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Category: Sentencing

Circuit Rejects Government’s Narrow Interpretation of the First Step Act of 2018

In United States v. Davis, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Wesley, Bianco) affirmed the district court’s order granting the defendant’s motion for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018.  The government had appealed the order, arguing that eligibility for Section 404 relief turns on a defendant’s actual conduct as opposed to the statutory offense for which a defendant was sentenced.  The Court disagreed and issued a decision that brings the Second Circuit in line with at least six other circuit courts that have issued precedential opinions in the last year with similar holdings.  It is reassuring to see the Circuit rule in a way that reinforces the protections offered by the First Step Act, over the government’s objections in this case.

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Second Circuit Vacates Sentence, Citing Failure to Apply Categorical Approach and Finding No Predicate Felony Drug Offense

The Second Circuit (Walker, Carney, and Koeltl) issued a decision vacating a 10-year sentence of imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marihuana.  The Court held that, contrary to the district court’s finding, a prior conviction for the attempted sale of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law (NYPL) § 220.31, was not a conviction for a “felony drug offense,” as defined by 21 U.S.C. § 802(44).  The case, United States of America v. Jeremy L. Thompson, 18-2545-cr, clarifies that courts must use the “categorical approach” when identifying predicate felony drug offenses, and that the Second Circuit will not expand § 802(44)’s reach beyond its enumerated classes of drugs.  Although this case arises in the context of the government’s use of a prior felony information, the Court has employed the same type of categorical analysis we see in cases brought under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

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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.

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Circuit Confirms Restriction on Motions for Sentence Reductions Under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)

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.

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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.

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Circuit Affirms Conviction Based On Appeal Waiver After Defendant’s Death

“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”  William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, scene ii.  In United States v. Mladen, the Second Circuit (Kearse, Walker, Livingston) grappled with whether Dusan Mladen’s convictions would live on after he passed away during the pendency of his appeal.

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Circuit Concludes Inchoate Offenses Satisfy Career Offender Guideline Deepening Circuit Split

In United States v. Richardson, the Second Circuit (Walker, Chin, Menashi) concluded that the defendant’s sentence was both procedurally and substantively reasonable and, therefore, affirmed.  Richardson pleaded guilty to distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and was sentenced, as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, to a prison term of 210 months.

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Circuit Offers Assessment of Special Assessment Issue

In United States v. Haverkamp, the Second Circuit (Sack, Parker, Chin) wrote a short decision that answered a single question:  in a case in which a defendant is sentenced to pay an additional special assessment pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3014, is this amount imposed on a per-count or per-offender basis.  Ordinarily, under 18 U.S.C. § 3013,  a special assessment is imposed on a per-count basis (plead guilty to 10 counts, pay 10 special assessments).

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Second Circuit Affirms Conviction and 20-Year Sentence in Sex Trafficking Case

On March 5, 2020, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Kearse, Bianco) issued a brief per curiam opinion in United States v. Alcius, et al., affirming the defendant’s 20-year sentence on sex trafficking related charges.  Defendant-Appellant Almonte challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting her conviction and also appealed the procedural and substantive reasonableness of her sentence.  The court affirmed both the conviction and sentence. 

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Second Circuit Rejects Challenge to ACCA “Serious Drug Offense”

In United States v. Ojeda, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Raggi, Korman, by designation) affirmed a 2018 judgment issued in the Southern District of New York ordering a mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) for a felon-in-possession conviction.  The Court rejected defendant’s arguments that his prior convictions did not qualify as ACCA predicates and that ACCA’s definition of “serious drug offense” is unconstitutionally vague.  Defense counsel made the right arguments, but recent changes in the law seem to have compelled this ruling.

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Second Circuit Employs “Mini-En Banc” to Relieve District Court of Requirement to Complete Non-Existent Form

In United States v. Karim Smith, the Second Circuit (Wesley, Chin, Sullivan) overturned its prior precedent and held that district courts need not complete a written ‘statement of reasons’ (“SOR”) form when sentencing a defendant during a violation of supervised release (“VOSR”) proceeding, at least until such a form is created by the Sentencing Commission.

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As Second Circuit Remands on Procedural Reasonableness Grounds, Judge Calabresi Calls for More Searching Review of Obstruction of Justice Sentences

In United States v. Pugh, No. 17-1889 (2d Cir. Dec. 10, 2019, as amended) (Calabresi, Droney, Underhill, by designation), the Second Circuit affirmed a defendant’s convictions for attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and obstruction of justice but vacated the resulting sentence on procedural reasonableness grounds.

