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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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At initial hearings, New Jersey's Parole Board may consult any information it deems relevant, including an inmate’s criminal history. At successive parole hearings, the Board could not consider old information, including the inmate's criminal history. The 1997 Amendments to the Parole Act eliminated that prohibition and instructed the Board to prepare an “objective risk assessment” before every parole hearing, incorporating old information, including an inmate’s “educational and employment history” and “family and marital history,” and other factors. When Holmes was on parole in the 1970s, he killed two acquaintances, murdered a 69-year-old, and wounded a police officer. Sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, Holmes remains behind bars 48 years later. At his initial parole hearing in 2001, the Board refused to release Holmes. After a 2012, hearing, the Board issued a detailed written statement that probed Holmes’s past parole violations, highlighted the homicides, and scrutinized the shootout that preceded his arrest. The statement noted his unblemished disciplinary record since his initial parole hearing. Without specifying the weight placed on each factor, the Board rejected Holmes’s request for release.Holmes challenged the decision on ex post facto grounds. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of his petition. For many prisoners, the rules present little risk to their parole prospects. For Holmes, the change plausibly produced a significant risk of prolonging his time behind bars. View "Holmes v. Christie" on Justia Law

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Scott was sentenced for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. His PSR included a career offender enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(2), which applies if a defendant “committed any part of the instant offense subsequent to sustaining at least two felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.” Scott had a 2019 conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), and a 2019 conviction for Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(b)(1) and for using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c), resulting in an advisory guideline range of 84–105 months’ imprisonment. Neither Scott nor the government challenged the enhancement or any of the PSR’s calculations The court sentenced Scott to 90 months’ imprisonment consecutive to an existing sentence.The Third Circuit vacated the sentence. Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under the career offender provision, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a). The court applied the “oft-bedeviling categorical approach” and compared the statutory offense with the definition of “crime of violence” found in the Guidelines to conclude that Hobbs Act robbery sweeps more broadly than the career offender guideline. The court noted the consensus of the Courts of Appeals. View "United States v. Scott" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Stinson and Jarmon each ran drug trafficking conspiracies out of a North Philadelphia public housing complex/ at various times, 2010-2015. The complex included about 500 apartment units and two playgrounds. During a joint investigation among local police, the FBI, and the DEA, government agents put up pole cameras, established wiretaps, used confidential informants to make controlled drug purchases, pulled trash, analyzed pen registers, and—after Stinson’s arrest and incarceration in 2012— listened to recordings of Stinson’s phone conversations while he was in prison. After the investigation ended in 2017, Stinson and 12 others were charged with conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine and related crimes. Separately, Jarmon and 12 others were charged with similar crimes. Most of their co-defendants pleaded guilty and some cooperated.Stinson and Jarmon proceeded to separate trials and were convicted of the conspiracy charges and most of the related charges. Each was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to drug quantities, and the sentences. Stinson and Jarmon had no reasonable expectation of privacy in their phone calls. View "United States v. Jarmon" on Justia Law

