March 04, 2016
Supreme Court Issues Opinion Interpreting 10-Year Mandatory Minimum Trigger for Possession of Child Pornography Conviction
On Monday, February 29th, the Supreme Court held in Lockhart v. United States
(No. 14-8358) that Mr. Lockhart's prior conviction for sexual abuse of his then-girlfriend, aged 53, qualifies as a predicate offense for purposes of triggering the 10-year mandatory minimum under 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2). That section subjects defendants to the mandatory minimum if they have "a prior conviction . . . under the law of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward." According to the Court the phrase "involving a minor or ward" in § 2252(b)(2) modifies only "abusive sexual conduct." For more on the opinion, see this SCOTUSblog post
January 27, 2016
Latest Opinions and Cert Grants by the Supreme Court Address Numerous Issues of Interest to Criminal Defense Practitioners
The Supreme Court on Monday issued two opinions: Montgomery v. Louisiana
(No. 14-280): holding that the rule prohibiting mandatory life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a homicide offense is a substantive rule to which courts must give retroactive effect on collateral review. See this SCOTUSblog post
for opinion analysis. Mussachio v. United States
(No. 14-1095): holding (1) When a jury instruction adds an element to the charged crime and the government fails to object, a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence should be assessed against the elements of the charged crime, rather than the elements set forth in the erroneous jury instruction; and (2) a defendant cannot successfully raise a statute-of-limitations bar for the first time on appeal. See this SCOTUSblog post
for opinion analysis.
In addition, the Supreme Court has recently granted cert on a range of issues, including the modified categorical approach under ACCA, recalling jurors after dismissal of the jury from service, the proof necessary to establish insider trading, and the type of "official action" necessary for a felony conviction under the Hobbs Act and honest-service fraud statute. Click on the link below for case names and issues presented. Cert Grants
Mathis v. United States
Issue: Whether a predicate prior conviction under the Armed Career Criminal Act must qualify as such under the elements of the offense simpliciter, without extending the modified categorical approach to separate statutory definitional provisions that merely establish the means by which referenced elements may be satisfied rather than stating alternative elements or versions of the offense. Salman v. United States
Issue: Does the personal benefit to the insider that is necessary to establish insider trading under Dirks v. SEC, 463 U.S. 646 (1983), require proof of "an exchange that is
objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or
similarly valuable nature," as the Second Circuit held in United States v. Newman, 773
F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), cert. denied, No. 15-137 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2015), or is it enough
that the insider and the tippee shared a close family relationship, as the Ninth Circuit
held in this case? Dietz v. Bouldin
Issue: Whether, after a judge has discharged a jury from service in a case and the jurors have left the judge's presence, the judge may recall the jurors for further service in the same case. McDonnell v. United States
Whether “official action” under the controlling fraud statutes is limited to exercising actual governmental power, threatening to exercise such power, or pressuring others to exercise such power, and whether the jury must be so instructed; or, if not so limited, whether the Hobbs Act and honest-services fraud statute are unconstitutional.
January 08, 2016
Supreme Court Grants Cert on Johnson Retroactivity; Sentencing Commission Votes to Change Definition of Crimes of Violence and Proposes New Guideline Amendments
Today, the Supreme Court granted cert in Welch v. United States
(No. 15-6418) to determine "whether Johnson v. United States
announced a new substantive rule of constitutional law that applies retroactively to cases on collateral review." While opposing cert in Welch, the Justice Department had previously taken the position in another case, Harrimon v. United States
, that the Johnson
rule was substantive. For more on Welch
see this SCOTUSblog post
Also today, the Sentencing Commission adopted an amendment to the "crimes of violence" definition in Guideline 4B1.2. Among other changes, the amendment strikes burglary of a dwelling from the crimes of violence definition. View all of the changes to 4B1.2 in this Reader Friendly Version of Amendment on Crime of Violence
. The new amendment will take effect August 1, 2016. For more on the Amendment see the Sentencing Commission's press release
In addition to the Crimes of Violence amendment, the Sentencing Commission issued its Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines for 2016
. The proposed amendments include: 2L1.2, alien smuggling, child porn distribution with file sharing programs, age and vulnerable victim enhancements, conditions of probation and supervised release, animal fighting, compassionate release and other miscellaneous amendments. View the Sentencing Commission's press release
for more information.