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Circuit Adopts Expansive Reading of the Criminal Livelihood Sentencing Enhancement

In United States v. Moran, the Second Circuit (Calabresi, Cabranes, Chin) affirmed the sentence of Lamont Moran, who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin. On appeal, Moran challenged the application of two sentencing enhancements, one for acting as a supervisor in the course of his criminal activities (the “Aggravating Role Enhancement” of U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1) and one for engaging in criminal activities as his livelihood (the “Criminal Livelihood Enhancement” of U.S.S.G. § 4B1.3). In affirming, the Court clarified several elements of the Criminal Livelihood Enhancement. While the Guidelines are only advisory, they remain an important part of federal criminal sentencing, although as we will see here, the particular Guidelines enhancement addressed by the panel may not have made a difference in the sentence imposed.

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Second Circuit Holds Prior Precedent Abrogated by Subsequent SCOTUS Decision

In United States v. Brown (Newman, Hall, and Chin), the Second Circuit addressed two related questions. First, the Circuit held that Dean v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1170 (2017), abrogated prior circuit precedent in United States v. Chavez, 549 F.3d 119 (2d Cir. 2008), thereby allowing district courts to consider the severity of applicable mandatory consecutive sentences in determining the sentences for underlying predicate offenses.  And, second, the panel concluded that the appropriate remedy under the facts presented was remand for resentencing, rather than merely for clarification.

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Second Circuit Affirms Firearms Enhancement

In United States v. Ryan, 17-3919-cr (Jacobs, Lohier, Carney), the Second Circuit affirmed a four-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for using a firearm in connection with another felony offense.  Appellant Maurice Wood, along with co-defendant Jahkeem Ryan, sold heroin to a confidential informant on four occasions.  In connection with the third sale only, Wood agreed to sell the CI a Smith and Wesson AR-15 rifle and a Mossberg shotgun, along with heroin.  Wood did not, however, have the firearms with him at the time of the sale, and instead gave the CI additional heroin.

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Circuit Rejects Request for Rehearing After Reinstating Defendant’s Original Sentence Incorporating 15-Year Mandatory Minimum Pursuant to the ACCA

On April 26, 2019, the Second Circuit issued another decision in Shabazz v. United States (Katzmann, Leval, Berman by designation) and denied Al-Malik Shabazz’s request for rehearing in connection with the Court’s January 4, 2019 decision, which reversed the district court’s decision granting Shabazz’s habeas petition to set aside his sentence imposed under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”).  Our prior coverage of that decision can be found here.

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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.

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Second Circuit Vacates Life Sentence, Citing Failure to Apply the Categorical Approach

The Second Circuit (Leval, Lynch, Droney) issued a decision reversing a mandatory life sentence, finding  plain error because the district court failed to apply the categorical approach when considering whether the defendant’s prior conviction qualified for a sentencing enhancement.  The case, United States of America v. Jay Kroll, 16-4310-cr, is another example of the Second Circuit applying the categorical approach, this time to 18 U.S.C. § 3559(e) rather than to the Armed Career Criminal Act.  Section 3559(e) provides for mandatory life imprisonment when the defendant is a convicted of a child exploitation offense and has a prior sex conviction.

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Circuit Reverses Sentence Reduction Based on Incorrect Interpretation of ACCA

On January 31, 2019, the Second Circuit issued a per curiam decision in United States v. Thrower (Wesley, Chin, and Cote, by designation) reversing a 2017 judgment from the Eastern District of New York that reduced the defendant’s sentence from 180 months to 120 months, which resulted in the defendant’s immediate release.  The district court issued that order after concluding that Thrower’s prior New York convictions for robbery in the third degree and attempted robbery in the third degree do not qualify as predicate “violent felonies” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”).  The Second Circuit concluded that those determinations were incorrect, vacated the district court’s judgment, and remanded with instructions that the district court reinstate Thrower’s original mandatory 180-month sentence.

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Circuit Reverses Internet Ban Condition of Supervised Release As Substantively Unreasonable And An Excessive Limitation on Liberty, Not Reasonably Related To The Offense

In United States v. Eaglin, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Carney, and Vilardo, by designation) considered and rejected two conditions of supervised release:  a complete ban on access to the Internet and a similarly broad ban on the possession of legal adult pornography.  The first portion of the Court’s ruling is part of a broader trend that recognizes the centrality of the Internet to our modern world; it is essential for participation in legal activities and a blanket prohibition on its use must be supported by a more compelling record than existed here.

