Category: Habeas Corpus
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.