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.

Court Rejects Habeas Claim That Admission of DNA Evidence Violated Petitioner’s Confrontation Right

On Tuesday in Washington v. Griffin, 15-3831-pr (Katzmann, Kearse, Livingston), the Second Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on a Confrontation Clause challenge.  At issue was whether it was proper for the New York trial court to admit DNA profile evidence without affording the petitioner, Kenneth Washington, the opportunity to cross-examine the analysts who tested his DNA.  This case illustrates the special challenges faced by habeas petitioners where, as in the Confrontation Clause context, Supreme Court precedent is developing and fractured.  It also reflects the Circuit’s uncertainty about the state of the law in light of a series of Supreme Court precedents.  This line of authority began in 2004 with Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), which stated a definitive rule that out-of-court statements that were “testimonial” could only be offered so long as the witness was available for cross-examination, and has continued through Williams v. Illinois, 132 S. Ct. 2221 (2012), which is far more ambiguous due to the absence of a majority opinion.

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Circuit Reverses Conviction & Dismisses Indictment in Case Where Defendant Waited Seven Years for Trial

In United States v. Tigano, No. 15-3073 (Winter, Walker, Pooler), the Second Circuit issued a short order reversing the conviction of Joseph Tigano, III and dismissing the indictment with prejudice.  The Court noted that a full opinion in the case would be forthcoming.  Gary Stein, a former chief appellate attorney in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and now in private practice, represented Tigano pursuant to a court appointment.

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The Klansman and His Death Ray: Second Circuit Affirms Conviction and Sentence in Bizarre Domestic Terrorism Plot

In United States v. Crawford, 16-4261-cr (Kearse, Cabranes, Wesley), the Second Circuit affirmed via summary order the terrorism-related conviction and sentence of a Klansman in upstate New York. This case represented the first conviction under the 2004 law barring the acquisition and use of so-called “dirty bombs” and provided a rare opportunity for the Circuit to interpret several terrorism statutes. It is most notable, however, for its bizarre fact pattern—involving Ku Klux Klan business cards, a modified x-ray machine, and a plot to kill President Barack Obama and an unknown number of Muslims. In August 2015, Glendon Scott Crawford—a Navy veteran and an avowed member of the Ku Klux Klan—was convicted of several counts of domestic terrorism and was subsequently sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment for his crimes.

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Federal Agent’s Misrepresentation in LG Search Warrant Affidavit Insufficient to Clear Qualified Immunity Hurdle

In Ganek v. Leibowitz, No. 16-1463 (2d Cir. Oct. 17, 2017) (Raggi, Chin, Carney), the Second Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s determination that federal law enforcement authorities were not entitled to qualified immunity from plaintiff’s Bivens claims for money damages for violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment in procuring and executing a search warrant.

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Circuit Amends Decision Affirming Sentence Two Panel Members Deemed “Absurd,” Remands for Resentencing

On October 5, 2017 the Circuit published an amended opinion in United States v. Jones, No. 15-1518 (Walker, Calabresi, Hall), which supplanted a decision issued on September 11 that we covered in an earlier blog post.  The amended decision differs from its forbearer in one key respect.  In the initial decision, Judge Calabresi authored a concurring opinion (joined in by Judge Hall) that chided the district court’s sentence, as affirmed by the Circuit, as “little short of absurd” given the defendant’s borderline IQ, old crimes, and the “timing quirks” that rendered the sentence “very, very high . . . in contrast with almost every similarly situated defendant.”  Now, in this amended opinion, the panel affirmed but still remanded “for further consideration as may be just in light of the circumstances.”

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Circuit Remands Restitution Order for Further Consideration of Indigent Defendant’s Right to Counsel and Application for Expert Services

In United States v. Torriero, the Second Circuit (Chin, Droney, Restani by designation) vacated by summary order a $765,561 restitution order relating to costs incurred by the EPA in cleaning up a property that the defendant had used as an illegal landfill.  Although not the panel’s primary focus, the order also addresses a district court’s role in approving or denying an indigent defendant’s request for expert services—an issue currently being examined as part of a broader review of the defense funding under the Criminal Justice Act (“CJA”) by an ad hoc committee chaired by Judge Kathleen Cardone of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. 