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Second Circuit Holds that Connecticut Robbery Inherently Involves Violent Force Under ACCA

In Shabazz v. United States, the Second Circuit (Katzmann, Leval, Berman by designation) again addressed the meaning of “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), this time under its “force clause.”  As readers of this blog will recall, ACCA has been the subject of many appeals during the past year.  See Jacqueline L. Bonneau & Harry Sandick, The Second Circuit Counts to Three: How One Defendant Became a Career Criminal Over the Course of an Hour (Apr. 2, 2018); Joshua Kipnees & Harry Sandick, In Split Decision, Court Again Applies Castleman To Interpret the “Force Clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (July 18, 2018); D. Brandon Trice & Harry Sandick, Court Regrets Allowing Successive 2255 Petition in Massey v. United States (July 16, 2018).  At issue in this case was whether Shabazz’s convictions for first and second-degree robbery under Connecticut law constitute violent felonies.  The Circuit held that all convictions for robbery in Connecticut inherently involve the use or threatened use of violent force, and therefore reversed the District Court’s grant of Shabazz’s habeas petition.  Interestingly, the Court based its holding not on an interpretation of the elements of robbery by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but on the inherent danger of violent force associated with the act of robbery.  Given the breadth of this holding, any robbery offense that is similar to the common law definition now likely qualifies as an ACCA predicate offense in the Second Circuit, perhaps cutting off future appeals arising out of convictions for robbery in other jurisdictions.

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Second Circuit Continues To Scrutinize Drug Trafficking Offenses After Townsend

The Second Circuit has once again confronted the issue of what is a “controlled substance” for purposes of sentencing enhancements under the Guidelines.  Earlier this year, the Second Circuit held that the phrase “controlled substance” in U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(2)—a section that enhances the guidelines sentence for a felon in possession of a firearm previously convicted of two felonies for either a crime of violence or a “controlled substance offense”—refers “exclusively to those substances in the [federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”)].” United States v. Townsend, 897 F.3d 66, 75(2d Cir. 2018).  This meant that not all state law drug offenses were suitable to be used as sentencing enhancements.  Now, in United States v. Guerrero, the Circuit held that the phrase “controlled substance offense” construed in Townsend has the same meaning as the term “felony drug trafficking offense” found in Section 2L1.2(b)(1)(B) of the 2014 Sentencing Guidelines, which is used for illegal reentry offenses.  United States v. Guerrero, No. 17-cv-851 (2d Cir. Dec. 10, 2018). 

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Circuit Holds Appeal Waivers in Plea Agreements Must Be Backed By Consideration

In United States v. Lutchman, No. 17-291 (2d Cir. Dec. 6, 2018) (Newman, Jacobs, Pooler), the Second Circuit exercised appellate jurisdiction over defendant’s challenge to his sentence, even though his plea agreement contained an appellate waiver.  The Court concluded that the defendant’s appellate waiver in his plea agreement was not supported by consideration, and thus did not bar defendant’s challenge to his sentence on appeal.  The Court addressed defendant’s arguments on the merits, affirming defendant’s sentence.

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Supervised Release Condition Struck Due To Improper Delegation

In a short summary order issued in United States v. Levy, the Second Circuit (Hall, Lynch, and Kuntz, D.J.) struck a condition of supervised release that delegated to the United States Probation Department the authority to decide whether to impose a curfew on the defendant.  This condition was discussed briefly at sentencing, with the district court advising the defendant as follows:  “They tell you you have to stay home at a certain hour or curfew, you have to obey.  You understand?”  The witness answered in the affirmative, and defense counsel did not object.[1] 

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Despite Recent Supreme Court Precedent, and In A Departure From The “Categorical Approach,” Circuit Affirms Conviction Under Section 924(c)

In United States v. Barrett, the Second Circuit (Winter, Raggi, Droney) rejected a defendant’s argument that his conviction under Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(c), for using firearms in the commission of a violent crime, should be reversed based on the recent Supreme Court decisions in Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018) and Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015).  Barrett admitted on appeal that the evidence showed that he was a member of a violent robbery conspiracy but still contended that the firearms counts could not be upheld because the underlying Hobbs Act predicates did not categorically fall within the definition of a crime of violence in Section 924(c)(3).  While Dimaya and Johnson have changed how courts must construe Section 924(c)(3), those precedents did not lead the Court to reverse Barrett’s conviction, leaving in place his 90-year sentence.  This is a major decision for those who practice in the violent crimes area and given the novelty of the issues the decision covers, it seems likely to be the subject of further review, perhaps by the Supreme Court.

