Second Circuit Rejects Sentence Based on Government’s Dramatic Shift From its Pre-Plea Pimentel Estimate
In United States v. Walker, 17-1896-cr (Jacobs, Calabresi, and Rakoff, by designation) (April 4, 2019), the Second Circuit held that the Government breached its plea agreement with the defendant by advocating for a term of imprisonment that was substantially higher than the Government’s initial sentencing estimate in the plea agreement. In support of the increased sentence, the Government pointed only to information known to the Government at the time of the plea. The decision addresses so-called “Pimentel estimates” used in the Eastern District of New York, in which the Government provides the defendant with pre-sentencing notice of its calculation of the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range in a plea agreement, while cautioning that this estimate may change in the future. The panel held that, at least on these facts, the defendant was entitled to rely on the Government’s Pimentel estimate despite the cautionary language and, accordingly, the Government unlawfully changed its position based on information known from the outset. As a result, the case will be remanded for resentencing to a new district judge.
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.
Second Circuit Remands Ineffective Assistance Claim for Lawyer’s Failure to Apprise Naturalized U.S. Citizen of Denaturalization Risk Before Guilty Plea
In Rodriguez v. United States, the Second Circuit remanded the case to the district court to hear evidence on a defendant’s application to vacate her guilty plea, on the grounds that she would not have entered into the plea if her counsel had properly advised her as to its immigration consequences. The Circuit, in a summary order written by Judges Walker, Lynch, and Chin, concluded that there was a reasonable probability that, had she been properly advised, she may have chosen not to plead guilty and thus may have avoided the immigration consequences that later ensued. Accordingly, it remanded the case to the district court to develop an evidentiary record and make a finding on those issues. The order requiring a hearing on a defendant’s right to extraordinary relief represents a reminder to judges and prosecutors that the immigration consequences of a guilty plea are no less central to the plea allocution than the contemplated term of imprisonment. The decision follows the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Lee v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1958, 1967 (2017). In Lee, the Court held that a defendant who would not have pleaded guilty but for counsel’s errors concerning the deportation consequences of his or her plea has demonstrated ineffective assistance.
Second Circuit Finds Death Extinguishes Trial Convictions and Related Restitution Order – But Tax Offenses and Bail Forfeiture Survive
In 2010, a federal jury in the Eastern District of New York convicted body-armor tycoon David H. Brooks of multiple counts of conspiracy, insider trading, fraud, and obstruction of justice for his role in a $200 million scheme to enrich himself from company coffers. Brooks was the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, the leading supplier of bulletproof vests to police departments and the U.S. military. Brooks later pleaded guilty to associated charges of conspiracy to defraud the IRS and filing false income tax returns that had been severed from the rest of the case. While he appealed the result of his jury trial, he did not appeal the tax fraud convictions (pursuant to the terms of a plea agreement). Brooks died in prison while his appeal was pending, forcing the Second Circuit to revisit an obscure area of law to decide what aspects of his convictions, if anything, survived his death. Ultimately, Brooks’s death in prison led to the abatement of his trial convictions, and with that abatement, the erasure of significant restitution obligations that Brooks otherwise would have owed.
Court Remands Guidelines Sentence for Child Pornography Offenses Without Finding Procedural or Substantive Unreasonableness
In a summary order issued on July 11, 2017, United States v. Burghardt, No. 16-949(L) (Katzmann, Pooler, Lynch), the Second Circuit remanded a 322-month Guidelines sentence for distribution and receipt of child pornography for “further consideration” by the district court. The Court found the sentence to be procedurally reasonable and also found it was not substantively unreasonable, but nonetheless remanded the case for further consideration, continuing the recent trend of reversals in the sentencing of child pornography cases.
In United States v. Martinez, Nos. 14-2759, 15-511, 15-836, 15-1001, 15-3699 (Kearse, Jacobs, Pooler), issued on July 7, the Second Circuit affirmed the convictions of several co-conspirators in a decade-long scheme where at least two dozen individuals allegedly committed over 200 drug robberies by impersonating police officers who “arrested” drug traffickers and “seized” cash and drugs.
On June 19, 2017, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Kearse, Livingston) issued a per curiam decision in United States v. Burden, et al., vacating the term of supervised release imposed on the defendants and remanding the case for resentencing as to supervised release. Judge Kearse concurred in a separate opinion.
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.”
An Empty Bargain: Circuit Overturns Guilty Plea Entered By Defendant Unapprised of Mandatory Life Sentence
In a decision dated March 10, 2017, the Circuit issued a blistering decision vacating the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea in United States v. Johnson, No. 15-3498-cr (Jacobs, J., joined by Judges Cabranes and Parker), holding that the defendant’s plea to offenses requiring a mandatory life sentence was not made knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently. Readers squeamish of benchslaps are advised to stop reading here: the panel called out the defendant’s asleep-at-the-wheel trial counsel by name no fewer than a dozen times, and chided the “robotic” prosecutor for delivering a prolix recitation of the sentence facing the defendant during plea allocation. But the panel saved its strongest admonishment for the district court judge, whom it believed so incapable of handling the proceedings fairly and competently on remand that it directed the case to be reassigned. In the end, only the defendant – a repeat offender facing felony drug trafficking charges – emerged from the opinion unscathed.
In United States v. Strong, No. 15-2992, the Court (Kearse, Lohier, and Droney) affirmed Strong’s conviction in a brief, per curiam opinion. Strong was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine base and heroin. The government filed a 21 U.S.C. § 851 prior felony information that doubled the applicable mandatory minimum from 60 months to 120 months. Strong did not object to the filing of the prior felony information. He pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and admitted the fact of his prior state felony conviction.
The Court in Sanford v. United States, 16-1840 (Katzmann, Wesley, Hall) yesterday dismissed Petitioner Elijah Sanford’s motion for leave to file a successive § 2255 motion to challenge his sentence, concluding that Sanford’s challenge was precluded by an enforceable collateral attack waiver, knowingly and voluntarily made, in his plea agreement.
Above-Guidelines Sentences for Prostitution Ring Upheld, Including Where Portions of Rule 11 Transcript Missing
In United States v. Jiamez-Dolores, et al., 14-1840(L) (August 3, 2016) (Hall, Lynch, Chin), the Court in a per curiam order affirmed above-guidelines sentences given to two defendants who each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for their participation in a sex-trafficking enterprise. Both defendants appealed the reasonableness of their sentences. One defendant also challenged his sentence based on an incomplete transcript from his plea and sentencing hearing.
Second Circuit Demonstrates the Difficulties in Withdrawing a Guilty Plea and Challenging a Below-Guidelines Sentence
In United States v. Rivernider, 13-4865, the Court (Livingston, J., Lynch, J. and Rakoff, D.J., sitting by designation) affirmed the judgment entered by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Chatigny, J.) against two defendants, Robert Rivernider and Robert Ponte. The defendants pled guilty and were sentenced for multiple counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and tax evasion stemming from a Ponzi scheme and real estate scheme the two ran together.
In United States v. Pattee, 14-32163-cr (April 21, 2016) (GC, GEL, RJL), the Court affirmed a judgment of conviction and sentence entered in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Frank P. Geraci, Jr., C.J.). The Defendant was charged in a 13-count Indictment for producing, distributing, and possession of child pornography. After losing a motion to suppress, the defendant pleaded guilty to all 13-counts and was sentenced to a 47-year term of incarceration.