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Circuit Sidesteps Interesting Suppression Questions in Body-Packing Case

The Second Circuit issued a published opinion on September 11, 2017  in United States v. Pabon, No. 16-1754 (Cabranes, Livingston, Pauley), a case arising from an interesting set of facts involving the warrantless arrest of an individual suspected of body-packing narcotics who behaved erratically while in police custody.  On appeal, the defendant argued that evidence he had been body-packing narcotics should have been suppressed because it was obtained only after probable cause to detain him had dissipated.  In the alternative, the defendant argued that suppression was warranted because police allegedly failed obtain a probable cause determination from a neutral magistrate in a timely fashion (typically 48 hours). 

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Skelos Vacated: For The Second Time This Year, Conviction Of Leading New York State Legislator Is Undone Due To McDonnell

The Second Circuit (Winter, Raggi, Hellerstein by designation) today vacated by summary order the convictions of former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam Skelos.  Dean and Adam Skelos were convicted of Hobbs Act conspiracy and substantive offenses, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and federal program bribery, after a jury trial in which the government presented evidence that the elder Skelos had taken official actions to benefit certain companies in exchange for payments to his son.  Much like the conviction of his fellow senior state legislator, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the conviction was reversed in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), which narrowed the definition of an “official act.”  As the Court rejected the defense contention that insufficient evidence supported the convictions, both Skelos and his son will be retried by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  Like the Silver reversal, this ruling reflects the ways in which the McDonnell decision has complicated that office’s investigation and prosecution of public corruption in New York state government.

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Second Circuit Not Troubled By Error on Notice of Appeal Form, Proceeds To Decide The Appeal

On September 18, 2017, in United States v. Caltabiano, No. 16-1275-cr, the Second Circuit (Walker, Lynch, and Lohier, Js.) clarified the jurisdictional scope of a Notice of Appeal.   The Court confirmed its authority to review a criminal appeal notwithstanding errors on a form notice as to the scope of the defendant’s claims.  On the merits, the Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of John W. Caltabiano, Jr.

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Circuit Denies Protection to Hallway Conversation Between Co-Defendants, Highlighting Limits of JDAs

A Joint-Defense Agreement (JDA) can be an extremely valuable tool in coordinating defenses against pending or impending prosecution, as it formalizes the creation of a zone of privilege in which co-defendants and their counsel can exchange confidential information without fear of compelled disclosure. But as the Circuit’s recent decision in United States v. Krug, No. 16-4136 (Leval, Pooler, Hall) (Aug. 18, 2017) exemplifies, a JDA protects communications between co-defendants only insofar as they further the provision of legal advice. A JDA cannot transform the joint-defense group’s communications relating to business, personal, or other non-legal issues into privileged discussions. As happened here, such non-privileged statements can become part of the government’s case at trial.

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Second Circuit Remands for Resentencing to Consider Role Reduction under Amendment 794

On September 11, 2017, the Second Circuit (Parker, Carney, Stanceu) reversed by summary order the sentence of the defendant in United States v. Soborski (16-cr-3369).  The panel remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Swain, J.) for resentencing so that the district court could consider whether Soborski should receive a minor-role reduction under an amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines.

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Second Circuit Affirms Sentence Based on Correct Application of Career Offender Guideline, Yet Majority of Panel Agrees the Result is “Unjust” and “Close to Absurd”

On Monday, September 11, the Second Circuit issued a published opinion in United States v. Jones, No. 15-1518 (Walker, Calabresi, Hall), a case with a complicated procedural history in which the Court affirmed a defendant’s sentence as a career offender under the now-removed residual clause of the Career Offender Sentencing Guideline.  The decision was accompanied by a concurrence authored by Judge Calabresi and joined by Judge Hall, which upheld the sentence while calling the result “unjust” and “close to absurd.”  We have reported on this case before, when the Circuit reversed and remanded the sentence; subsequent to our earlier blog post the case was re-opened for additional argument, and this week’s decision now affirms.

