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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a reduction in sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. The court held that the First Step Act does not require that an eligible defendant receive a plenary resentencing, and it does not obligate a district court to recalculate an eligible defendant's Guidelines range, except to account for those changes that flow from Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, when considering as a discretionary matter whether (or by how much) to grant a sentence reduction. The court also held that the district court's minor factual misstatement regarding the timing of one of defendant's prison disciplinary infractions does not require remand because the error did not affect his substantial rights. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress a firearm discovered after police officers pat-frisked defendant during a traffic stop. The court held that the officers lacked an objectively reasonable belief that defendant was armed and dangerous. The court stated that, at most, the officers had reason to believe that defendant possessed something illicit, but the Constitution requires that the officers have reason to believe this something was dangerous. Therefore, the suppression of the firearm was warranted as the fruit of an illegal search conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Weaver" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was convicted of charges related to his attempted robbery of a convenience store. After a bifurcated trial where the jury convicted him of all counts, the district court dismissed the violence-in-Hobbs Act robbery count as duplicative of the Hobbs Act robbery count and then rejected the government's argument that the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) mandated imposition of a 15-year minimum incarceratory sentence on defendant.The Second Circuit held that defendant's arguments with respect to Count Three, the firearm-in-crime-of-violence count, are foreclosed by the court's opinion in United States v. Hill, 890 F.3d 51, 60 (2d Cir. 2018), in which the court held that Hobbs Act robbery qualifies, categorically, as a crime of violence under the elements clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(c); defendant's jurisdictional challenge to his conviction on Count Four, the felon-in-possession count, is similarly foreclosed by United States v. Balde, 943 F.3d 73, 92 (2d Cir. 2019), and he cannot establish that the asserted evidentiary and other failures on the part of the government and the district court amount to plain error requiring vacatur or reversal; and the district court acted well within the permissible bounds of its discretion in its various evidentiary rulings and in denying defendant's motion for a new trial.In regard to the government's cross-appeal, the court held that its recent precedents confirm that New York Robbery in the Second Degree falls within the ACCA's definition of "violent felony" and that thus resentencing is required. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of conviction and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant on remand of the Government's petition to enforce two Internal Revenue Service summonses, one sent to defendant in his personal capacity and one sent to him in his capacity as a trustee, based on the foregone conclusion and collective entity exceptions to the Fifth Amendment's self-incrimination clause. Defendant's appeal stemmed from the IRS's efforts to investigate his use of offshore bank accounts to improperly conceal federally taxable income.The court agreed with the district court that the Government has shown with reasonable particularity the documents' existence, defendant's control of the documents, and an independent means of authenticating the documents such that the foregone conclusion doctrine applies. The court also agreed with the district court that, as a matter of first impression in this Circuit, a traditional trust is a collective entity subject to the collective entity doctrine. View "United States v. Fridman" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for (1) conspiring to submit false voter registrations and buying voter registrations in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371 and 52 U.S.C. 10307(c) and (2) conspiring to violate the Travel Act by paying bribes for voter registrations and votes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371 and 1952. Defendant's convictions stemmed from his involvement in a criminal voting scheme to further a real estate development project.The court held that 52 U.S.C. 10307(c) applied to defendant's conduct because it exposed future federal elections to corruption. In this case, the prohibitions in section 10307(c) apply to any voter registration practices that expose federal elections – present or future – to corruption, regardless of whether any federal candidate is on the immediate ballot. The court explained that New York's registration process is unitary and thus defendant's fraudulent conduct has the potential to affect future federal elections.The court also held that defendant's payment to influence voter conduct fits within the generic definition of bribery and thus violated the Travel Act. The court explained that, because Travel Act bribery is construed broadly, the lack of a precise fit between New York Election Law 17-142 and the New York bribery statute does not matter. View "United States v. Smilowitz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After the district court granted defendant's motion for resentencing under the First Step Act, it vacated its order and denied his motion as moot when the district court learned that defendant had completed serving his term of imprisonment for his 2005 drug offense and