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Conviction and Sentence Affirmed, Rejecting Sufficiency, Evidentiary Arguments

In United States v. Spoor, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Carney, and District Judge Caproni) affirmed a conviction for production and possession of child pornography.  In a decision by Judge Caproni, the Court rejected a number of arguments made by the defense.

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Guidelines Commentary Leads To Affirmance in Sentencing Appeal

In a short per curiam opinion in United States v. Lobo (Parker, Hall, Lohier), the Second Circuit affirmed the imposition of a Guidelines enhancement based on the importation of a controlled substance into the United States. 

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Circuit Determines that Attempted Robbery Under New York Law Constitutes a “Crime of Violence” Pursuant to 2014 Federal Sentencing Guidelines

In United States v. Pereira-Gomez, a panel of the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Carney, Caproni, D.J.) issued an opinion analyzing whether attempted robbery under New York law qualifies as a “crime of violence” for enhancement purposes under Section 2L1.2 of the November 2014 United States Sentencing Guidelines.  Engaging in a meticulous exercise in statutory interpretation, the panel concluded that while the offense is not specifically enumerated in the Guidelines’ definition of “crime of violence,” it does fall within the residual “force clause” of the relevant Guidelines application note, thereby resulting in a substantial prior offense enhancement to the applicable sentencing range.  This case demonstrates the difficulties that courts and litigators experience in interpreting sentencing enhancement provisions that are based on the categorical nature of a prior conviction.

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Second Circuit Affirms $10 million Fine in Tax Evasion Case

In a per curiam decision issued on July 27, 2018, the Second Circuit affirmed a $10 million fine imposed on Morris Zukerman as part of a sentence for tax evasion in United States v. Zukerman, No. 17-948 (Katzmann, Kearse, Pooler).  The Court summarized its reason for affirming the fine, which was well above the $250,000 Guidelines ceiling, by writing that “Zukerman, a very wealthy man who has repeatedly and brazenly committed sophisticated tax fraud—a rarely caught and more rarely punished offense that undercuts the functioning of state and federal governments—ought to pay a fine hefty enough to take any financial benefit out of his crimes and to give pause to others who might be tempted to commit similar crimes.”  While tax cases often involve downward variances to a non-incarceratory sentence, this case involved a district judge’s strongly held belief that the high fine was important to the purposes of sentencing and that it merited an upward variance.  The Circuit agreed.

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When Is a Controlled Substance Not a Controlled Substance?

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin is a hormone produced during pregnancy that is prescribed as part of some fertility treatments and, less legitimately, sold as a dieting aid.  In New York, it is considered a controlled substance, but it’s not listed on the federal controlled substance schedule.  In United States v. Townsend, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Carney, Lawrence Vilardo, D.J.) faced a defendant with a prior conviction for possession of HCG, and considered whether his base offense level should be increased based on a prior conviction for an “offense under federal or state law . . . that prohibits . . . distribution . . . of a controlled substance.”   USSG § 2K2.1(a).  Applying a presumption that the Guidelines refer to federal law unless they explicitly incorporate state law, the panel said no:  because HCG is not banned on the federal level, its possession is not an offense for possession of a “controlled substance” for sentencing purposes.

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United States v. Smith

The Second Circuit issued an amended opinion in United States v. Smith (Cabranes, Winter, Restani by designation).  Both the original decision, which we covered on the blog earlier this year and the amended decision held that the defendant was subject to an enhanced Guidelines range as a result of having committed the New York offense of robbery in the second degree.  This crime constituted a crime of violence within the meaning of the residual clause of Sentencing Guidelines Section 4B1.2(a)(2), which was in effect when Smith was sentenced on October 1, 2015.

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Court Rejects MS-13 Gang Member’s Challenge to Conviction and Sentence

In United States v. Hernandez, 16-2765, the Second Circuit (Kearse, Cabranes, Lohier) affirmed the conviction of a member of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a street gang that operates in certain parts of the country, arising out of an initiation shooting in Brentwood. 