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Of Dead Sea Scrolls and Criminal Impersonation

Golb v. Attorney General, No. 16-0452-pr (Jacobs, Leval, Raggi), arises out of unusual facts—forged emails by a proponent of one side of an academic dispute—and reaches an unusual result.  On habeas review, the Second Circuit found that it only owed partial AEDPA deference, and overturned an number of convictions after finding a New York statute unconstitutionally overbroad.  In this case, an advocate of one side of the unresolved academic debate about the authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls went too far and engaged in illegal acts that brought about his own criminal conviction.  On its face, the decision applies important aspects of New York and federal constitutional law.  However, in a larger sense, the law most relevant to the decision may be Sayre’s Third Law of Politics, which provides that academic politics are the most vicious form of politics because the stakes are so low.

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Affirmance in Drug Conspiracy Trial Considers Sufficiency of the Indictment and Evidentiary Rulings

United States v. Gill, No. 15-4444-cr(L) (Livingston, Chin, Carney), a decision in a drug trafficking and murder conspiracy appeal, offers several interesting rulings on evidentiary and trial practice issues that arose out of a 4-week trial.  As we often see, these decisions may originate in the world of violence crime and narcotics, but the legal rules established in these cases will also apply in the world of business crimes.

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Second Circuit Vacates Sentence Based on Failure to Apply the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Genao, No. 16-924 (Katzmann, Lynch, Chin), the Second Circuit examined the application of the categorical approach to a prior burglary conviction that indisputably involved threats of physical harm but whose minimal elements arguably did not meet the Guidelines’ definition of a “crime of violence.”  The Second Circuit reaffirmed that the categorical approach requires evaluation of the elements of conviction, not the facts of conviction, making it reversible error for the district judge to have “short circuited” the analysis by starting with the facts.  But the Second Circuit emphasized that in an advisory-Guidelines world, the district court is free to take those facts of conviction into account in exercising its discretion to set the final sentence. So long as the sentencing correctly applies and calculates the appropriate Guidelines sentence, the court is then liberated—indeed required—to pick the sentence that it believe best fits the crime.

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Newman’s “Meaningfully Close Personal Relationship” Requirement No Longer Good Law

A divided Second Circuit panel (Katzmann, Pooler (dissenting), Chin) on Wednesday upheld the insider trading conviction of former SAC Capital portfolio manager Mathew Martoma.  Confronting its precedent in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), for the first time since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Newman tippee liability standard this past December, see Salman v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 420 (2016), the Court ruled that the “meaningfully close personal relationship” requirement of Newman is no longer good law.  See United States v. Martoma, 14-3599 (2d Cir. Aug. 23, 2017). 

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Divided Second Circuit Panel Upholds Martoma Conviction, Ruling that Newman’s “Meaningfully Close Personal Relationship” Requirement Is No Longer Good Law After Salman

In a highly anticipated decision, a divided Second Circuit panel (Katzmann, Pooler (dissenting), Chin) today upheld the insider trading conviction of former SAC Capital portfolio manager Mathew Martoma, ruling that the “meaningfully close personal relationship” requirement set out by the Court in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), does not survive the Supreme Court’s decision in Salman v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 420 (2016). See United States v. Martoma, 14-3599 (2d Cir. Aug. 23, 2017).

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Court Finds Condition of Supervised Release Invalid

In United States v. Browder, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Lohier, Forrest, sitting by designation) has vacated in part an order finding that the defendant violated two conditions of supervised release. The Court’s decision sheds light on the respective roles of the district court and the Probation Office in entering and executing an order of supervised release, and it suggests that the Court may look with increased scrutiny at generalized conditions that defer to the Probation Office without sufficient judicial scrutiny, and may reject violation specifications based on those infirm conditions.