remained imprisoned only because he continued to serve two consecutive sentences imposed for offenses committed while in prison that he did not mention in his original application for re-sentencing.The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that sentences are imposed separately for convictions on specific violations of criminal statutes and are aggregated only for administrative purposes. The court explained that, because sentences within judgments of conviction are otherwise final orders, they are modifiable only in limited circumstances. The court stated that the First Step Act permits such modification—a district court may "impose a reduced sentence" for a "covered offense." However, where an inmate, such as defendant in this case, has already served the term of imprisonment imposed for a "covered offense," the court held that the statute no longer permits relief. Therefore, defendant's motion is moot because the relief authorized by the First Step Act is no longer possible. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant, while still in custody for possession of child pornography, challenges a condition of his supervised release requiring that he submit to verification testing designed to ensure that he is complying with the other conditions of his term of supervision. Defendant argues that the district court abused its discretion by permitting the probation officer to test him using computerized voice stress analysis – a technology that defendant claims is unreliable – and by giving the probation officer unwarranted discretion over which verification testing device to employ.The Second Circuit dismissed defendant's challenge to the computerized voice stress analysis, holding that the challenge is unripe because it turns on a speculative assessment of what the contested technology will look like in six years when he is released from his term of custody. The court affirmed the delegation of discretion to the probation officer, finding that permitting the probation officer to choose among verification testing tools is no more significant than allowing probation to select among different outpatient therapy options. The court dismissed defendant's challenges to other conditions of his supervised release in a summary order issued simultaneously with this opinion. View "United States v. Villafane-Lozada" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions, after pleading guilty, of conspiring to engage in drug trafficking activity in violation of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA). Defendants challenged the adequacy of their unconditional guilty pleas.The court held that the government has met its evidentiary burden in establishing that defendants' boat was a stateless vessel and thus subject to the jurisdiction of the United States; Section 70506(b) of the MDLEA encompasses land-based conspiratorial conduct, which Congress is authorized to proscribe under the Necessary and Proper Clause; although due process requires a sufficient nexus with the United States for those not on board a stateless vessel to be prosecuted under the MDLEA, in this instance, defendants' prosecutions satisfy due process; and Congress did not exceed its legislative authority in enacting the MDLEA pursuant to the Define and Punish Clause. View "United States v. Alarcon Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Defendant, who is serving a 24 month sentence for possession of child pornography, challenges three conditions of his supervised release, including a verification testing condition that permits the use of a computerized voice stress analyzer to assess his compliance with the terms of his supervised release.The Second Circuit dismissed defendant's challenge to the computerized voice stress analyzer, holding that the challenge is not ripe for review because the efficacy of computerized voice stress analyzers in promoting sentencing goals is subject to change with technological advances. Furthermore, the notification of risk condition is also not ripe because any allegedly improper delegation is conditioned on the district court finding, during defendant's term of supervised release, that he poses a risk of committing further crimes against another person -- a contingency that may never occur. The court held that defendant's challenges to the remaining conditions of supervised release are foreclosed by court precedent and affirmed as to the remainder of the district court's sentence and judgment. View "United States v. Birkedahl" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for eight counts related to his possession of child pornography. The court held that the district court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress fruits of the Network Investigative Technique (NIT) warrant based on the court's opinion in United States v. Eldred, 933 F.3d 110, 111 (2d Cir. 2019), where the court concluded that suppression of the evidence derived from an NIT warrant was not required; the warrant at issue was supported by probable cause; even assuming that the government had improperly suggested that the Playpen site was a "hidden" website and could not be accessed without prior knowledge, multiple additional pieces of evidence supported the issuance of the warrant; and the description of the site's logo was support for the probable cause determination, not the triggering event.The court also held that the district court properly denied defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment and rejected defendant's contention that the government's operation of the Playpen site was outrageous government conduct. Finally, the court held that defendant's below-Guidelines sentence of 90 months in prison and 20 year term of supervised release was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Caraher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law