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In Split Decision, Court Again Applies Castleman To Interpret the “Force Clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act

In Villanueva v. United States, the Second Circuit held by a 2-1 vote (Newman and Leval, with Pooler dissenting) that a conviction for first degree assault under Connecticut law qualifies as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (“ACCA”).  The question before the Court was whether the Connecticut statute, analyzed under the “modified categorical approach,” is a violent felony that requires the use of physical force.  The Court reversed the district court’s decision to grant the petition under Section 2255 and remanded the case for resentencing.

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Court Regrets Allowing Successive 2255 Petition in Massey v. United States

On July 11, 2018, the Court of Appeals issued a short per curiam opinion (Wesley, Chin, Furman D.J. by designation) in Massey v. United States, affirming the sentence imposed on an individual who was convicted of possession of a firearm after a felony conviction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).  Massey had committed three prior felonies in New York:  third-degree robbery, second-degree assault, and second-degree attempted assault.  Each of these was deemed a crime of violence under the “force clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA,” codified at 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)).  The question presented to the Court of Appeals was whether Massey’s sentence pursuant to the ACCA should be affirmed in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2563 (2015) (Johnson II), holding that the “residual clause” of the ACCA was unconstitutionally vague.

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Circuit Holds That Pending State Counts Qualify as “Anticipated” Sentence for Purposes of Sentencing Guidelines on Concurrent Sentencing

Is a term of imprisonment “anticipated” if charges are pending but the defendant has not yet pled or been found guilty?  In a per curiam decision, United States v. Olmeda, No. 15-3449 (Katzmann, Leval, and District Judge Carter by designation) (June 22, 2018), the Circuit addressed whether a defendant facing pending state charges is subject to an “anticipated” sentence – which, under Section 5G1.3(c) of the Sentencing Guidelines, would require his federal sentence to run concurrently with any state sentence later imposed.  Upon reviewing the relevant legislative history and case law, the Circuit determined that a state sentence is sufficiently anticipated for federal sentencing purposes even when the defendant's guilt has not yet been established in state court.  This decision will make sentences marginally shorter for defendants who are in the unfortunate position of being prosecuted in both state and federal court at the same time.

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Circuit Vacates Child Pornography Sentence For Second Time, Citing District Court’s Failure to Follow Circuit’s Mandate

On June 19, 2018, in a split decision in United States v. Sawyer, No. 15-2276 (Jacobs, Pooler, Crawford) the Circuit issued a firm rebuke of a District Court judge who – per the Circuit’s mandate – reduced the defendant’s sentence on remand, but did so without curing certain deficiencies the Circuit had identified as making the sentence substantively unreasonable.  The majority opinion makes clear that when the Circuit issues a mandate on remand, the district court is not at liberty to ignore it – even if the district court can achieve the same outcome (here, a reduced sentence) through different means.  As the dissent (Jacobs, J.) observes, however, the holding yields the anomalous result whereby the District Court may have remedied the substantive unreasonableness of the initial sentence on remand, but because it did so for the wrong reasons – i.e., by expressly declining to link the reduction to the two variables identified in the mandate – the sentence could not stand. 

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Court Allows Wife of Criminal Defendant to Amend Challenge to Forfeiture of Allegedly Commingled Assets on Due Process Grounds

In United States v. Daugerdas, the Court (Walker, Lynch, Chin) offered a lifeline to the wife of a defendant convicted of tax fraud, who sought to assert a third-party interest in funds that the Second Circuit had previously determined were forfeitable to the government as proceeds of the defendant’s crimes.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York concluded that petitioner Eleanor Daugerdas failed to state a claim that she was entitled to retain funds that her husband, defendant Paul Daugerdas, had gratuitously transferred to her.[1]  She sought to argue that the tainted funds had been commingled with legitimately earned funds prior to their transfer and therefore could not easily be traced back to Paul’s crimes.  But the question of whether the seized funds arose from Paul’s criminal activity had been decided in the affirmative by the district court as part of Paul’s sentencing.  As a result, the district court held that Eleanor could not relitigate the issue of whether those funds should be characterized not as criminal proceeds but as substitute assets, which would require the government to seek forfeiture of other property belonging to Paul.

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Sentencing Court Must Provide Sufficient Reasons for Sentence Imposed to Determine if Factual Error Influenced Sentence

In United States v. Derek Armstrong, 18-368, the Second Circuit (Sack, Raggi, Kaplan) issued a summary order vacating a three-month prison sentence imposed on the defendant by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for violating probation by failing to report for random drug testing.  The defendant had previously been sentenced in 2015 to three years’ probation for filing false tax returns and it was his violation of that probation that resulted in the challenged sentence.  On appeal, he argued that his prison sentence was procedurally unreasonable because it was based on an erroneous fact asserted by the government at sentencing: that the defendant had failed to pay any of the back-tax payments ordered by the district court. 