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Second Circuit Holds That “Rule of Specialty” Objection Belongs to Nations, Not Defendants

Last week, in Barinas v. United States, the Second Circuit held that a defendant who is extradited to the United States to face charges, pursuant to agreement with the asylum nation, may not raise the objection that the prosecution exceeds the scope of the extradition agreement or that he is to be tried on charges other than those for which he is extradited.  That objection, known as a “rule of specialty” objection, may be raised only by the asylum nation itself.  The panel also held that when a defendant on supervised release becomes a fugitive, his supervised-release term is tolled during the period of fugitivity.  The impact of this ruling is that a defendant who commits another crime while a fugitive from supervised release can be charged with a violation specification even if, at the time he committed the second crime, his term of supervised release otherwise would have ended.

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Section 2255 Petition Challenging Ineffectiveness Of Trial Counsel Denied

Last week, in Weingarten v. United States, the Second Circuit denied the Section 2255 petition of a convicted child sex offender, who claimed that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to challenge the timeliness of the Government’s indictment.  The panel—consisting of Judge Wesley, who authored the opinion, as well as Judge Parker and Judge Droney—unanimously concluded that the timeliness issue was too complex, and too uncertain, to support a finding that trial counsel made a “significant and obvious” error by declining to raise it.

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Court Dispenses With Fraud Defense Based on Gumball Victims’ Disclaimers

The Chiclets and Runts vending machine at your local car repair shop last decade may have been one piece of a fraudulent enterprise that ensnarled roughly 7,000 victims.  As CEO of Vendstar, Defendant Edward (“Ned”) Weaver directed a scheme that enticed victims to make substantial up-front investments in quarter-slot candy dispensers with false promises of significant returns—even hundreds of a dollars a day.  Despite assurances that this “home-based vending business” had “little risk,” many customers lost their entire investment.[1]

In United States v. Weaver, 16-3861 (June 21, 2017) (Newman, Cabranes, Lynch), the Court held in a per curiam order that contractual disclaimers signed by victims of Weaver’s fraud did not render the fraudulent statements “immaterial” as a matter of law and negate criminal liability.

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When A Police Stop Is Not A Stop

Yesterday the Second Circuit, in United States v. Huertas (15-4014) weighed in on the question of when a suspect’s brief encounter with police can support a finding that the suspect was “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  Judge Jacobs, joined by Judge Winter, concluded that a suspect who briefly pauses to answer a police officer’s questions, but then proceeds to flee, has not been “seized.”  Judge Pooler dissented, pointing to out-of-Circuit precedent and arguing that a suspect’s encounter with police generally constitutes a seizure if it extends beyond a “momentary halt.”

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Convictions Reversed in LIBOR Case

On July 19, 2017, in United States v. Allen, et al. (16-cr-98) (Cabranes, Pooler, Lynch), the Second Circuit issued a decision reversing the convictions of defendants Anthony Allen and Anthony Conti for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.  This was the first federal criminal appeal in connection with the London Interbank Offered Rated (“LIBOR”) prosecutions, which involved allegations that various individuals and banks manipulated the LIBOR.  The LIBOR is a benchmark interest rate intended to reflect the available rates at which banks borrow money from other banks; the LIBOR is incorporated into the terms of financial transactions worldwide. We provided a brief summary of the opinion a few hours after the decision was rendered; here is our more detailed summary.

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Convictions reversed in LIBOR case

On July 19, 2017, in United States v. Allen, et al. (16-cr-98) (Cabranes, Pooler, Lynch), the Second Circuit issued a decision reversing the convictions of defendants Anthony Allen and Anthony Conti for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.  This was the first federal criminal appeal in connection with the London Interbank Offered Rated (“LIBOR”) prosecutions, which involved allegations that various individuals and banks manipulated the LIBOR. 

