Room for four days. A hearing board eventually concluded “there was no basis” for Taylor’s report. Mammana remained in administrative segregation for four months after leaving the Yellow Room. The district court dismissed his claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of his Eighth Amendment claim; Mammana has adequately alleged a sufficiently serious deprivation rather than merely “uncomfortable” conditions. View "Mammana v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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Bastardo-Vale, a citizen of Venezuela, who entered the U.S. on a student visa, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals decision that his Delaware conviction for second-degree unlawful imprisonment constituted a “particularly serious crime,” rendering him ineligible for asylum and withholding of removal relief, 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2), 1231(b)(3). His state conviction arose from a forcible sexual encounter with a fellow student; he pleaded no contest to second-degree unlawful imprisonment and was sentenced to the maximum term of one year’s imprisonment, which was suspended for eleven months of time served. The Department of Homeland Security then charged Bastardo-Vale with removability under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(i), for being convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, and under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(1)(C)(i), for failing to comply with the conditions of his nonimmigrant status. Overruling its own precedent, the Third Circuit denied the petition for review. The phrase “particularly serious crime” as used in both the asylum and withholding of removal statutes includes, but is not limited to, aggravated felonies. The phrase “particularly serious crime” means the same thing in both statutes, and the language of those statutes shows that aggravated felonies are a subset of particularly serious crimes. View "Bastardo-Vale v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Hillocks, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and a lawful U.S. permanent resident, was convicted of using a communication facility to facilitate a felony. The Board of Immigration Appeals applied the modified categorical approach, looked to Hillocks’s plea colloquy, and found that Hillocks used a phone to facilitate the sale of heroin. The Board found that his conviction was therefore both an aggravated felony and related to a controlled substance, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2) and ordered Hillocks removed. The Third Circuit vacated the removal order. The categorical approach does not call for the consideration of the facts of a particular case; the court presumes that the state conviction rested upon the least of the acts criminalized by the statute, and then determines whether that conduct would fall within the federal definition of the crime. The modified approach only applies when the statute of conviction has alternative elements, and “at least one” of the alternative divisible categories would, by its elements, be a match with a generic federal crime. Pennsylvania’s statute does not have enumerated categories that suggest alternate elements, it does not provide different punishments depending on the underlying crime; the underlying felonies serving as a basis for a conviction under the statute are means, not separate elements. View "Hillocks v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In 1987, Romansky was convicted of car theft-related crimes. His case worked its way through the Pennsylvania courts and eventually generated a federal habeas corpus petition. The district court denied “Romansky’s lengthy, multifaceted petition” and declined to grant a certificate of appealability. The Third Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on two issues. The court then affirmed, concluding that the petition is not timely under 28 U.S.C. 2244(d) as to claims concerning the events surrounding Romansky’s first trial in 1987. Romansky’s post-conviction claim as to that trial was not resolved until 1997; the limitations period would have expired one year later, in 1998. This petition, alleging that he was deprived of due process by the discrepancy between the conspiracy charge as described in the charging documents and the charge as presented to the jury, was not filed until 2009. The sentence imposed in 2000 after a retrial was not a new judgment on the undisturbed counts of conviction. Romansky was not denied the effective assistance of counsel when his lawyer during the 2000 retrial and resentencing refused to raise the issue of the 1987 conspiracy-charge discrepancy despite repeated requests that he do so. View "Romansky v. Superintendent Greene SCI" on Justia Law