December 14, 2015
Supreme Court to Rule on Warrantless Drunk Driving Tests; Use of Uncounseled Tribal Court Misdemeanor Convictions in 18 U.S.C. Section 117(a) Prosecutions
On Friday, December 11, the Supreme Court granted cert in three state cases to decide whether a blood or breath test for drunk driving can be made without a search warrant and whether, in the absence of a warrant, a state may make it a crime for a person to refuse to take the test. The three cases, which will be consolidated for argument, are: Birchfield v. North Dakota
(No. 14-1468), Bernard v. Minnesota
(No. 14-1470), and Beylund v. Levi
(14-1507). For more on the cases see this SCOTUSblog post
Today, the Court granted cert in an additional case, United States v. Bryant
(No. 15-420) to decide whether it is constitutional to rely on valid uncounseled tribal-court misdemeanor convictions to prove the predicate-offense element of 18 U.S.C. Section 117(a). That statute makes it a federal crime for a person to "commit a domestic assault within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or Indian country" if the person "has a final conviction on at least 2 separate prior occasions in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings for" enumerated domestic violence offenses.
The Court also issued a per curiam
opinion in the capital case of White v. Wheeler
(No. 14-1372), summarily reversing the Sixth Circuit's grant of habeas relief on Roger Wheeler's Witherspoon/Witt
juror bias claim.
December 08, 2015
Supreme Court to Decide Whether Speedy Trial Clause Applies to Sentencing
On December 4, 2015 the Supreme Court granted cert in Betterman v. Montana
(No. 14-1457) to address the following: "Whether the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause applies to the sentencing phase of a criminal prosecution, protecting a criminal defendant from inordinate delay in final disposition of his case."
November 09, 2015
Supreme Court to Decide SORNA's Applicability to Sex Offenders Who Reside Abroad
On Friday, November 6, 2015, the Supreme Court granted cert in Nichols v. United States
(No. 15-5238) to decide whether 42 U.S.C. § 16913(a) requires a sex offender who resides in a foreign country to update his registration in the jurisdiction where he formerly resided, a question that divides the courts of appeals.
November 02, 2015
Supreme Court to Address Definition of Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Under 18 U.S.C. 922 (g)(9)
On October 30, 2015 the Supreme Court granted cert in Voisine v. United States
(No. 14-10154) to address whether a misdemeanor crime with the mens rea of recklessness qualifies as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" as defined by 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a)(33)(A) and 922(g)(9).
November 02, 2015
Amendments to Sentencing Guidelines Take Effect; Guidelines Manual Now Available
On November 1, 2015 amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines took effect. The 2015 U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual
is now available online. For more information on the amendments, access the Commission's 2015 Amendments Online Education Program
October 08, 2015
Sentencing Bills Introduced in House and Senate Offer Renewed Hope for Legislative Reform
The House of Representatives has introduced a new bill, The Sentencing Reform Act
, that largely mirrors The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
(S. 2123), a bipartisan bill introduced last week in the U.S. Senate by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), among others.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would reduce several federal mandatory minimum drug and gun sentences and make those reductions retroactive; make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive; expand the federal “safety valve” exception for drug mandatory minimum sentences; and allow many federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs in prison.
Read more about these bills and other sentencing legislation pending in Congress at famm.org
October 02, 2015
Supreme Court Opens New Term with 5 Cert Grants in Cases of Interest to Criminal Defense Practitioners
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted cert in the following five cases.
