Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Martin pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); (b)(1)(B)(iii). The parties agreed that Martin’s advisory Guidelines range was 70-87 months’ imprisonment and that a sentence of 87 months was appropriate. According to the Probation Office, Martin’s Guidelines range was 188-235 months’ because Martin was a career offender. At sentencing, the district court stated that Martin was a career offender, noting crimes of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and fleeing a police officer. After considering the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors, the Court sentenced Martin to 87 months’ imprisonment. Martin did not appeal. In 2014, the Sentencing Commission promulgated Guidelines Amendment 782, retroactively reducing the base offense for many drug quantities, including the drug quantity associated with Martin’s offense. Martin sought a reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), citing Amendment 782. The district court found him ineligible for relief because his Guidelines range was based on his status as a career offender rather than the drug quantity. The Third Circuit affirmed. Martin’s status as a career offender meant that he was not eligible for a reduced sentence. View "United States v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Defendants were tried together and convicted of several racketeering-related offenses in connection with a loan sharking and illegal gambling operation in Philadelphia. The district court entered preliminary orders of forfeiture making both men jointly and severally liable for more than $5 million of the proceeds from the criminal operation. During the pendency of their appeal, the Supreme Court issued its 2017 "Honeycutt" opinion, reviewing one of the forfeiture statutes at issue in the defendants’ case, 21 U.S.C. 853, and holding that joint and several liability is unauthorized. In light of that holding, the Third Circuit remanded for reconsideration of the forfeiture orders, but otherwise affirmed. The court rejected an argument that the district court violated the Sixth Amendment by applying a “dangerous weapons” sentencing enhancement based on the defendants’ use of an axe to make threats. Defendants argued that the use of the axe constitutes acquitted conduct because it was one of the acts that formed the basis of Count 26, of which they were found not guilty. The court also rejected challenges to the sentencing calculations associated with the RICO conspiracy. View "United States v. Gjeli" on Justia Law

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Ferriero was chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization (BCDO) from 1998 until he resigned in 2009. Ferriero took payments from a vendor (C3) that provided emergency notification systems for local governments in exchange for recommending to officials that their towns hire the firm. Ferriero’s corporation executed a contract, described as an “agreement . . . to provide governmental relations consulting services required in connection with marketing of a product known as C3 and any other related products or services.” The municipalities that bought the product were unaware that Ferriero stood to benefit financially. The Third Circuit affirmed Ferriero’s convictions, a forfeiture order, and sentence based on violations of the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. 1952, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c), and the federal wire fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. 1343. The evidence was sufficient to prove New Jersey bribery as a predicate act for his Travel Act and RICO convictions. There was sufficient evidence for a rational juror to conclude Ferriero participated in the conduct of the BCDO’s affairs by means of a pattern of bribery and to conclude that failure to disclose Ferriero’s C3 interest amounted to a materially false or fraudulent misrepresentation. View "United States v. Ferriero" on Justia Law

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The district court denied a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) filed by Millhouse, a Lewisburg prisoner. The court identified five strikes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), and found that Millhouse failed to establish that he was under imminent danger of serious physical injury. The statute limits IFP status: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger. The Third Circuit vacated. For purposes of this appeal, Millhouse has only one strike. The court must look to the date the notice of appeal is filed, not the date on which the court rules, in assessing whether a particular dismissal counts as a strike and a dismissal without prejudice for failure to state a claim does not rise to the level of a strike. View "Millhouse v. Heath" on Justia Law

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While serving a state prison sentence in 2006, Chapman wrote a letter, intercepted by prison staff, threatening to kill President Bush. In an interview with Secret Service agents, Chapman admitted that he wanted to kill the President and made additional threats. He pled guilty to threatening the President, 18 U.S.C. 871(a). and was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment. In 2007, Chapman mailed a letter to a federal judge, including threats against the judge and other court staff. Chapman was sentenced to an additional 48 months imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. 876(c). Chapman was released from custody in 2014. He violated the terms of his supervised release and received a sentence of 11 months’ imprisonment. While serving that sentence, Chapman mailed a letter with threats against the federal prosecutor who handled Chapman’s revocation proceedings and the probation officer involved with Chapman’s case. He pled guilty under 18 U.S.C. 876(c) and was sentenced to 70 months, at the low end of the U.S.S.G. range. The Third Circuit affirmed application of the career offender enhancement to his sentence calculation, rejecting an argument that his convictions pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 876(c) did not qualify as crimes of violence. That section proscribes mailing a communication containing a threat to injure a person. View "United States v. Chapman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Ildefonso-Candelario, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. unlawfully, allegedly in 1996. In 2015, he pled guilty in Pennsylvania state court to a misdemeanor count of obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took Ildefonso-Candelario into custody, charging him with being removable as an alien present without admission or parole, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(A)(i). At his first hearing, Ildefonso-Candelario stated his intention to seek cancellation of removal. Counsel for ICE suggested that Ildefonso-Candelario’s prior conviction might qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude, which would render him statutorily ineligible for cancellation of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b)(1)(C). The Immigration Judge issued an initial holding that the offense was “categorically” a crime involving moral turpitude. ICE added a charge of removability for committing a crime involving moral turpitude. The Immigration Judge then ordered Ildefonso-Candelario removed to Mexico. A single member of the BIA upheld the ruling “[f]or the reasons given by the Immigration Judge.” The Third Circuit remanded to the BIA, holding hold that 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 5101 is not categorically a crime involving moral turpitude. The offense encompasses non-fraudulent as well as fraudulent conduct, such as obstruction by “physical interference or obstacle.” View "Ildefonso-Candelario v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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A gunman murdered Cooley in an Erie, Pennsylvania bar in 1994. Four years later, the Commonwealth tried Haskell for Cooley’s murder. The primary issue was whether Haskell was the gunman. In addition to circumstantial evidence, the Commonwealth presented four eyewitnesses: One recanted his pre-trial testimony implicating Haskell and two had previously denied that they could identify the shooter. The fourth eyewitness, Blue, did provide consistent testimony claiming she could identify the shooter. She claimed to expect nothing in exchange for her testimony but Blue and the prosecutor knew that she expected to receive help in her own pending criminal matters in exchange for her testimony. The prosecutor failed to correct Blue’s statement and went on to rely on it and vouch for Blue in his closing argument. The Third Circuit granted Haskell’s habeas petition. Haskell was not required to show Blue’s perjured testimony caused him “actual prejudice” under the Supreme Court’s standard in Brecht v. Abrahamson (1993). Brecht does not apply when the state has knowingly presented or failed to correct perjured testimony. In those circumstances, a petitioner carries his burden when he has shown a reasonable likelihood the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury, under the Supreme Court’s 1972 "Giglio" holding. View "Haskell v. Superintendent Greene SCI" on Justia Law