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Second Circuit Holds Life Term of Supervised Release for Non-Violent Drug Offender is Unreasonable

On May 2, 2018, the Second Circuit held in United States v. Jamaal Brooks (Parker, Lynch, Chin) (per curium) that the district court erred in imposing a sentence of lifetime supervised release on a defendant who had violated prior terms of supervised release due to continued drug use and failure to report to scheduled drug testing.  The Court stressed that while the sentencing court has substantial discretion in fashioning an appropriate sentence, a term of supervised release is nonetheless substantially unreasonable if it is improperly justified by retribution and deviates significantly from the sentence given to similarly-situated violators.  Supervised release imposes real burdens on both defendants and the justice system, and this decision is a reminder that, as in other aspects of federal sentencing, the punishment should fit the crime.

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Missing Texts, Unfair Trial: Second Circuit Remands Case for Possible Brady Violations and Sentencing Irregularities

In United States v. Djibo, the Second Circuit vacated and remanded a judgment of conviction entered in the Eastern District of New York (Johnson, J.) following the defendant’s trial on charges arising from an international heroin-smuggling conspiracy.  In a summary order by Judges Sack, Hall, and Droney, the Circuit concluded that errors had affected both the trial and the sentencing, and reassigned the case to a new judge on remand.

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The Second Circuit Counts to Three: How One Defendant Became a Career Criminal Over the Course of an Hour

In United States v. Bordeaux, 17-486-cr (Cabranes, Raggi, Vilardo[1]), the Second Circuit held that the defendant’s three prior Connecticut state convictions for first-degree robbery—all of which took place during a single night—satisfied the requirements for conviction under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).  The opinion confirms that a conviction under Connecticut’s first-degree robbery statute constitutes a “violent felony” within the meaning of the ACCA and continues the majority approach to interpreting the “different occasions” requirement of the Act—which places the greatest emphasis on whether a defendant had time to contemplate his actions between the incidents giving rise to his prior convictions.  Much is at stake for the defendant:  a conviction under Section 924(e) carries with it a mandatory consecutive 15-year term of imprisonment.

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The Price of a Drug Conspiracy Conviction: Second Circuit Remands $5 Million Forfeiture Order in Light of Recent Supreme Court Precedent

In United States v. Papas (17-cr-1591-cr), the Second Circuit remanded by summary order a $5 million forfeiture order entered in the Southern District of New York (Daniels, J.) after the defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana.  Judges Cabranes, Carney, and Caproni (sitting by designation) were on the panel. 

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In Divided Decision, Court Rejects Challenge to Conspiracy Conviction Based on Grand Jury Clause

In United States v. Dove, 14-1150-cr, the Second Circuit (Walker, Pooler, Chin) upheld a drug conspiracy conviction against claims that the government improperly shifted its case away from the broader conspiracy charge in the indictment.  The defendant alleged that this amounted to a constructive amendment or a prejudicial variance, in violation of the Fifth Amendment Grand Jury Clause.  The 2-1 decision, with Judge Chin dissenting, raises thorny questions about the evidence necessary to prove a defendant’s awareness of his role in a larger conspiracy and the government’s ability to thwart a lack-of-awareness defense through its selection of evidence at trial.  Although the Court affirmed, the extended discussion and the dissent may be useful to future litigants who wish to invoke these defenses.

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Court Holds New York Second-Degree Robbery is Crime of Violence Under 2014 Sentencing Guidelines

In United States v. Smith, No. 15-3313-cr, the Second Circuit (Winter, Cabranes, Restani, sitting by designation) held that New York second-degree robbery is a “crime of violence” under § 4B1.2(a) of the 2014 United States Sentencing Guidelines.  As the panel acknowledged, Smith follows directly from United States v. Jones (2d Cir. Oct. 5, 2017), covered here and here, which held that New York first-degree robbery is a crime of violence under the same Guidelines provision because the official commentary lists robbery as a crime of violence, and New York generically defines first-degree robbery to include as an element the taking of property from another person, or person’s immediate presence, by force or intimidation.  The panel reasoned that the rationale of Jones was “directly applicable” because New York second-degree robbery has the same element involving the use of force or intimidation. 

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