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Second Circuit Denies Public Access to Monitor’s Reports on Separation-of-Powers Grounds

In a decision that will provide reassurance both to prosecutors and to the institutions with whom they enter into deferred prosecution agreements (“DPAs”), the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Lynch, Pooler (concurring)) held in United States v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 16-308(L), that the periodic reports submitted by an independent monitor responsible for evaluating compliance with a DPA are not “judicial documents” to which the public enjoys a First Amendment right of access.  To reach its holding, the Court was required to address foundational separation-of-powers questions regarding a court’s role in approving and supervising the implementation of a DPA.  The decision, written by Chief Judge Katzmann, will discourage courts from second-guessing decisions made by the executive branch in the legitimate exercise of its prosecutorial discretion.  Along with the Second Circuit’s decision in SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., 752 F.3d 285 (2d Cir. 2014), which held that a district court reviewing a proposed SEC consent decree may only reject it under limited circumstances, last week’s decision makes clear that the Second Circuit envisions that district courts will not play a significant role in assessing the fairness of the government’s settlements with financial and other institutions.

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Court Remands Guidelines Sentence for Child Pornography Offenses Without Finding Procedural or Substantive Unreasonableness

In a summary order issued on July 11, 2017, United States v. Burghardt, No. 16-949(L) (Katzmann, Pooler, Lynch), the Second Circuit remanded a 322-month Guidelines sentence for distribution and receipt of child pornography for “further consideration” by the district court.  The Court found the sentence to be procedurally reasonable and also found it was not substantively unreasonable, but nonetheless remanded the case for further consideration, continuing the recent trend of reversals in the sentencing of child pornography cases.

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Silver Conviction Vacated Due To Jury Instructions

This morning the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Wesley, Sessions, D.J.) released an opinion vacating the conviction of Sheldon Silver and remanding the case to the district court for further proceedings including a retrial.  The Second Circuit concluded that the evidence of guilt was sufficient to permit a retrial, but found that the jury instructions did not comport with the Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision and that the error was not harmless. The panel took no joy in rendering its decision, observing that “many would view the facts adduced at Silver’s trial with distaste.”  Nor did the panel blame either the district court or the government for today’s reversal, recognizing that the McDonnell decision—which changed the law of the Circuit—was issued after the Silver trial had concluded.  Nevertheless, the panel felt itself compelled by McDonnell and the facts of the case to decide the matter as it did.

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Honest Services Fraud Conviction Upheld Despite Error In Jury Instructions

On July 10, 2017, in United States v. Boyland, No. 15-3118 (Kearse, Walker, Hall), the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction of former New York State Assembly member William F. Boyland, Jr. on twenty-one counts of public corruption offenses, including eleven counts of honest services fraud.  Many of these counts involved determining that the benefits Boyland offered in exchange for bribes amounted to “official acts” under 18 U.S.C. § 201, the federal bribery statute prohibiting public officials from “being influenced in the performance of any official act.”  Id. § 201(b)(2)(A).  The U.S. Supreme Court recently narrowed the definition of this term in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), which led the government to concede in Boyland’s appeal that the trial court’s jury instructions on the meaning of “official act” were in part erroneous.  The Second Circuit, however, determined on plain error review that the error did not affect Boyland’s “substantial rights” and thus affirmed his convictions.  This decision may prove problematic for other high-profile former elected officials whose appeals are currently pending before the Second Circuit.

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Circuit Reverses Over-Expansive Forfeiture Order

On July 7, 2017, the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Leval, Raggi) issued a short summary order in United States v. Stegemann.  Most of the order is dedicated to affirming the defendant’s conviction at trial on several drug and firearm-related offenses, but at the end the Court reverses the order of forfeiture imposed as part of the defendant’s sentence, in part with the government’s consent.