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Wrensford and Muller had an altercation with a man at a car wash. Hours later, the man returned with Hendricks. A truck passed the car wash, turned around, and chased Hendricks. The passenger (Wrensford) fired several shots. Hendricks died from gunshot wounds. Officer Mendez drove in the direction that witnesses said the truck was going, and 45 minutes later, encountered two men walking on the road. Before he could approach, both men ran. Mendez broadcast a general description. Officer Cruz heard the transmission that two “black, rasta males” were on the run. Cruz thereafter saw a “rasta guy,” drew his gun, ordered Wrensford to get on the ground. Wrensford was transported to the police station. Officers later recovered a pistol close to where Wrensford had been standing. Witnesses, taken to the police station, saw Wrensford and “blurted out” that they saw the shooter (Wrensford) outside the station. They identified Muller from a photo array. The Third Circuit vacated Wrensford’s conviction for determination of whether an exception to the Fourth Amendment applies and renders the identification evidence admissible; Wrensford was de facto arrested when, without probable cause, he was transported to the police station. The court affirmed as to Muller; he waived his challenge to the suppression rulings. The court did not abuse its discretion by polling the jury and instructing it to redeliberate, or refusing to give a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction. View "United States v. Wrensford" on Justia Law

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Azcona-Polanco, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1972. In 1994, he was ordered removed based upon a conviction for heroin distribution but never left the country. In 1997, Azcona-Polanco was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal narcotics laws and sentenced to 168 months’ incarceration. He was deported in 2009, after his incarceration, but re-entered illegally and assumed an alias, having purchased a citizen’s birth certificate and Social Security card. Azcona-Polanco was arrested and pled guilty to illegal reentry, 8 U.S.C. 1326(a); (b)(2). His sentencing range was 41-51 months. The Guideline range for a term of supervised release was one to three years, with a maximum of three years, 18 U.S.C. 3583(b)(2). Azcona-Polanco was presumptively exempt from supervised release as a deportable immigrant, U.S.S.G. 5D1.1(c). The Presentence Investigation Report and sentencing memorandum noted that presumption. The court sentenced Azcona-Polanco to 41 months’ imprisonment and three years’ supervised release, stating, “in case he does illegally reenter the United States he must report in person to Probation.” Azcona-Polanco did not object to the imposition of supervised release. The Third Circuit affirmed. A district court is permitted to impose a term of supervised release on a deportable immigrant “if the court determines it would provide an added measure of deterrence and protection based on the facts and circumstances of a particular case.” View "United States v. Azcona-Polanco" on Justia Law

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In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, a woman cannot obtain a religious divorce until her husband gives her a “get” contract. A woman who leaves her husband without obtaining a get becomes an “agunah,” subject to severe social ostracism. She may seek relief in a “beth din” rabbinical court, which may authorize the use of force to secure a get. To assist an agunah to obtain a get is a religious commandment of the Orthodox Jewish faith. Stimler, Epstein, and Goldstein participated in the beth din process, working with “muscle men” to kidnap and torture husbands. An FBI agent posed as an agunah and approached Epstein, who stated that “what we’re doing is basically gonna be kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beatin’ him up and torturing him.” On the day of the kidnapping, the rabbis and “tough guys” assembled. Goldstein and Stimler arrived in disguise. The three defendants were charged with substantive kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. The government obtained a court order, under the Stored Communications Act, compelling AT&T to turn over historic cell site location information to obtain 57 days of Goldstein’s location history. The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions of the three men, rejecting a due process claim, challenges to evidentiary rulings, and challenges to jury instructions. Respect for religious beliefs cannot trump legitimate government objectives, such as public safety. View "United States v. Stimler" on Justia Law