Category: Habeas Corpus
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 Mata v. United States, the Second Circuit (Park, Nardini, Menashi) issued a per curiam opinion denying the petitioner’s motion for leave to file a second motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h). Proceeding pro se, Mata argued that his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) should be vacated in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), which clarified what the government must prove in order to meet the “knowingly” mens rea requirement of § 922(g). Consistent with prior decisions issued by the Third and Eleventh Circuits, the Second Circuit held that Rehaif concerned an issue of statutory interpretation and did not announce a new rule of constitutional law. Accordingly, Mata’s motion did not meet the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h).
In United States v. Pilcher, the Second Circuit (Leval, Cabranes, Sack) (per curiam) considered whether a habeas petitioner could proceed anonymously—in this instance holding that he could not (as the case’s caption makes clear).
Earlier this week, we discussed the Second Circuit’s summary order in the insider trading appeal by Rajat Gupta. Gupta was convicted in SDNY as part of the string of successful prosecutions brought during the tenure of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The summary order affirmed the denial of Gupta’s 2255 petition, thereby leaving in place his conviction. The Second Circuit, without explanation, has withdrawn the summary order and published the same decision as a per curiam opinion. Other than the correction of minor typos, there appear to be no changes in the Court’s ruling. A link to the published opinion is here.
In a brief summary order issued yesterday, the Second Circuit denied Rajat Gupta’s collateral attack on his insider trading conviction in Gupta v. United States, Nos. 15-2707(L), 15-2712(C). In a decision reminiscent of the recent summary order in Whitman v. United States, the panel (Kearse, Wesley, Droney) passed on the opportunity to develop the law on the “personal benefit” element of insider trading and instead denied Gupta’s habeas petition on the primary ground that he procedurally defaulted by failing to raise the issue on direct appeal.
Second Circuit Rejects “Miscarriage of Justice” Challenge to Sentence Based on Vacated Underlying Conviction, but Declines to Establish Categorical Rule
In United States v. Hoskins, the Court (Hall, Jacobs, Raggi) rejected a collateral challenge to a sentence where an underlying predicate offense was vacated based on procedural error.
Court Declines to Allow Defendants in Fraud Scheme to Utilize 28 U.S.C. § 2255 or Writ of Coram Nobis to Challenge Order of Restitution
In United States v. Rutigliano, No. 16-3754 et al., the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Raggi, Droney) refused to endorse the reduction of a restitution order against defendants who had conspired to submit fraudulent disability pension applications, either via a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, or via a petition for a writ of coram nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651. Although the panel declined to hold that such vehicles could never be used by criminal defendants to collaterally attack an order of restitution, the Court made clear that the facts at hand rendered both § 2255 and § 1651 relief unavailable to these defendants, and vacated the district court’s order reducing defendants’ restitution obligations.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in Salman v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 420 (2016) is already having an effect on the appeals arising out of the insider trading convictions in the Southern District of New York. Shortly after Salman, the Second Circuit asked the parties in the insider trading case of United States v. Martoma to submit supplemental briefing discussing the decision’s impact. Salman rejected the defendant’s argument that he could not be convicted of insider trading where his brother-in-law did not receive a pecuniary benefit for passing information to him, holding that the relative’s tip satisfied the standard for a “gift of confidential information to trading relatives.” The decision partially overturned United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 428 (2d Cir. 2014), which had required “a meaningfully close personal relationship that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” Our prior coverage of Newman can be found here and here, and our prior coverage of Salman can be found here.
Closing the Courtroom? Second Circuit Reluctantly Approves, Reminds Lower Courts to Create a Clear Record
In Moss v. Colvin, 15-2272, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Wesley, Carney) issued a per curiam decision affirming the denial by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Crotty, J.) of the petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (“AEDPA”). Despite the affirmance based on procedural grounds, the decision serves as a good reminder to lower courts to create a clear record when weighing a potential courtroom closure.
In United States v. White, 15-229-cr (Cabranes, Droney, Meyer by designation), the Second Circuit ordered a remand for resentencing via summary order, instructing the lower court to consider the defendant’s post-sentencing rehabilitation. Although the order is not precedential, it represents an important reminder that practitioners can raise new factual arguments at resentencing based on changes in the defendant’s circumstances since the time of the initial sentencing proceedings.
Second Circuit Finds In Camera Sentencing Colloquy Conducted in Defendant’s Absence Violated Fifth Amendment Rights
In Morales v. United States, 15-243-cv (Pooler, Parker, Livingston), the Second Circuit granted habeas relief to petitioner Jorge Luis Morales on the grounds that it was ineffective assistance of counsel for his attorney not to raise a Fifth Amendment challenge to the lower court’s (Nevas, J.) decision to conduct in camera sentencing discussions outside of Morales’s presence. Although the Circuit chose to decide this matter via non-precedential summary order, this represents the rare case where ineffective assistance of appellate counsel excused a habeas petitioner’s procedural default.