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.

Sneaking Isn’t Laundering: Second Circuit Reverses Money Laundering Conviction for Insufficient Evidence of Intent to Disguise

In United States v. Rodriguez, a panel of the Second Circuit (Judges Katzmann, Walker, and Bolden (D. Conn., sitting by designation)) reversed the conviction of a defendant for money laundering.  It concluded that the Government had established only that the defendant, Angelo Rodriguez, had attempted to deliver $300,000 in cash proceeds from sales of cocaine to what turned out to be an undercover agent—but not that the purpose of the transaction was to “to conceal or disguise the nature of . . . the proceeds of specified unlawful activity,” as the money-laundering statute requires.  See 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i).  Although the panel acknowledged that the Government had presented evidence that the attempted delivery of cash was covert, it held that the circumstances of the transaction were “equally consistent with the purpose of paying off a drug supplier or purchasing additional drugs, which aims do not entail the intent to conceal required by” the money-laundering statute.  In other words, the panel made clear that the mere covert delivery of money in connection with an illicit scheme does not amount to money laundering:  the Government must prove that the transaction was specifically intended to disguise the use of the funds for an unlawful purpose.


Missing Texts, Unfair Trial: Second Circuit Remands Case for Possible Brady Violations and Sentencing Irregularities

In United States v. Djibo, the Second Circuit vacated and remanded a judgment of conviction entered in the Eastern District of New York (Johnson, J.) following the defendant’s trial on charges arising from an international heroin-smuggling conspiracy.  In a summary order by Judges Sack, Hall, and Droney, the Circuit concluded that errors had affected both the trial and the sentencing, and reassigned the case to a new judge on remand.


Second Circuit Remands Ineffective Assistance Claim for Lawyer’s Failure to Apprise Naturalized U.S. Citizen of Denaturalization Risk Before Guilty Plea

In Rodriguez v. United States, the Second Circuit remanded the case to the district court to hear evidence on a defendant’s application to vacate her guilty plea, on the grounds that she would not have entered into the plea if her counsel had properly advised her as to its immigration consequences.  The Circuit, in a summary order written by Judges Walker, Lynch, and Chin, concluded that there was a reasonable probability that, had she been properly advised, she may have chosen not to plead guilty and thus may have avoided the immigration consequences that later ensued.  Accordingly, it remanded the case to the district court to develop an evidentiary record and make a finding on those issues.  The order requiring a hearing on a defendant’s right to extraordinary relief represents a reminder to judges and prosecutors that the immigration consequences of a guilty plea are no less central to the plea allocution than the contemplated term of imprisonment.  The decision follows the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Lee v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1958, 1967 (2017).  In Lee, the Court held that a defendant who would not have pleaded guilty but for counsel’s errors concerning the deportation consequences of his or her plea has demonstrated ineffective assistance.


The Price of a Drug Conspiracy Conviction: Second Circuit Remands $5 Million Forfeiture Order in Light of Recent Supreme Court Precedent

In United States v. Papas (17-cr-1591-cr), the Second Circuit remanded by summary order a $5 million forfeiture order entered in the Southern District of New York (Daniels, J.) after the defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana.  Judges Cabranes, Carney, and Caproni (sitting by designation) were on the panel. 


Conviction reversed by summary order for improper rebuttal summation

In United States v. Ballard, 17-427-cr, the Second Circuit reversed a sex trafficking conviction by summary order (JAC, RR, Villardo, J. by designation) due to improper argument by the government during rebuttal summation.

The Court rejected the defendant’s arguments that some of the rhetoric in the government’s main summation amounted to error.  Defense counsel did not object to these comments, which included calling the defendant a “dead beat,” a “pimp,” and similar to “Genghis Khan or some other Wall Street person.”


Joseph Tigano’s Ticking Clock: Circuit Reverses Conviction of Defendant Forced to Wait Seven Years for Trial

On November 15, 2017, the Second Circuit reversed by summary order the conviction of Joseph Tigano III on drug charges, determining that he had been deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and indicating that an opinion would follow.  This week, the court issued its opinion, detailing the “exceptional facts” that had culminated in a nearly seven-year lapse between Mr. Tigano’s arrest and his trial, despite his repeated invocation of his right to a speedy trial.  Indeed, the Court stated that the pretrial detention here “appears to be the longest ever experienced by a defendant in a speedy trial case in the Second Circuit.”  The Court held that that length of time, combined with other relevant factors, compelled the conclusion that his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.  Judge Pooler authored the opinion, and was joined by Judge Winter and Judge Walker.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


Second Circuit Affirms “One-Book Rule”: No Sampling from Different Versions of the Sentencing Guidelines

Yesterday the Second Circuit affirmed, in United States v. Ramirez (No.15-2570), the so-called “one-book rule”:  if sentenced criminals want to seek a reduction in sentence based on changes in the Sentencing Guidelines, they have to accept the new Guidelines wholesale.  They can’t pick and choose the most favorable provisions from the various iterations of the Guidelines that might potentially apply.  Judge Droney wrote the opinion, with Judges Raggi and Chin also on the panel.


Sharply Divided Circuit Denies Government’s En Banc Petition In Microsoft Appeal

In July 2016, the Second Circuit ruled that the Government could not employ a domestic search warrant, issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703 (the “SCA”), to compel disclosure of an email account that Microsoft stored on servers in Ireland.  (See our coverage of that decision here.)  Yesterday, a sharply divided Court denied the Government’s petition for rehearing en banc, leaving the decision intact.  The decision will presumably be met with relief in the technology sector, some of whose major players submitted amici briefs in support of Microsoft’s position.  But the four dissenters expressed concern that it hamstrings the Government in its pursuit of electronic evidence, jeopardizing national security.  And all of the Judges agreed that the SCA – which was passed in 1986 – is due for congressional review in light of the dramatic changes in electronic data storage that have occurred over the past 30 years.