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Icker, a part-time uniformed police officer, twice pulled over a woman who was driving alone at night and detained her, claiming that she appeared intoxicated or that he could smell marijuana. Icker handcuffed each woman and searched her car, claiming to find incriminating evidence. The women had criminal histories. He advised each that charges could put them in violation of their supervision or bond. Icker indicated that he wanted oral sex and transported each victim in his police cruiser to a location where the woman performed oral sex on him. Icker also groped or harassed three other women, using his authority as a police officer. Icker pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving the victims of their civil right to bodily integrity, 18 U.S.C. 242. The plea agreement recommended 144 months' imprisonment and included several conditions of supervised release but did not refer to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 34 U.S.C. 20901. Icker waived his right to appeal.The Third Circuit vacated the imposition of a condition of supervised release that required Icker to register as a sex offender under SORNA “as directed by the probation officer, the Bureau of Prisons, or any state sex offender registration agency.” Convictions under section 242 are not SORNA “sex offenses.” Icker was not given notice of any potential SORNA requirements in signing his appellate waiver. Any attempted delegation of Icker’s status as a “sex offender” to a third party was an improper delegation of Article III powers. View "United States v. Icker" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit denied a petition for review challenging the BIA's ruling that petitioner's conviction for aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1) is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), thus making him removable pursuant to 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii). The court applied the modified categorical approach and concluded that petitioner pleaded guilty to violating section 1028A with the predicate felony of bank fraud, an undeniable CIMT. The court explained that that, by itself, is sufficient to support the BIA's ruling that petitioner's 1028A(a)(1) conviction constituted a CIMT because it requires fraudulent intent. Because this conviction is petitioner's second CIMT, the court concluded that the BIA did not err in concluding that he is removable under section 1227 (a)(2)(A)(ii). View "Sasay v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit affirmed the district court's application of a sentencing enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). The court concluded, in United States v. Drozdowski, 313 F.3d 819, 823 (3d Cir. 2002), that spatial proximity of guns to drugs is not necessary to establish a connection between firearms to a drug offense under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). Although the connection is so tenuous as to place it on the outer edge of the sentencing enhancement, the court concluded that defendant has not carried his burden of proving that the connection was clearly improbable, which is the test applied.In this case, defendant had a small arsenal of weapons and ammunition in the same house where law enforcement observed him agreeing to provide several pounds of meth. Furthermore, he has neither credibly rebutted any of the Government's evidence nor offered any plausible alternative explanation for why he possessed the weapons. Therefore, the court cannot say that the connection between the guns and the drugs was clearly improbable. View "United States v. Denmark" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Arrington claims he stopped engaging in drug activity after he was released from prison on parole in 2007. The government contends Arrington became a Pennsylvania drug supplier. In 2009, the police arrested Arrington’s co-conspirators. Arrington helped them attempt to escape apprehension. He abandoned his parole appointments and fled the state. Arrington was subsequently charged with possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to do the same, and traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to facilitate unlawful activity. His co-conspirators testified against him. Arrington claims he told his attorney, Kress, that he wanted to testify to explain that he absconded from parole not because of his involvement in drug trafficking; Kress did not honor this request because doing so would open Arrington to cross-examination, which might enable the government to introduce evidence of his prior convictions. Kress allegedly never sought Arrington's consent to waive his right to testify or explained that the decision was his to make. However, during his closing argument, Kress covered some of the material to which Arrington claims he would have testified.Arrington moved to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that Kress was ineffective for unilaterally waiving his right to testify. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The bar for obtaining an evidentiary hearing on a section 2255 motion is low but Arrington does not meet it, because his claim conclusively fails Strickland’s prejudice prong. View "United States v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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Under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c), the government must detain noncitizens who are removable because they committed certain specified offenses or have connections with terrorism, and it must hold them without bond pending their removal proceedings. In 2012, the plaintiffs filed a habeas petition on behalf of a putative class of noncitizens who are detained under section 1226(c) in New Jersey, contending that it violates due process to mandatorily detain noncitizens who have substantial defenses to removal and that the procedure for conducting “Joseph” hearings is constitutionally inadequate.The Third Circuit held that section 1226(c) is constitutional even as applied to noncitizens who have substantial defenses to removal. For those detainees who contend that they are not properly included within section 1226(c) and are therefore entitled to a Josepth hearing, the government has the burden to establish the applicability of section 1226(c) by a preponderance of the evidence and the government must make available a contemporaneous record of the hearing, consisting of an audio recording, a transcript, or their functional equivalent. Section 1252(f)(1) does not authorize classwide injunctions, so the court reversed the district court’s order in part. View "Gayle v. Warden Monmouth County Correctional Institution" on Justia Law

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Shorter, a transgender woman, has undergone hormone replacement therapy; her body is “openly female.” In 2015, she entered a Federal Correctional Institution to begin a 96-month sentence for creating a fraudulent “tax service.” Despite knowing that Shorter was transgender, prison officials first housed her in a room without a lock with 11 men. Prison officials screened her risk for sexual assault under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 regulations and concluded she was at “significantly” higher risk than other inmates because she presented as transgender, was small in stature, and had previously been sexually assaulted at another prison. Later, in an unlocked two-person cell, she was assigned a sex offender as her cellmate. Although the prison’s psychology department agreed Shorter should be transferred, she remained in the cell furthest from the officers. Shorter alleges that despite her repeated requests and grievances, she was ultimately stabbed and raped by a fellow inmate. She brought a pro se suit under “Bivens,” claiming officials violated her Eighth Amendment rights by deliberate indifference to the substantial risk that another inmate would assault her.Citing 28 U.S.C. 1915 and 1915A, the district court dismissed her complaint sua sponte before allowing her to serve the defendants. The Third Circuit reversed. Shorter’s case falls comfortably within one of the few contexts in which the Supreme Court has recognized a Bivens remedy. Shorter adequately pleaded a violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "Shorter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Singh, a native of India,arrived in the U.S. in 1991, without travel documents or proof of identity. He falsely claimed that his name was Davinder Singh. Singh failed to appear at his immigration hearing and was ordered deported in absentia. Singh filed an asylum application under the name Baljinder Singh and married a U.S. citizen. Singh successfully petitioned to adjust his status to lawful permanent resident without disclosing his immigration history. When Singh later sought naturalization, he again failed to disclose his immigration history. In 2006, he became a U.S. citizen. In 2011, he pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, MDMA, and marijuana. Singh’s citizenship was revoked, 8 U.S.C. 1451(a), because he illegally procured naturalization.An IJ held Singh removable both for having been convicted of an aggravated felony, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(U), conspiracy to commit a controlled substances offense, and for having been convicted of a controlled substances offense. The BIA dismissed his appeal. The Ninth Circuit remanded. The pertinent statutory provisions permit removal only of individuals who were “aliens” at the time of their criminal convictions. The court rejected an argument that Singh should be treated as if he had never been naturalized and was actually an “alien” at the time he was convicted. View "Singh v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law