(1) Taylor v. United States
(No. 14-6166) Question Presented
Whether, in a federal criminal prosecution under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. §1951, the Government is relieved of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the interstate commerce element by relying exclusively on evidence that the robbery or attempted robbery of a drug dealer is an inherent economic enterprise that satisfies, as a matter of law, the interstate commerce element of the offense.
(2) Utah v. Strieff
(No. 14-1373) Question Presented:
Should evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest on an outstanding warrant be suppressed because the warrant was discovered during an investigatory stop later
found to be unlawful?
(3) Molina-Martinez v. United States
(No 14-8913) Question Presented:
Where an error in the application of the United States Sentencing Guidelines results in
the application of the wrong Guideline range to a criminal defendant, should an
appellate court presume, for purposes of plain-error review under Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 52(b), that the error affected the defendant's substantial rights?
(4) Williams v. Pennsylvania
(No. 15-5040) Questions Presented:
(a) Are the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated where the presiding Chief Justice of a State Supreme Court declines to recuse himself in a capital case where he had personally approved the decision to pursue capital punishment against Petitioner in his prior capacity as elected District Attorney and continued to head the District Attorney's Office that defended the death verdict on appeal; where, in his State Supreme Court election campaign, the Chief Justice expressed strong support for capital punishment, with reference to the number of defendants he had "sent" to death row, including Petitioner; and where he then, as Chief Justice, reviewed a ruling by the state post-conviction court that his office committed prosecutorial misconduct under Brady
when it prosecuted and sought death against Petitioner?
(b) Are the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated by the participation of a potentially biased jurist on a multimember tribunal deciding a capital case, regardless of whether his vote is ultimately decisive?
(5) Duncan v. Owens
(No. 14-1516) Question Presented:
No clearly established precedent of this Court holds that it violates the Constitution for a finder of fact to infer a criminal defendant's motive when the motive is a non-element of the offense and is not directly established by the evidence at trial. Respondent claimed that the judge at his bench trial made improper “extrajudicial” findings regarding his motive and thus found him guilty based on evidence not produced at trial. The state appellate court upheld respondent's conviction, holding that the trial court's speculation regarding motive was harmless. The Seventh Circuit overturned respondent's conviction on habeas corpus review, finding that the trial court's inference about motive violated respondent's right to have his guilt adjudicated solely on the evidence introduced at trial, and that the error was not harmless. Did the Seventh Circuit violate 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and a long line of this Court's decisions by awarding habeas relief in the absence of clearly established precedent from this Court?"
September 11, 2015
NACDL Issues Report on Federal Indigent Defense System
Federal Indigent Defense 2015: The Independence Imperative
assesses the current state of the federal indigent defense system, and offers seven recommendations to address serious and persistent deficiencies revealed in its assessment.
August 12, 2015
Fourth Circuit Ruling on Warrant Requirement for Historical Cell Site Records Creates Circuit Splits
Last week, the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Graham
held that there was an expectation of privacy in historical cell site records and that a warrant is required to obtain and inspect such information. The case it at odds with several other Circuit rulings, which may lead to Supreme Court review. For an analysis of the case see: Fourth Circuit adopts mosaic theory, holds that obtaining “extended” cell-site records requires a warrant
June 30, 2015
Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Lethal Injection Protocol; Grants Cert on Two Criminal Procedure Issues
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Glossip v. Gross
(No. 14-7955), rejecting an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's lethal injection drug protocol. For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
The Supreme Court also granted cert in Musacchio v. United States
(No. 14-1095), which raises the following questions:
(1) Whether the law-of-the-case doctrine requires the sufficiency of the
evidence in a criminal case to be measured against the elements described
in the jury instructions where those instructions, without objection,
require the government to prove additional or more stringent elements than
do the statute and indictment?
(2) Whether a statute-of-limitations defense not raised at or before trial
is reviewable on appeal?
June 26, 2015
Supreme Court Strikes Down ACCA Residual Clause as Unconstitutional
Earlier today the Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States
that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B), is unconstitutionally vague:
"We hold that imposing an increased sentence under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process. Our contrary holdings in James
are overruled. Today’s decision does not call into question application of the Act to the four enumerated offenses, or the remainder of the Act’s definition of a violent felony." Scalia, J.
