In Rare En Banc Ruling, Second Circuit Holds that Manslaughter is a Categorically Violent Felony, Including Cases of Omission, Potentially Triggering Mandatory Minimums
On March 2, 2021, in a rare en banc decision, United States v. Scott, 18-163-cr, the Second Circuit held in a divided 9-5 opinion that New York first-degree manslaughter is categorically a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act—subjecting qualifying defendants to the statute’s mandatory minimum sentences— and a “crime of violence” under the Career Offender provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, despite the fact that manslaughter can be carried out by omission.
On March 1, 2021 the Second Circuit (Carney, Koetl) issued a decision in Collier v. United States, affirming the district court’s denial of Keith Collier’s habeas petition to vacate his conviction and sentence for an attempted robbery of a federal bank in the late 1990s and for using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, i.e., during the attempted robbery. The core issue presented was whether attempted federal bank robbery was categorically a “crime of violence” as that phrase is used in the relevant federal statute and Sentencing Guidelines. The application of the categorical approach in sorting out whether a myriad of state and federal crimes fall within the statutory definition of a “crime of violence” has been a major focus of federal criminal litigation over the past decade and a familiar focus of this blog.
In United States v. Huberfeld, the Second Circuit (Pooler, Lynch, Menashi) vacated the sentence imposed on Murray Huberfeld, a co-founder of the now-defunct Platinum Partners hedge fund (“Platinum”), and reversed the district court’s order requiring Huberfeld to pay $19 million in restitution to the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association (“COBA”), which is New York City’s largest union for corrections officers. The Circuit’s decision took issue with several aspects of the district court’s Guidelines calculation, as well as its determination that COBA was a “victim” of the wire-fraud crime to which Huberfeld pleaded guilty.
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.
In United States v. Zapatero, the Second Circuit (Hall, Sullivan, Bianco) issued a published opinion concerning a narrow sentencing issue, ruling that a district court may not rely on a Sentencing Guidelines § 5G1.3(b) adjustment made at a defendant’s original sentencing to subsequently reduce the defendant’s sentence, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), to one that falls below the defendant’s amended Guidelines range. The decision is based on strict interpretation of the Guidelines, which only permit reductions under Section 3582(c)(2) in fairly narrow circumstances.
Second Circuit Affirms Sentencing Enhancement for Altered Serial Number on a Gun, Despite Legible Serial Numbers On Other Parts of the Firearm
In United States v. St. Hilaire, 19-640 (May 21, 2020), the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Calabresi, Chin) affirmed a sentencing enhancement for possessing a firearm with an altered serial number, even though at least one of the serial numbers on the weapon was legible. The appeal raises an interesting question about the purpose behind this enhancement (and the underlying statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(k)), which is meant to punish those who possess untraceable firearms.