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.

Second Circuit Upholds Mandatory Commitment for Defendant Found Incompetent to Stand Trial

In United States v. Brennan, the Second Circuit (Kearse, Winter, Pooler) rejected an as-applied challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), which requires a defendant who has been found incompetent to stand trial to be committed to the custody of the Attorney General to determine whether he is likely to attain competency in the future.  Section 4241(d), as discussed below, is a statute meant to guarantee a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable restraint.  Brennan argued that his commitment violated his right to due process because a physician had already found that his mental illness was unlikely to improve.  The Court rejected this argument, noting that determining the likelihood of a defendant’s future competency is a question for the District Court to decide after a period of reasonable commitment under the statute. 

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Second Circuit Holds Constitutional Challenge to Prosecution Was Untimely

In United States v. O’Brien, the Second Circuit (Kearse, Livingston, Carney) affirmed the conviction of Michael O’Brien for importing and possessing with intent to distribute methylone and anabolic steroids.  The Court held that (1) the District Court properly denied O’Brien’s suppression motion based on the fact that he was experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms at the time of his arrest, (2) the evidence at trial was sufficient to sustain O’Brien’s conviction, and (3) O’Brien failed to timely raise his defense that methylone was designated as a controlled substance through an unconstitutional delegation of Congressional legislative authority to the Attorney General and the DEA.

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Second Circuit Holds that Connecticut Robbery Inherently Involves Violent Force Under ACCA

In Shabazz v. United States, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Leval, Berman by designation) again addressed the meaning of “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), this time under its “force clause.”  As readers of this blog will recall, ACCA has been the subject of many appeals during the past year.  See Jacqueline L. Bonneau & Harry Sandick, The Second Circuit Counts to Three: How One Defendant Became a Career Criminal Over the Course of an Hour (Apr. 2, 2018); Joshua Kipnees & Harry Sandick, In Split Decision, Court Again Applies Castleman To Interpret the “Force Clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (July 18, 2018); D. Brandon Trice & Harry Sandick, Court Regrets Allowing Successive 2255 Petition in Massey v. United States (July 16, 2018).  At issue in this case was whether Shabazz’s convictions for first and second-degree robbery under Connecticut law constitute violent felonies.  The Circuit held that all convictions for robbery in Connecticut inherently involve the use or threatened use of violent force, and therefore reversed the District Court’s grant of Shabazz’s habeas petition.  Interestingly, the Court based its holding not on an interpretation of the elements of robbery by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but on the inherent danger of violent force associated with the act of robbery.  Given the breadth of this holding, any robbery offense that is similar to the common law definition now likely qualifies as an ACCA predicate offense in the Second Circuit, perhaps cutting off future appeals arising out of convictions for robbery in other jurisdictions.

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