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 Sidesteps Supervised Release Challenges

In United States v. Birkedahl, 19-2304, the Second Circuit (Sullivan, Park, Nardini) rejected Defendant-Appellant Eric Birkedahl’s challenges to the conditions of his supervised release imposed subsequent to his conviction for possession of child pornography.  Birkedahl pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York to one count of possession of child pornography.  He was sentenced principally to 24 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a supervised release period of five years.  Among the conditions of supervised released imposed by the district court were:  (1) participation in a sex offender treatment program; (2) submission to computerized voice stress analyzer (“CVSA”) testing or, alternatively, polygraph testing, to ensure compliance with the conditions of supervised release, referred to as the “verification testing condition”; and (3) a so-called “risk condition,” standard in the Western District of New York, whereby Birkedahl could be required to notify members of the public that he posed a risk to them.  Birkedahl objected to the imposition of each at the time of sentencing, and challenged on appeal the district court’s imposition of each.  He did not appeal his term of incarceration, which was a below-the-range sentence.


Plea Agreement Not Violated, But Sentence Vacated and Remanded for Reconsideration of Hobbs Act Robbery Enhancements

In United States v. Oneal, 18-1710 (May 27, 2020) (Katzmann, Kearse, Bianco), the Second Circuit limited the scope of the Hobbs Act robbery Sentencing Guidelines enhancements for possessing a dangerous weapon and for physical restraint, vacating and remanding for consideration of whether the enhancements applied under the strict standards announced by the court.  However, the court rejected Defendant-Appellant Xavier Oneal’s argument that the government had violated the terms of his plea agreement by siding with the Probation Office’s recommendation that the enhancements applied, even after not including the enhancements in its pre-plea Guidelines stipulation with the defendant.  On remand, given the law and the facts in the panel’s opinion, it would appear that the defendant may receive a reduced sentence.


Hating The Game: Counsel’s Strategic Concessions in Rapper-Related Shooting Case Cannot Support IAC Claim

In United States v. Rosemond, 18-3561-cr (May 1, 2020) (Sack, Chin, Bianco), the Second Circuit held principally that Defendant-Appellant James R. Rosemond’s Sixth Amendment “Right to Autonomy” was not violated when his defense attorney, over his objection, conceded an element of the charged murder-for-hire offense—that he had hired individuals to shoot the victim—and instead argued that the government had failed to prove Rosemond’s intent to kill the victim.  The court also rejected Rosemond’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim under Strickland and an evidentiary challenge.  The case is a notable decision for the criminal defense bar, as it lays out the circumstances in which the Circuit believes that a defense lawyer must follow his client’s wishes in planning his defense strategy.


Waivable Conflict Not Validly Waived, Leads To Remand for New Trial

In United States v. Arrington, 17-4092-cr (October 18, 2019) (Lynch, Lohier, Judge Brian M. Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, sitting by designation), the Second Circuit vacated Defendant-Appellant Roderick Arrington’s convictions for murder in aid of racketeering and related convictions, and remanded for a new trial, holding that he was not provided with adequate information prior to waiving his attorney’s actual conflict of interest. While defendants should have their counsel of choice, and have the right to waive most conflicts of interest, the defendant needs to have sufficient information and independent advice to make a knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to conflict-free counsel. The Court of Appeals has long policed the boundaries of this issue and Arrington will give courts and counsel further guidance about how to approach these notoriously tricky Sixth Amendment questions.


Second Circuit Affirms Firearms Enhancement

In United States v. Ryan, 17-3919-cr (Jacobs, Lohier, Carney), the Second Circuit affirmed a four-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for using a firearm in connection with another felony offense.  Appellant Maurice Wood, along with co-defendant Jahkeem Ryan, sold heroin to a confidential informant on four occasions.  In connection with the third sale only, Wood agreed to sell the CI a Smith and Wesson AR-15 rifle and a Mossberg shotgun, along with heroin.  Wood did not, however, have the firearms with him at the time of the sale, and instead gave the CI additional heroin.


Circuit Holds No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Rental Car for Unauthorized and Unlicensed Driver

In United States v. Lyle, 15-058-cr (April 1, 2019) (Raggi, Chin, Lohier), the Second Circuit, following a remand from the United States Supreme Court, once again held that the search of a rental car that James Lyle was driving (1) without a valid driver’s license, (2) without the permission of the rental car company, but (3) with the permission of the authorized driver, was lawful.  We covered the panel’s original opinion in United States v. Lyle, 856 F.3d 191 (2d Cir. 2017) in a June 1, 2017 post.  That post lays out the rather interesting facts and procedural history of this methamphetamine distribution and conspiracy case, and discusses each of the issues originally raised on appeal by Lyles and his co-defendant, Michael Van Praagh, including the panel’s original treatment of the rental car search issue.  Subsequent to that blog post, the United States Supreme Court granted Lyle’s petition for a writ of certiorari challenging the search of the rental car and remanded to the Second Circuit for further consideration in light of its unanimous decision in Byrd v. United States, 584 U.S. ---, 138 S. Ct. 1518 (2018).  Byrd included grand rhetoric about the Fourth Amendment, with Justice Kennedy writing that “[f]ew protections are as essential to individual liberty as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”  138 S. Ct. at 1526.  On remand, however, the Circuit once again upheld the search of the rental car. 


Circuit Remands Case for Determination of Whether the Delay In Obtaining A Search Warrant Violated the Fourth Amendment

In a recent summary order in United States v. Smith, 17-2446, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Kearse, Meyer by designation) remanded a case for additional fact-finding on a narrow issue relating to the duration of the time it took police to obtain a warrant to search the contents of a tablet computing device following the lawful warrantless seizure of the tablet.