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Category: Guilty Plea

Second Circuit Grants Rehearing and Vacates Guilty Plea Following Supreme Court’s Decision in Rehaif v. United States

On November 13, 2019, the Second Circuit (Hall, Lynch, Gardephe) issued a decision in United States v. Balde, vacating the defendant’s guilty plea for unlawful possession of a firearm by an alien who is in the United States illegally or unlawfully, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(5)(A) and 924(a)(2).  The panel initially upheld Balde’s conviction on appeal, but eight days after the Court’s original decision, the United States Supreme Court decided Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), holding that a conviction under the relevant statutes required the government to prove that the defendant knew that he or she was in the country illegally at the time he or she possessed the firearm.  Prior to Rehaif, every Circuit to consider the question held that the defendant’s knowledge of this fact was not an element.  The Second Circuit then granted Balde’s petition for rehearing and concluded that the district court had committed plain error in failing to ensure that Balde was apprised of this knowledge requirement before pleading guilty (even though the district court had no reason at the time to think it was an element of the crime) and because the record did not contain facts sufficient to support a conclusion that Balde was aware that he was in the country illegally. 

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Second Circuit Holds That Traveling Interstate for the Purpose of Engaging in Illegal Sexual Conduct is Not a Strict Liability Crime

On November 4, 2019, the Second Circuit (Kearse, Wesley, Chin) issued a decision in United States v. Murphy, vacating a defendant’s guilty plea for traveling interstate for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C § 2243(b).  The panel sided with several sister circuits in concluding that § 2243(b) is not a strict liability crime, and requires that the defendant travel interstate with the requisite intent, regardless of the actual age of the victim.  The Court concluded that the district court had committed plain error in failing to ensure both that the defendant was adequately informed of this essential element of the crime to which he was pleading guilty, or that there was an adequate factual basis for the plea.  Notwithstanding the awful nature of the crime committed here, it is important for courts to make sure that a defendant is advised of the elements of the offense, as required by Rule 11, and that he admits to those elements.

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Galanis Appeal Leads To Limited Remand To Determine Whether Counsel Was Ineffective

The appeal in United States v. Galanis, 17-629 (Sack, Parker, Chin) resulted in a limited remand in a summary order so that the district court can determine whether there was ineffective assistance of counsel.  The facts of the case are somewhat unusual.  Galanis was indicted in two different and separately-charged securities fraud cases.  In September 2015, Galanis was indicted in the Gerova matter, and in May 2016, he was indicted in the Wakpamni matter.  He was represented by a California law firm in the Gerova matter, but that firm declined to appear in the Galanis matter (perhaps due to unpaid invoices by the client).  This left Galanis unrepresented in the Genova matter.

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Court Holds Hobbs Act Extends to Robberies Involving Forced ATM Withdrawals

In United States v. Rose, the Court (Katzmann, Walker, and Bolden, sitting by designation) rejected a jurisdictional challenge to a guilty plea to violating the Hobbs Act, potentially giving rise to a Circuit split.  The defendant, Floyd Rose, was charged with robbing his victim by forcing them to withdraw money from their bank’s ATM and then hand it over to Rose.  After pleading guilty to Hobbs Act robbery, Rose argued that his plea should be set aside because the robbery lacked any connection to interstate commerce.

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Second Circuit Reminds Courts They Must Advise Defendants of the Immigration Consequences of Guilty Pleas

In United States v. Gonzales, 16-4318 (March 13, 2018), the Second Circuit (Sack, Parker, Carney) in a per curiam order vacated the conviction of a defendant who had pled guilty without being informed that he was likely to be deported at the end of his sentence.  On June 23, 2015, Wilfredo Gonzales appeared before the Western District of New York (Geraci, C.J.) and pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute cocaine, and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.  During the plea colloquy, the District Court failed to inform Gonzales, who was a lawful permanent resident, that he could be removed from the United States as a result of his conviction.

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