Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In 2014, A.M. defrauded two banks and their customers, using skimming devices and PIN-pad overlays on ATMs. He was charged with 19 counts of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A and 1344. He pleaded guilty to only one count of each. A.M. objected to his guideline calculation for the bank-fraud conviction because it included a two-level enhancement for using “device-making equipment” to make counterfeit debit cards, U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(11)(A)(i). He argued that his conviction for aggravated identity theft precluded that enhancement. The court disagreed but, because of A.M.’s cooperation, sentenced him to only 10 months’ imprisonment on that count. A.M. objected that the government had not also moved for a departure below the mandatory minimum sentence for his aggravated-identity-theft sentence. The court found that identity theft is an especially severe crime and sentenced A.M. to the mandatory minimum sentence of two years’ consecutive imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed. While device-making equipment can copy means of identification, it is not itself a means of identification, so the device-making enhancement was proper. The law empowers courts to depart below a statutory minimum only “[u]pon motion of the Government,” 18 U.S.C. 3553(e). The government made no such motion with respect to aggravated identity theft. View "United States v. Meireles-Candel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Trant and Ashby had a heated encounter at a gas station in Bovoni, St. Thomas, that ended with each displaying his pistol. After law enforcement officers looked into these events, Trant was convicted as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion by granting the government’s motion to re-open its case-in-chief because Trant was not prejudiced. The motion was made before Trant had the opportunity to present his evidence, thereby giving him the opportunity to respond and also limiting any disruption to the proceedings. The court rejected Trant’s argument that the court should have permitted him to question Ashby about his possession of a firearm, suggesting it was probative of Ashby’s character for untruthfulness and necessary for the jury to evaluate Ashby’s credibility. The implausible nature of Ashby’s having an ulterior motive for testifying hardly made it “obvious” that Trant had the right to ask Ashby about the latter’s illegal possession of a firearm. Trant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence. View "United States v. Trant" on Justia Law

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Inmate Bailey-Snyder was moved to administrative segregation after federal corrections officers found a homemade shank on his person. He remained in the Special Handling Unit (SHU) pending investigation. Ten months later, Bailey-Snyder was indicted for possession of a prohibited object in prison. He filed several motions for extensions before moving to dismiss, citing his placement in isolation as the start of the speedy trial clock. The district court denied the motion. At trial, defense counsel cross-examined the officers who found the shank regarding incentive programs for recovering contraband. The government elicited that the programs do not reward individual contraband recoveries. Neither officer discussed the potential consequences of planting a shank. The defense rested without offering testimony or evidence. During summation, the prosecutor stated: “The defendant is guilty of his crime." The court concluded that the prosecutor expressed personal belief in the defendant’s guilt; the prosecutor had to make a corrected statement to the jury. In closing, the government argued: “[i]t’s conjecture to say that these correctional officers would put their jobs, their careers, their livelihoods on the line to possibly plant a shank on this defendant to maybe, maybe, have a little notch to get a promotion.” The defense unsuccessfully objected, claiming the government was “arguing a fact not in evidence.” Bailey-Snyder was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, consecutive to his underlying sentence. The Third Circuit affirmed. An inmate’s placement in isolation, while under investigation for a new crime, does not trigger his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment or the Speedy Trial Act. There was no improper vouching or cumulative error in Bailey-Snyder’s trial. View "United States v. Bailey-Snyder" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal Law