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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The case involves defendants Dennis A. Bradley, Jr., and Jessica Martinez, who were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to Bradley’s 2018 campaign for Connecticut state senator. The government obtained two videos from videographers hired by Bradley, one 13-minute video and a 28-minute video, both of which were recorded at an event where Bradley announced his campaign. The government only became aware of the existence of the 28-minute video a week before the trial and promptly provided it to the defendants. Bradley moved to preclude the 28-minute video, arguing that the government had violated Rule 16(a)(1)(E) by not obtaining and producing the video earlier.The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut granted Bradley's motion, ruling that the government had violated its disclosure obligations by not obtaining and producing the 28-minute video at an earlier date. The government appealed this decision, arguing that it did not have the video in its possession, custody, or control until the eve of the trial.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the district court's order. The court held that neither Rule 16(a)(1)(E) nor the Connecticut District Court’s Standing Order imposed a requirement on the government to discover and turn over to a criminal defendant evidence that the government did not have in its physical possession, custody, or control, or that it did not have a duty to obtain from a third party. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "United States v. Bradley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves the United States government's appeal against a decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lower court had granted federal prisoner Joe Fernandez's motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), reducing his sentence to time served and ordering his release. The court based its decision on two grounds: Fernandez's possible innocence due to the questionable credibility of the government's key witness, and the fact that Fernandez received a far longer sentence than his co-defendants.The government argued on appeal that the district court had abused its discretion. It contended that potential innocence is never a permissible "extraordinary and compelling reason" for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), and that Fernandez's sentencing disparity is not an "extraordinary and compelling reason" for a sentence reduction in this case.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the government's arguments. It held that a compassionate release motion is not the proper vehicle for litigating the issues Fernandez raised, irrespective of whether his mandatory life sentence is unjust. The court reversed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Fernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Brandon Washington pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. At sentencing, the district court added a point to Washington's criminal history score for a prior state-court conviction for harassment, which was related to the sale of controlled substances from the same house involved in the current case. Washington appealed, arguing that the district court incorrectly determined his criminal history category under the United States Sentencing Guidelines by improperly assessing a criminal history point for the prior harassment conviction.The district court had determined that the harassment conviction was similar to the current offense of possession with intent to distribute, and thus, under section 4A1.2(c)(1)(B) of the Guidelines, a one-point increase to Washington’s total criminal history points was warranted. Washington was then sentenced to sixty months’ imprisonment, followed by six years’ supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The appellate court agreed with the district court that Washington’s harassment conviction and his current offense were similar under section 4A1.2(c)(1)(B) of the Guidelines. Both offenses arose from the same conduct – the sale of controlled substances – and both offenses were committed at the same house. Therefore, the district court did not err in adding the extra criminal history point. The court also dismissed Washington's other arguments regarding the calculation of his criminal history score. View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around Aleksandra Malgorzata Stankiewicz, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, who was convicted in 2003 for violating a New Jersey statute that criminalizes distributing a controlled substance on or near school property. In 2018, removal proceedings were initiated against her, with the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) concluding that her conviction was an aggravated felony, making her both removable and ineligible to apply for cancellation of removal.The BIA dismissed Stankiewicz's appeal, maintaining its reasoning that her conviction was an aggravated felony. Stankiewicz then petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for review of the BIA's decision.The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Stankiewicz's conviction under the New Jersey statute is not an "aggravated felony" under federal law. The court applied the "categorical approach," comparing the state law to any federal controlled substance offense that is a felony subject to a prison sentence greater than one year. The court found that neither of the parties' proposed federal analogs categorically matches the New Jersey statute. The court therefore granted Stankiewicz's petition for review, vacated the agency’s ruling, and remanded the case to the BIA for further proceedings. View "Stankiewicz v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Quadri Garnes was charged with threatening to assault and murder employees of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and transmitting interstate communications containing threats to injure another person. These charges stemmed from a phone call Garnes made to the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) after his unemployment benefits claim was denied. During the call, Garnes made several statements referencing his criminal record. Before trial, Garnes moved to exclude these statements, arguing they were of limited probative value and could unfairly prejudice the jury. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted his motion, excluding the statements under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.The government appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the court had exceeded its discretion in excluding the statements. The government contended that the statements were highly probative as they were a significant part of the threat (the actus reus) and substantially indicative of Garnes's intent (the mens rea).The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the government. The court found that the district court had incorrectly concluded that the statements were of limited probative value. The appellate court held that the statements were highly probative as they were both a significant part of the threat and substantially indicative of Garnes's intent. The court also found that the district court had overstated the risk of unfair prejudice. The court concluded that a jury instruction could mitigate any potential unfair prejudice. Consequently, the appellate court reversed the district court's order of exclusion and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "United States