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Convictions Affirmed in Drug Robbery Conspiracy

In United States v. Martinez, Nos. 14-2759, 15-511, 15-836, 15-1001, 15-3699 (Kearse, Jacobs, Pooler), issued on July 7, the Second Circuit affirmed the convictions of several co-conspirators in a decade-long scheme where at least two dozen individuals allegedly committed over 200 drug robberies by impersonating police officers who “arrested” drug traffickers and “seized” cash and drugs. 

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Second Circuit Vacates Sentence that Erroneously Denied Acceptance of Responsibility Credit

In United States v. Delacruz, No. 15-4174, the Second Circuit (Kearse, Lohier, Droney) vacated a defendant’s sentence, holding that the district court’s findings supporting the defendant’s failure to accept responsibility were clearly erroneous.  In an opinion by Judge Kearse, the Second Circuit emphasized its precedent that a Sentencing Guidelines reduction for acceptance of responsibility is appropriate where the defendant truthfully admits the conduct comprising the offense of conviction.  It would violate the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause to withhold an acceptance of responsibility adjustment because the defendant denied other conduct that was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  Thus, a “good-faith objection to material [presentence report] statements . .  does not provide a proper foundation for denial of the acceptance-of-responsibility credit.”

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United States v. Burden

On June 19, 2017, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Kearse, Livingston) issued a per curiam decision in United States v. Burden, et al., vacating the term of supervised release imposed on the defendants and remanding the case for resentencing as to supervised release.  Judge Kearse concurred in a separate opinion.

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Second Circuit Defers Allegations of Attorney Relationship With Client’s Mother

On June 5, 2017, in an opinion with facts that even the Court seemed to recognize read like the script for a straight-to-video movie, the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Sack, Carney) declined to overturn a defendant’s conviction and 35-year sentence despite the fact that the defendant’s counsel had engaged in an alleged sexual relationship with the defendant’s mother contemporaneously with his representation of the defendant, arguably creating an impermissible conflict of interest in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Second Circuit deferred the issue of whether the relationship in fact infringed on the defendant’s right to conflict-free representation, reasoning that post-conviction collateral review provided a better avenue to develop a factual record as to the nature and extent of the alleged affair and its impact, if any, on the defendant’s decision to plead guilty.

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    "Toxic" Hearsay Upends Murder Convictions for Member of Bronx Drug Trafficking Crew

    In a rare move, the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Pooler, Hall) overturned Armani Cummings’s convictions for murder, conspiracy, and multiple drugs and firearms offenses.  The Court reversed based on violation of the hearsay rules—not a common basis for reversal, but on the facts here, the Court recognized the powerful nature of the evidence that was admitted in violation of the rules of evidence.  Any reversal of a criminal conviction based on an evidence error—particularly one involving crimes as serious as those alleged here—merits close consideration.

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    Second Circuit Affirms Parole Conditions Imposed On Notorious Spy

    In a summary order issued on May 24, 2017, Pollard v. United States, 16-2918 (Raggi, Carney, and Kaplan by designation), the Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ( Forrest, J.), denying Pollard’s habeas corpus petition pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2241 to challenge conditions of his parole.  Pollard, arguably one of the most notorious spies in American history, was arrested in 1985 after passing top secret documents to Israel while working as a research analyst for the U.S. Navy.

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    Supreme Court Unanimously Holds SEC Disgorgement Is Subject to Five-Year Limitations Period

    We are attaching an article about a major Supreme Court decision that imposes a five-year statute of limitations on disgorgement actions brought by the SEC.  Justice Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous court, held that disgorgement is a financial penalty, not a form of restitution to victims.  The SEC now must either more quickly bring its charges or persuade targets of its investigation to agree to a tolling agreement.

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    A Long Journey Through “Silk Road” Appeal: Second Circuit Affirms Conviction and Life Sentence of Silk Road Mastermind

    On May 31, 2017, the Second Circuit issued its long-awaited decision in the “Silk Road” case, United States v. Ulbricht, (15-1815-cr) (2nd Cir. May 31, 2017) (Newman, Lynch, Droney).  The panel affirmed Ulbricht’s conviction and sentence of life imprisonment, identifying no reversible error.  From 2011-2013 Silk Road, which functioned as an “eBay” for drug dealing, generated approximately $183 million in sales of illegal drugs.  Defendant Ross William Ulbricht, who used the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was the owner and creator of Silk Road, and he took a commission on drugs sold through the website.

