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Category: Sixth Amendment

Circuit Vacates Sentence for Failure to Correctly Apply Acceptance-of-Responsibility Guideline

In a summary order on January 2, 2018 in United States v. Reyes, the Court (Winter, Lynch, Droney) vacated and remanded a life sentence as procedurally unreasonable on the ground that the district court failed to properly apply a reduction for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1.  The decision reiterates that a three-level reduction is mandatory under certain circumstances if the district court has already imposed a two-level reduction, and that the government must formally move for a three-level reduction in order to bind the court’s hands.  The third point of acceptance of responsibility under the Guidelines is not a matter of grace or kindness by the district court.  When a defendant is entitled to receive the third point, the district court is obliged to award it.


Court Rejects Habeas Claim That Admission of DNA Evidence Violated Petitioner’s Confrontation Right

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.


Second Circuit Provides Primer on Criminal Procedure in Methamphetamine Case

In United States v. Lyle, 15-958-cr (Raggi, Chin, Lohier), the Second Circuit covered an array of criminal procedure issues—including the Fourth Amendment concerns associated with rental car searches, proffer agreement waivers, and the admissibility of a co-defendant’s confession—in the course of affirming the defendants’ narcotics conspiracy convictions.  Lyle leaves unresolved the issue of whether an unauthorized driver ever has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car.  It does provide, however, an important reminder of the potential pitfalls of proffer agreements and the challenges that arise when trying multiple defendants together.


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.


Second Circuit Reaffirms that Fact of Prior Conviction Need Not be Found by Jury

In Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment requires that any fact that increase the mandatory minimum penalty for a crime must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.  Id. at 2155.  Alleyne, however, noted in a footnote that it was not “revisit[ing]” the exception to this general rule for the fact of a prior conviction.  Id. at 2160, n.1.  Recently, in United States v. Anthony Boykin et al., Nos. 14-851-cr & 14-1033-cr (Walker J., Calabresi, J., Hall, J.), the Second Circuit also declined to revisit that exception.  Although there is a certain logic to extending Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), to the fact of a prior conviction—so that any fact that increases the minimum or maximum sentence faced by a defendant must be put to the jury—this exception contained in Apprendi continues to endure.