v. Garnes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Julius Williams, convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, appealed the denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). This law allows a court to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the original sentence was based on a Sentencing Guidelines range that the United States Sentencing Commission has subsequently lowered. Williams argued that the district court wrongly concluded that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines because he participated in a narcotics-related murder that subjected him to a higher Guidelines range under the “murder cross-reference” provision of U.S.S.G § 2D1.1(d)(1).The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York had denied Williams's motion for a sentence reduction, concluding that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines. The court also found that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court did not reach the issue of Williams’s eligibility for a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(2), but instead affirmed the lower court's decision based on the independent ground that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Williams’s motion for a sentence reduction. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Carlos Esteras and Raphael Frias were convicted of fentanyl trafficking charges and appealed their sentences, arguing that the district court erred in calculating their respective Guidelines ranges. Esteras contended that the district court wrongly calculated his base offense level by applying a two-level increase for maintaining a premises for narcotics trafficking and declining to apply a two-level reduction for being a minor participant in the trafficking scheme. He also argued that the district court wrongly applied a two-point increase to his criminal history score after finding that he was on parole at the time of the offense. Frias argued that the district court erred in applying the two-level premises enhancement and a four-level increase for being an organizer or leader of the scheme, and failed to adequately consider his mitigating evidence in declining to vary downwards.The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York had sentenced Esteras to 84 months' imprisonment and Frias to 135 months' imprisonment. The court had applied several sentencing enhancements, including a two-level enhancement for maintaining a premises for narcotics trafficking and a four-level enhancement for being an organizer or leader of the scheme.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed each of the district court’s sentencing decisions except its application of the organizer or leader enhancement to Frias. The court affirmed Esteras’s sentence and vacated and remanded Frias’s sentence for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The court found that Esteras's home qualified for the stash-house enhancement and that he was not a minor participant in the conspiracy. The court also found that Esteras was on parole when he committed his offenses, warranting a two-point increase to his criminal history score. However, the court found that Frias did not qualify as an organizer or leader under the Guidelines, warranting a remand for further proceedings. View "United States v. Frias" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Dwayne Barrett, was convicted on multiple counts of conspiratorial and substantive Hobbs Act robbery, the use of firearms during such robberies, and in one robbery, the murder of a robbery victim. On appeal, Barrett argued that his initial appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of his convictions. He also argued that his 50-year prison sentence was procedurally unreasonable based on the district court’s application of U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1 in calculating his Sentencing Guidelines range. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected all of Barrett’s arguments except for his consecutive sentence challenge, where it identified error by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lora v. United States. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for resentencing consistent with Lora and its opinion. View "United States v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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Antonio Ortiz, while on supervised release for a drug-trafficking conviction, was accused of repeatedly raping his teenage daughter. The district court found Ortiz guilty of three release violations related to the rapes and revoked his supervised release. Ortiz was sentenced to the statutory maximum of sixty months of imprisonment, to be served consecutively to any state court sentence he might receive.Ortiz appealed, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the evidentiary hearing and that the sentence imposed by the district court was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. He claimed his counsel failed to present medical evidence that would have corroborated his testimony that he was physically incapable of raping his daughter due to injuries from previous motorcycle accidents.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed with Ortiz's arguments. The court noted that Ortiz had not shown that the purportedly deficient performance of his counsel prejudiced his defense. The court also concluded that the rationale for the sentence was evident from the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing it. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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A U.S. citizen, Maalik Alim Jones, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges for his involvement with al-Shabaab, an Islamist military organization in Kenya and Somalia. The district court accepted his plea and sentenced him to 25 years of imprisonment. Jones challenged his plea agreement and sentence, arguing that a prior mandate of the court precluded the government from charging him in a superseding indictment, that the language of his plea agreement was ambiguous and inapplicable to him, and that his sentence was based on erroneous factual findings and constitutionally impermissible factors.Jones was initially indicted on five counts related to his support and training with al-Shabaab. He later consented to a superseding information, which reduced the charges to three counts. Jones pleaded guilty to these charges and was sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment. However, following a Supreme Court ruling that found a section of the law under which Jones was charged to be unconstitutionally vague, Jones appealed his conviction on one of the counts. The court vacated this conviction and remanded for resentencing on the remaining counts. On remand, the district court denied the government's motion to reinstate the initial indictment but did not preclude the government from seeking a superseding indictment. The government subsequently filed a superseding indictment, which Jones moved to dismiss.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected Jones's arguments and affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court found that the mandate did not preclude a superseding indictment, and that the plea agreement unambiguously allowed for new charges if a conviction was vacated. The court also found that Jones's sentence was not based on erroneous factual findings or constitutionally impermissible factors, and that his challenges were barred by the appeal waiver in the plea agreement. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law