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    Second Circuit Rejects Novel Due Process Challenge to Rule Permitting Evidence of Prior Sexual Assaults

    The Second Circuit joined its sister circuits and upheld the constitutionality Federal Rule of Evidence 413, which renders admissible propensity evidence about the defendant in sexual assault cases.  In United States v. Schaffer, 15-2516-cr (Walker, Cabranes, Berman[1]) the Circuit rejected as a matter of first impression the defendant’s argument that Rule 413 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  The Court also reviewed its jurisprudence on “custodial” interrogation in the course of affirming the admissibility of incriminating statements the defendant made to law enforcement agents prior to his arrest.

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    Upon Further Review, Second Circuit Holds That Defendant’s Conduct not “in Furtherance of” Alien’s Unlawful Presence in United States

    In United States v. Khalil, No. 15-3819 (2d Cir. May 16, 2017) (Calabresi, Wesley, Lohier), the Second Circuit reversed the defendant’s conviction for transporting an alien within the United States for profit in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) and § 1324(a)(1)(B)(i).  It did so based on the Government’s failure to put forward sufficient evidence at trial to establish that Khalil transported an alien “in furtherance of” the alien’s illegal stay in the United States. 

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    Second Circuit Partially Affirms Evidentiary Ruling on Interlocutory Appeal in Decision Illustrating the Importance of Proofreading

    In United States v. Brown, 16-3468-cr (Leval, Hall, Chin) the Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part via summary order a ruling excluding evidence related to a firearm that had not been identified in the indictment.  The ruling is the result of a typographical error in the original indictment that went uncorrected in four superseding indictments issued over the course of nearly five years.

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    Exigent Circumstances Under the Fourth Amendment May Extend to the Need to Interview an Arrestee in Place

    In a split decision in United States v. Delva, No. 15-cr-683 (Kearse, Winter, Jacobs), the Second Circuit held that the Fourth Amendment allowed law enforcement officers to seize cell phones and a number of letters that were in plain view in the room of a suspect’s home where he was interviewed immediately after an arrest.  The majority opinion, written by Judge Kearse, relied on the “exigent circumstances” doctrine to hold that it was reasonable under the circumstances to hold an interview in the suspect’s home, which allowed the officers to seize incriminating evidence that was in plain view without obtaining a search warrant.  Although the majority opinion is careful to recognize that the exigent circumstances exception requires a case-by-case analysis, the decision extends the infrequently applied exigent circumstances doctrine to a new set of facts.  The decision drew a dissent from Judge Jacobs, who objected to the majority’s reliance on the exigent circumstances doctrine when the government had not raised it in the trial or appellate court, thus denying the defendant any chance to respond to this somewhat novel analysis offered by the Court.

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    Second Circuit Provides Primer on Criminal Procedure in Methamphetamine Case

    In United States v. Lyle, 15-958-cr (Raggi, Chin, Lohier), the Second Circuit covered an array of criminal procedure issues—including the Fourth Amendment concerns associated with rental car searches, proffer agreement waivers, and the admissibility of a co-defendant’s confession—in the course of affirming the defendants’ narcotics conspiracy convictions.  Lyle leaves unresolved the issue of whether an unauthorized driver ever has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car.  It does provide, however, an important reminder of the potential pitfalls of proffer agreements and the challenges that arise when trying multiple defendants together.

