Recently, the Second Circuit upheld the conviction and 40-year sentence of a Hezbollah operative. In United States v. Kourani, No. 19-cr-4292 (Cabranes, Kearse, Pooler), the Court rejected the defendant’s various arguments that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, that the district court erred by not providing his requested jury instructions, that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction, and over a dissent from Judge Pooler, held that a 40-year sentence was not substantively unreasonable. Significantly, the Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that a confession to FBI agents, made in the presence of his attorney, was coerced.
In United States v. Eldridge, the Second Circuit (Chin, Sullivan, Nardini) affirmed the convictions of a group of co-defendants who were indicted on a litany of charges, many of which related to the attempted robbery of a rival dealer. This appeal concerned two of them, Thamud Eldridge and Kevin Allen, who raised three arguments: (1) that the placement of a waist-high curtain around the defense table during the trial prejudiced the jury; (2) that one of the convictions ought to be vacated in light of recent Supreme Court precedent; and (3) that the First Step Act qualifies the defendants for a sentence reduction.
Circuit Clarifies Precedent, Holds That Sentencing Court Need Not Separately Explain Reasons For Imposition of 20-Year Supervised Release Term
In United States v. Williams, a per curiam decision, the Second Circuit (Pooler, Sullivan, Park) affirmed the imposition of a 20-year term of supervised release on a defendant convicted of child pornography offenses, holding that it is plain from the record that the sentence was based on permissible factors.
Circuit Rejects “Listening Circle” Release Condition For Defendant Who Threatened To Assassinate Member of Congress
In United States v. Carlineo, the Second Circuit (Parker, Lohier, Menashi) vacated a special condition of supervised release requiring the defendant to participate in a restorative justice program, concluding both that the condition was impermissibly vague, and that it improperly delegated excessive authority to the Probation Office.
Circuit Vacates Above-Guidelines Sentence Based on Comments Concerning Deterrence and Russian Organized Crime
In United States v. Vinokurov, the Second Circuit (Wesley, Carney, Nardini) issued a summary order directing the district court to resentence Defendant Avtandil Khurtsidze in connection with his conviction on charges of racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The Court ordered that Khurtsidze be resentenced because of the district court’s comments at sentencing regarding the above-guidelines sentence that was imposed and the deterrent effect it could have in sending a message to “Russian organized crime.”
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.
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, 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—potentially subjecting defendants to the statute’s mandatory minimum sentences—and a “crime of violence” under the Career Offender provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, regardless of 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 United States v. Gadsden, the Second Circuit (Walker, Katzmann and Wesley, per curiam) affirmed the decision of the Southern District of New York denying Damone Gadsden’s motion for resentencing under the First Step Act. The opinion is consistent with recent decisions in other circuits, and reinforces the principle that the exercise of sentencing discretion is not synonymous with specific procedural requirements.
In United States v. Razzouk, the Second Circuit (Walker, Carney, Koeltl by designation) considered the meaning of an “offense against property” as used by the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (“MVRA”). The panel rejected a categorical approach, and instead permitted consideration of the facts and circumstances of the defendant’s crimes. Restitution is one of the areas in sentencing law that has seen major developments over the past few years. This decision appears to continue the Second Circuit’s long tradition of being a generally favorable forum for victims of crime.
In United States v. Birkedahl, 19-2304, the Second Circuit (Sullivan, Park, Nardini) rejected Defendant-Appellant Eric Birkedahl’s challenges to the conditions of his supervised release imposed subsequent to his conviction for possession of child pornography. Birkedahl pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York to one count of possession of child pornography. He was sentenced principally to 24 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a supervised release period of five years. Among the conditions of supervised released imposed by the district court were: (1) participation in a sex offender treatment program; (2) submission to computerized voice stress analyzer (“CVSA”) testing or, alternatively, polygraph testing, to ensure compliance with the conditions of supervised release, referred to as the “verification testing condition”; and (3) a so-called “risk condition,” standard in the Western District of New York, whereby Birkedahl could be required to notify members of the public that he posed a risk to them. Birkedahl objected to the imposition of each at the time of sentencing, and challenged on appeal the district court’s imposition of each. He did not appeal his term of incarceration, which was a below-the-range sentence.
In United States v. Huberfeld, the Second Circuit (Pooler, Lynch, Menashi) vacated the sentence imposed on Murray Huberfeld, a co-founder of the now-defunct Platinum Partners hedge fund (“Platinum”), and reversed the district court’s order requiring Huberfeld to pay $19 million in restitution to the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association (“COBA”), which is New York City’s largest union for corrections officers. The Circuit’s decision took issue with several aspects of the district court’s Guidelines calculation, as well as its determination that COBA was a “victim” of the wire-fraud crime to which Huberfeld pleaded guilty.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In United States v. Alexander, the Second Circuit (Sack, Wesley, Livingston) issued a summary order that, among other things, vacated the district court’s restitution order as to two defendants, Marc and Rachael Alexander. The order is notable primarily because it shows the Circuit’s willingness to scrutinize restitution orders.
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.
Second Circuit Concludes that Restitution Includes Losses from Wire Fraud Scheme that Occurred Outside the Limitations Period
In United States v. Parnell, 19-649-cr (May 19, 2020), the Second Circuit (Hall, Lohier, Park) affirmed a judgment ordering the defendant-appellant to pay restitution for the total amount of losses resulting from her crime of wire fraud, including losses that occurred outside the limitations period.
“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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Circuit Affirms Sentence Enhancement for Child Porn but Remands as to Conditions of Supervised Release
The Second Circuit (Walker, Cabranes, Sack) issued a per curiam decision in United States v. Bleau, 18-cr-1574 affirming a sentence based on a conviction for receiving and possessing child pornography, but remanding for further consideration of whether to impose a particular special condition of supervised release.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Second Circuit: In Truth, A Polygraph Test Supervised Release Condition Can’t Be Added After Sentencing
In United States v. Washington, the Second Circuit (Cabranes and Pooler Circuit Judges, and Oetken, J., by designation) examined a discrepancy between the terms of sentence that the District Court pronounced at the sentencing hearing and the terms of the sentence that the District Court actually entered in its written judgment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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