Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in an action where defendants were convicted of charges related to defendants' personal use of grant money that the UN awarded to their non-profit organization. Defendants received a grant in the amount of $500,000 for the sole purpose of establishing a radio station in Iraq dedicated to women's programming. However, defendants siphoned off more than $65,000 of the grant to pay personal debts, bills, and taxes.Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict on the wire fraud and related counts. The court remanded for the district court to consider defendants' motion for a new trial on these counts. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict defendants for their false statements. The court discerned no errors with respect to the false statement convictions that would require a new trial. View "United States v. Jabar" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions and sentences for conspiring to manufacture, distribute, or possess a controlled substance on a vessel. The court concluded that the district court did not procedurally err in denying minor-role reductions pursuant to USSG 3B1.2 and 2D1.1(a)(5)(iii) and applying two-level enhancements for defendants' roles as pilot or navigator of a vessel carrying controlled substances pursuant to USSG 2D1.1(b)(3)(C). The court also concluded that Defendant Torres' 240 month sentence and Defendant Salas' 180 month sentence were substantively reasonable where the district court weighed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors and did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sentences. View "United States v. Torres" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). The court explained that, although section 3582(c)(1)(A) permits a district court to end its analysis if it determines that extraordinary and compelling reasons for granting the motion are absent, the court's review on appeal is aided considerably when the district court, as here, also analyzes the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors—particularly in those cases where it is a close call whether extraordinary and compelling circumstances exist. In this case, the district court considered the section 3553(a) factors and reasonably concluded that defendant's early release would undermine respect for the law and undermine the deterrent purpose of the original sentence given his very serious offenses. The court rejected defendant's contentions to the contrary. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants Levy and Nordlicht were convicted of securities fraud, in violation of 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 78ff; conspiracy to commit securities fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371; and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349. Defendants' convictions stemmed from their participation in a fraudulent scheme to defraud bondholders of an oil and gas company, Black Elk, from the proceeds of a lucrative asset sale. Defendants moved for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. The district court granted Levy's motion for a judgment of acquittal and conditionally granted his motion for a new trial in the event the judgment of acquittal was later vacated or reversed. The district court denied Nordlicht's motion for a judgment of acquittal, but granted his motion for a new trial.The Second Circuit vacated the district court's order and judgment granting defendants' post-trial motions. The court concluded that a rational jury could have concluded that Levy participated in the Black Elk scheme with criminal intent. The court applied the preponderates heavily standard and concluded that letting the verdict stand as to Nordlicht would not result in manifest injustice. In this case, the district court's factual findings in connection with Nordlicht's Rule 29 motion, as well as the ample record evidence illustrating Nordlicht's knowledge and intent, undermine the district court's conclusions in the Rule 33 context and demonstrate that the evidence did not preponderate heavily against the verdict. Therefore, the district court abused its discretion granting the motion for a new trial. The court considered the parties' arguments on appeal and concluded that they are without merit. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Levy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction following a guilty plea to a narcotics conspiracy charge, alleging that the district court misstated the applicable mandatory minimum term of supervised release in violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the Rule 11 error was harmless. In this case, because both parties wrongly assume that the defendant bears the ultimate burden of persuasion to show that the Rule 11 error affected his substantial rights, the court clarified that where a defendant moved to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing based on a Rule 11 error, it is the government's burden on appeal to show that such error was harmless. Nonetheless, the court found that plaintiff's substantial rights were not violated by the error in his plea agreement and colloquy. The court concluded that defendant's plea was knowing and voluntary and he did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. View "United States v. Freeman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit dismissed defendant's appeal challenging his new sentence, holding that the Government can invoke the appeal waiver despite having earlier consented to defendant's habeas petition. In this case, defendant pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to conspiring to commit a Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Although an appeal waiver provision in the agreement barred defendant from challenging his conviction or sentence, the Government consented to his request to vacate the 18 U.S.C. 924(c) conviction as unconstitutional in light of United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 32 (2019). The district court then vacated defendant's conviction and resentenced him on the remaining Hobbs Act robbery conspiracy count.The court held that "partial enforcement" or "partial invocation" of a plea agreement's waiver provision is permitted under limited circumstances, including those present here. Therefore, the valid appeal waiver in this case requires that the court dismiss defendant's appeal rather than address his challenge. View "United States v. Borden" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Halkbank, a commercial bank that is majority-owned by the Government of Turkey, was charged with crimes related to its participation in a multi-year scheme to launder billions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil and natural gas proceeds in violation of U.S. sanctions against the Government of Iran and Iranian entities and persons. Halkbank moved to dismiss the indictment but the district court denied the motionThe Second Circuit held that it has jurisdiction over the instant appeal under the collateral order doctrine. The court also held that, even assuming the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) applies in criminal cases—an issue that the court need not, and did not, decide today—the commercial activity exception to FSIA would nevertheless apply to Halkbank's charged offense conduct. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying Halkbank’s motion to dismiss the Indictment. The court further concluded that Halkbank, an instrumentality of a foreign sovereign, is not entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution at common law. View "United States v. Bankasi" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction directing defendant officials of the DOCCS to rescind changes in the scheduling of certain regularly-held Quaker religious gatherings at Green Haven Correctional Facility. The court agreed with the district court that a preliminary injunction is not warranted because plaintiffs are unable to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.After determining that it has jurisdiction to address the merits of the appeal, the court concluded that, at least insofar as they challenge substantive restrictions on their ability to conduct religious services and meetings in accordance with their beliefs, plaintiffs have established that any violation of their religious liberties would satisfy the irreparable injury standard. However, the court concluded that the claims of Green Haven Meeting, as well as those of the Incarcerated Plaintiffs suing in their own names, must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In regard to the Non-Incarcerated Plaintiffs, the court concluded that the changes in the times of the Quarterly Meetings, and the eventual cancellation of those meetings, did not infringe their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The court found persuasive defendants' contention that plaintiffs failed to clearly establish that defendants' actions concerning Quarterly Meetings substantially burden plaintiffs' exercise of religion since defendants rescheduled the meetings for Friday evenings and did not terminate them. Furthermore, the record reinforces the district court's conclusion that defendants' rescheduling decision was supported by legitimate concerns. Finally, the court concluded that the balance of equities and the public interest do not tip in favor of granting a preliminary injunction. View "Green Haven Prison Preparative Meeting v. New York State Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied petitions for review of the BIA's decisions affirming the IJ's order of removal and denial of Petitioner Graham's motion to reopen. The court concluded that petitioners' narcotics convictions under Connecticut General Statute 21a-277(a) are controlled substance or aggravated felony drug trafficking offenses under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The court also concluded that its jurisdictional holding in Banegas Gomez v. Barr, 922 F.3d 101 (2d Cir. 2019), that a notice to appear that omits the hearing date and time is nonetheless sufficient to vest jurisdiction in the immigration courts, survives the Supreme Court's ruling in Niz-Chavez v. Garland, 141 S. Ct. 1474 (2021). View "Chery v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for multiple drug- and gun-related counts, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to support their convictions. The court rejected defendants' claims of evidentiary errors and Rehaif error.However, in failing to account for the gaps in the government's evidentiary presentation for acquitted conduct, the court concluded that the district court erred in cross-attributing the drugs found in the upper apartment when it sentenced Defendant Willis. Furthermore, the error requires a remand for resentencing and reconsideration of whether the government met its burden of proving jointly undertaken criminal activity between Willis and Pierce by a preponderance of the evidence, and if so, the scope of that activity. The court remanded Willis's sentence to the district court to expressly rule whether the sentence will run concurrently with his state sentence. View "United States v. Willis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law