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Furgess has myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that inhibits his ability to see, walk, speak, and lift. He arrived at the Albion, Pennsylvania prison in 2014 and was provided with an accessible shower stall and a cell closer to the medical and dining halls, and was fitted for leg braces. In December 2015, Furgess was moved to the Restrictive Housing Unit, which was not equipped with handicapped-accessible shower facilities. Furgess was not provided with an accessible shower nor was he escorted to the infirmary shower facilities. On March 7, Furgess filed an unsuccessful grievance. He was moved to a handicapped-accessible cell but was not provided access to a shower. On March 16, Furgess was escorted to a shower that was not handicapped-accessible. The hot water exacerbated his symptoms, so Furgess tried to leave the shower room. Without rails or safety bars, he slipped and was knocked unconscious. He is now confined to a wheelchair and suffers from headaches and back pain. Furgess filed another unsuccessful grievance, then filed suit under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of his claims. The provision of showers is a program, service, or activity under the ADA and the RA; Furgess has adequately alleged that he was denied a shower “by reason of” his disability and that the Department was deliberately indifferent in failing to provide him with a handicapped-accessible shower. View "Furgess v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Damon pleaded guilty to knowingly and intentionally distributing and possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. 2. The written plea agreement includes a provision stating that both parties “waive certain rights to file an appeal, collateral attack, writ or motion after sentencing, including, but not limited to an appeal under 18 U.S.C. 3742 or a motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255.” After questioning Damon, the district court determined that the plea was knowing and voluntary and included waivers of appeal and post-conviction relief. After his release from prison, Damon sought an early end to his term of supervised release. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court in denying his motion. His plea agreement precludes challenges to his sentence, and any shortening of his supervision would amount to a change in his sentence, View "United States v. Damon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In 2003, Cordaro and his co-defendant were elected as two of three Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania county commissioners. About 30 percent of Ackers’ business was municipal engineering, mostly for Lackawanna County. McLaine, Acker’s principal, expressed concerns to Cordaro's friend, Hughes. Hughes arranged a meeting, telling McLaine to bring a list of Acker's existing work for the county. McLaine’s list included the Lackawanna Watershed 2000 Program, a multi-year project based on a $30 million congressional grant; work on the Main Street and Gilmartin Street Bridges; work for several municipal authorities; and surveying, paving, and mapping. Cordaro stated, “I think I can let you keep that, . . . if we’re having fundraisers you’re going to have to participate and support us.” McLaine agreed. After becoming aware that Acker might lose two large contracts, McLaine called Hughes, who called Cordaro. Hughes asked, “how much money ... to give for the work.” Cordaro said, “maybe $15,000.” Hughes told McLaine that if he gave him $10,000 a month for Cordaro, Hughes could guarantee that Acker would keep its contracts and that he would lose his work if he did not pay. Payments began. In 2011, Cordaro was convicted of bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B); Hobbs Act extortion, section 1951(a); and racketeering, sections 1962(c) and (d). The court instructed the jury that those crimes required an “official act.” In 2016, the Supreme Court (McDonnell) clarified what constitutes an “official act.” The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of Cordaro’s habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. 2241) because Cordaro cannot show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror properly charged under McDonnell would have convicted him. View "Cordaro v. United States" on Justia Law

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The law is well established that a defendant cannot relitigate the denial of a motion to suppress evidence after he enters a valid, unconditional guilty plea. The Third Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. The court held that defendant could not challenge on appeal the denial of his motion to suppress because his Fourth Amendment claims are irrelevant to his judgment of conviction, which was entered following a valid and unconditional guilty plea. View "United States v. Porter" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Married criminal defendants, Hall and Blunt, were convicted of engaging in a scheme to collect unemployment compensation benefits from federal and state agencies by using the identities of military service people. They had been appointed separate defense counsel at the onset of their case, each of whom engaged in extensive motion practice at every stage of the trial proceedings. They sought to be re-tried separately so that they may each have an opportunity to present their cases without any unwarranted constraints. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of their motions for severance. The court noted that Blunt’s testimony resulted in “clear” prejudice against Hall, “both from an emotional and evidentiary standpoint.” Blunt clearly was compelled to waive her privilege and testify in her own defense at trial. She stated in her initial motion for severance that she was being made to choose between preserving her spousal privilege and providing exculpatory testimony on her own behalf. View "United States v. Blunt" on Justia Law