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    Til Death Do Us Part – Second Circuit Vacates Deceased Former New York State Senator’s Criminal Fine and Special Assessment under the Common Law Doctrine of Abatement

    In United States v. Libous, 15-3979 (2nd Cir. May 30, 2017) (Katzmann, Winter, Stein), the Second Circuit vacated the jury conviction of former New York State Senator Thomas W. Libous’ and remanded the case to the district court for dismissal of the indictment and an order to return the $50,000 fine and $100 special assessment to the decedent’s estate.  The short story is that if you die while your appeal is pending, any fine is revoked; if your fine was paid, then the amount is returned to the decedent’s estate.  The Court invites Congress to enact legislation if it is dissatisfied with the result created by this common law rule.

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    In Lengthy Opinion, Second Circuit Affirms “Silk Road” Conviction and Life Sentence

    On May 31, 2017, the Second Circuit issued its long-awaited decision in the “Silk Road” case, United States v. Ulbricht, (15-1815-cr) (2nd Cir. May 31, 2017) (Newman, Lynch, Droney).  The panel affirmed Ulbricht’s conviction and sentence of life imprisonment, identifying no reversible error.  Notwithstanding the many amici submissions challenging the district court’s unreasonableness in imposing a life sentence, the Court disagreed with those contentions and explained that it was required to be deferential to the district court.  Judge Lynch, who is a scholar in the area of sentencing, reasoned that “[a]t his point in our history . . . the democratically-elected representatives of the people have opted for a policy of prohibition, backed by severe punishment.”  Id. at 120 (emphasis added).

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    Second Circuit Rejects Application of Collateral Order Doctrine to “Non-Colorable” Double Jeopardy Claim

    In United States v. Serrano, 16-432-cr; 17-461-cr (Kearse, Calabresi, Cabranes), the Second Circuit denied the defendant’s interlocutory appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the collateral order doctrine is inapplicable to “non-colorable” double jeopardy claims and reaffirming its prior rulings that the denial of a Rule 29 motion does not fall within the scope of the doctrine.  The Court infrequently polices the bounds of its appellate jurisdiction, and so it is useful to have this short decision on the subject of when a defendant may take an interlocutory appeal.

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    Colombo Mob Boss to Remain in Prison

    A Second Circuit panel has ruled that infamous mob boss Carmine “The Snake” Persico will continue serving his 100-year sentence in federal prison.  In United States v. Persico, 16-2361, the Second Circuit (Walker, Jacobs, Parker) affirmed by summary order the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Duffy, J.), denying Persico’s motion to shorten his sentence pursuant to the old Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(a).

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    District Court Must Consider Significant Disparity Between Plea Offer and Ultimate Sentence When Assessing Ineffective Assistance Claims

    In Reese v. United States, 16-516, the Second Circuit (Pooler, Wesley, Carney) vacated by summary order the order of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Marrero, J.) denying Reese’s petition to vacate his conviction and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.  Reese claimed that his counsel had provided ineffective assistance, an argument the district court rejected on the grounds that Reese could not establish prejudice because the evidence of guilt presented at trial was “overwhelming.”

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    Court Upholds Murder-for-Hire Conviction, Rejects Fourth Amendment Challenges

    The murder-for-hire statute makes it a crime to agree to commit murder in exchange for “anything of pecuniary value.” 18 U.S.C. § 1958. The Second Circuit has understood this language to require that, at the time of the agreement, there was a quid pro quo or at least the promise of some pecuniary consideration. In United States v. Babilonia, No. 14-3739, the Court (Chin, Carney, and Cogan, sitting by designation) reaffirmed this “pecuniary consideration” requirement, but then suggested it presents a minimal hurdle where there was payment after the fact.[1]

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    Second Circuit Holds that District Court Orders Determining Restitution Credits are Final, Appealable Orders

    In United States v. Yalincak, No. 11-5446 (2nd Cir. Apr. 10, 2017) (Calabresi, Raggi, Lynch), the Second Circuit addressed a complicated issue of appellate procedure in the course of a decision on the law of restitution.  Specifically, the Court weighed in on when a district court’s order crediting a defendant funds against his restitution obligations becomes a final, appealable order that cannot be revisited by the district court.

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