Second Circuit Criminal Law Blog

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The Second Circuit Criminal Law Blog is your place to follow the criminal law decisions rendered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  With a rich 225-year history of legendary judges like Learned Hand and Henry Friendly, the Second Circuit has long been known for writing important and thoughtful opinions on many subjects, including the criminal law.  We review every published criminal law opinion handed down by the Second Circuit in order to provide you with a summary of the holding, an assessment of the key legal issues, and practice pointers based on the Court’s ruling.  Our focus is on white-collar criminal cases and matters relating to internal investigations.  Our blog is written by a team of experienced attorneys, including many former law clerks for the Second Circuit and other federal courts.  The blog’s editor in chief is a former Deputy Chief Appellate Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York who has appeared in more than 100 Second Circuit criminal appeals.

Circuit Affirms Conviction, Finding No Coerced Confession When Made in Presence of Attorney

Recently, the Second Circuit upheld the conviction and 40-year sentence of a Hezbollah operative.  In United States v. Kourani, No. 19-cr-4292 (Cabranes, Kearse, Pooler), the Court rejected the defendant’s various arguments that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, that the district court erred by not providing his requested jury instructions, that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction, and over a dissent from Judge Pooler, held that a 40-year sentence was not substantively unreasonable.  Significantly, the Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that a confession to FBI agents, made in the presence of his attorney, was coerced. 


Circuit Remands After Potential Brady Violation

Recently, the Second Circuit remanded a consolidated appeal of three cases to the district court to consider whether the government violated Brady such that new trials should be granted.  In United States v. Stillwell, Nos. 18-3074, 18-3489, and 19-790, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Raggi, Korman by designation) declined to reach defendants’ Brady claims based on evidence discovered while the cases were on appeal.  Nevertheless, the Court all but urged the defendants to file post-trial motions for a new trial on Brady grounds, and directed the district court to “expeditiously” resolve the forthcoming motions. 


Failure to Challenge Eyewitness ID Evidence is Ineffective, Circuit Finds

On April 15, 2020, the Second Circuit (Rakoff, by designation, Sack, Hall) vacated the conviction of Ralph Nolan, who was convicted of conspiracy and attempt to commit a Hobbs Act robbery, on ineffective assistance of counsel grounds.  The panel ruled that Nolan’s trial counsel’s failure to challenge the introduction of eyewitness identification evidence against him or to call an expert witness to guide the jury on evaluating that evidence departed from the standard of reasonable professional care.  The case, United States of America v. Ralph Nolan, No. 16-3423, represents a significant endorsement by the Circuit of research showing that in certain circumstances, such as those present here, eyewitness identification evidence will often be unreliable.  Nolan will be cited frequently by defendants pressing forward to seek post-conviction relief and it will also serve as a wake-up call for defense counsel who might have been unfamiliar with this research or on the fence about whether to call an expert witness to testify on the subject of eyewitness identification.


Circuit Reinstates Securities Fraud and Wire Fraud Conspiracy Conviction In Case Of RMBS Trader

On Friday, the Second Circuit (Livingston, Carney, Sullivan) reinstated the conviction of a former Nomura Securities International, Inc. (“Nomura”) bond trader, Michael Gramins, in United States v. Gramins, No. 18-2007-cr, finding the lower court’s decision to grant Gramins a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 was based on an “overbroad” reading of the Circuit’s 2018 ruling in United States v. Litvak (“Litvak II”) that “cannot be located within the range of permissible decisions.”  Litvak II was a major decision and the Gramins decision implicitly limits the reach of Litvak II to cases in which the government or its witnesses expressly described a broker as an agent when he or she is not, in fact, an agent.  Future decisions will no doubt revisit these cases, looking for the dividing line between the two.


Circuit Upholds Forfeiture Based on Appreciation

The Second Circuit (Pooler, Jacobs, Wesley) issued an opinion holding that a criminal forfeiture order in an insider trading case is not limited to the amount of funds acquired through illegal activity but may extend to the appreciation of those funds.  In the case United States v. Afriyie, 17-cr-2444 and 17-cr-4045, the Court upheld a conviction for securities fraud and wire fraud, and upheld an almost $2.8 million forfeiture order, but vacated and remanded a restitution order in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lagos v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1684 (2018).


Second Circuit Remands for Suppression Hearing

Last week, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Pooler, Droney) issued a non-precedential summary order remanding a case to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress.  The case, United States of America v. Jacques Durand, 16-4206-cr, highlights the Court’s concerns over extending the routine booking exception to the Fifth Amendment.


Second Circuit Vacates Life Sentence, Citing Failure to Apply the Categorical Approach

The Second Circuit (Leval, Lynch, Droney) issued a decision reversing a mandatory life sentence, finding  plain error because the district court failed to apply the categorical approach when considering whether the defendant’s prior conviction qualified for a sentencing enhancement.  The case, United States of America v. Jay Kroll, 16-4310-cr, is another example of the Second Circuit applying the categorical approach, this time to 18 U.S.C. § 3559(e) rather than to the Armed Career Criminal Act.  Section 3559(e) provides for mandatory life imprisonment when the defendant is a convicted of a child exploitation offense and has a prior sex conviction.


Circuit Upholds Rajaratnam SEC Civil Penalty

In an appeal arising in the aftermath of Raj Rajaratnam’s criminal conviction for insider trading, the Second Circuit (Lynch, Raggi, Droney) issued an opinion upholding an almost $93 million Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil penalty that was imposed based on the same conduct that served as the basis for Rajaratnam’s conviction.  The case, Securities and Exchange Commission v. Raj Rajaratnam, No. 11-5124-cv, demonstrates that an individual convicted of insider trading may be required to pay a sizable fine under Section 21A of the Securities Exchange Act, despite having already paid a significant criminal penalty.  Despite some provocative comments by the district court about the defendant, the Circuit held that the imposition of the maximum possible fine under the statute was supported by law.