June 23, 2015
Recent Supreme Court Actions on Criminal Law Issues
In the past week the Supreme Court has issued opinions and granted cert in several cases of interest to criminal defense practitioners. Ohio v. Clark
(No. 13-1352) held that the introduction at trial of statements made by a three-year-old boy to his teachers identifying his mother's boyfriend as the person who injured him did not violate the Confrontation Clause because the statements were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for a criminal case. For an analysis of the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
In McFadden v. United States
(No. 14-378) the Court held that in order to convict someone of distribution of a controlled substance analogue, the government must prove the defendant knew the substance constituted a controlled substance analogue. For an analysis of the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
The Court also issued an opinion in Brumfield v. Cain
(No. 13-1433), holding that a Louisiana death-row inmate was entitled to have his Atkins claim considered on the merits after the state court rejected his claim without affording him an evidentiary hearing or granting him time or funding to secure expert evidence.
In addition to the above opinions the Court also granted cert in Luis v. United States
(No. 14-419) to decide whether the pretrial restraint of a criminal defendant's legitimate, untainted assets needed to retain counsel of choice violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
June 02, 2015
Supreme Court Issues Decisions on Internet Threats, and Drug Paraphernalia as Predicate Conviction
Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Elonis v. United States
(No. 13-983), overturning Mr. Elonis' conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) for posting threatening comments on Facebook. The Court held that, contrary to the jury instruction provided in this case, "negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction under Section 875(c)." For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
The Court also decided the immigration case of Mellouli v. Lynch
(No. 13-1034), holding that Mr. Mellouli's Kansas conviction for possessing drug paraphernalia to store four unnamed pills in a sock did not trigger removal under 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(2)(B)(i). For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
May 27, 2015
Supreme Court to Hear Cases on Mandatory Minimum for Child Pornography Convictions, and Batson Challenge in Capital Trial
Yesterday the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases of interest to criminal defense practitioners, Lockhart v. United States
(No. 14-8358) and Foster v. Humphrey
The question presented in Lockhart
is: Whether the mandatory minimum sentence of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2) is triggered by a prior conviction under a state law relating to "aggravated sexual abuse" or "sexual abuse," even though the conviction did not "involv[e] a minor or ward," an issue that divides the federal courts of appeals.
, the issue is whether the Georgia courts erred in failing to recognize race discrimination under Batson in the extraordinary circumstances of this death penalty case.
May 19, 2015
Supreme Court Holds Firearm Owner Convicted of a Felony May Lawfully Transfer His Weapons
Yesterday, the Court unanimously ruled in Henderson v. United States
(No. 13-1487) that a firearm owner convicted of a felony is allowed to transfer his weapons to independent third parties, including selling the weapon on the open market. For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
April 21, 2015
Supreme Court Limits Use of Dog Sniff After Completion of a Traffic Stop
Today, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Rodriguez v. United States
(No. 13-9972). As summarized by Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, the Court held the following:
In Illinois v. Caballes
, 543 U. S. 405 (2005), this Court held that a dog sniff conducted during a lawful traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable seizures. This case presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop. We hold that a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation. Id., at 407. The Court so recognized in Caballes
, and we adhere to the line drawn in that decision.
April 13, 2015
Sentencing Commission Votes to Promulgate Amendments to Guidelines
On April 9, 2015, the Sentencing Commission voted to promulgate amendments to the sentencing guidelines. These amendments will be submitted to Congress by May 1, 2015. Barring congressional action, they will take effect November 1, 2015. For an overview of the most relevant changes, see this Summary of the 2015 Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines
by National Sentencing Resource Counsel. Read the language of all the proposed amendments in the Commission's Preliminary Version of the Amendments
. Practitioners may be able to use favorable amendments now in arguments for variances.