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Federal Criminal Law

Mathis v. United States - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 8-18-16 featuring Richard E. Myers II
Richard E. Myers August 18, 2016

On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Mathis v. United States. The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence on a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm who also has three prior state or federal convictions “for a violent felony,” including “burglary, arson, or extortion.” To determine whether a prior conviction is for one of those listed crimes, courts apply a “categorical approach”—they ask whether the elements of the offense forming the basis for the conviction sufficiently match the elements of the generic (or commonly understood) version of the enumerated crime.

Here, petitioner Richard Mathis pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Because he had five prior Iowa burglary convictions, the Government argued for the 15-year minimum.  Generic burglary requires unlawful entry into a “building or other structure.” The Iowa statute under which Mathis was convicted, however, also extended to “any... land, water, or air vehicle.”  The District Court determined based on the case record that Mathis had burgled structures and imposed the 15-year ACCA minimum. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. 

By a vote of 5-3, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Eighth Circuit. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that because the elements of Iowa’s burglary law – which applies to “any building, structure, [or] land, water, or air vehicle” – were broader than those of generic burglary, Mathis’ prior convictions under the Iowa burglary law could not give rise to an ACCA sentence. Justice Kagan’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor. Justice Kennedy also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined. Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Richard E. Myers II, who is Henry Brandis Distinguished Professor of Law at University of North Carolina School of Law.

Voisine v. United States - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 8-18-16 featuring David Kopel
David B. Kopel August 18, 2016

On June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Voisine v. United States. Stephen Voisine was convicted in 2003 of assaulting a woman with whom he was in a domestic relationship--a misdemeanor violation of a Maine statute. In 2009 Voisine turned a rifle over to federal officials who were investigating him for a separate alleged crime. When investigators discovered Voisine’s 2003 misdemeanor assault, they charged him under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), which makes it a federal crime for a person “who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to “possess in or affecting commerce[] any firearm or ammunition.” In turn, a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" is defined in § 921(a)(33)(A) as an offense that (1) is a misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law, and (2) “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force … committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim” or by a person in a similar domestic relationship with the victim.

Voisine challenged the § 922(g)(9) charge, arguing that under his Maine conviction offensive physical contact, as opposed to one causing bodily injury, was not a “use of physical force” and thus not a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” within the meaning of § 921(a)(33)(A). The district court rejected this argument and Voisine pled guilty on condition that he be able to appeal the court’s ruling. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, but the Supreme Court subsequently granted Voisine’s petition for certiorari, vacated the First Circuit’s judgment, and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of the intervening 2014 Supreme Court decision United States v. Castleman. That decision held the requirement of “physical force” satisfied, for purposes of § 922(g)(9), by the degree of force that supports a common-law battery conviction--but it did not resolve whether a conviction with the mens rea of reckless--as under the Maine statute--would qualify. On remand, the First Circuit again rejected Voisine’s challenge and held that his Maine conviction qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

The Supreme Court again granted certiorari, and affirmed the judgment of the First Circuit by a vote of 6-2. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that a reckless domestic assault qualifies as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" that prohibits firearms possession by convicted felons under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). The majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Sotomayor joined as to Parts I and II.

To discuss the case, we have David Kopel, who is Adjunct Professor at University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.

Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 8-18-16 featuring Lance Sorenson
Lance Sorenson August 18, 2016

On June 9, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle. Sanchez Valle was charged by Puerto Rico prosecutors with the illegal sale of weapons and ammunition without a license in violation of Puerto Rico law. While that charge was pending, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for the same offense, based on the same facts, under federal law. He pled guilty to the federal indictment but sought dismissal of the Puerto Rico charges on Double Jeopardy grounds, arguing that Puerto Rico is not a separate sovereign. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico agreed but the Commonwealth appealed. The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the federal government are separate sovereigns for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution.

By a vote of 6-2, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that the Double Jeopardy Clause bars Puerto Rico and the United States from successively prosecuting a single person for the same conduct under equivalent criminal laws. The majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Alito. Justice Ginsburg filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Sotomayor joined.

To discuss the case, we have Lance Sorenson, who is the Olin-Searle Fellow in Constitutional Law at Stanford University.

Searching: The Limits of Warrants Under ECPA - Podcast

Litigation and Criminal Law Practice Group Podcast
Jamil N. Jaffer, Jeffrey M. Harris August 09, 2016

The case of In the Matter of a Warrant to Search a Certain E-mail Account Controlled and Maintained by Microsoft Corporation stems from Microsoft's refusal to comply with a search warrant, which would have required Microsoft to hand over the contents of e-mails stored on a server in Ireland, but accessible from the company's U.S. headquarters. The U.S. government had applied for the warrant under Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Reversing a lower court decision in favor of the government, the Second Circuit ruled that ECPA warrants did not have extraterritorial effect without express Congressional authorization.

Were the Second Circuit and Microsoft correct? Or was the government, which had contended that the data would be seized in the U.S rather than where it was stored, and therefore the warrant would not be exercised extraterritorially? Is the case a win for the protection of privacy? Will it help protect the relationships and agreements of U.S. entities with foreign nations? Will it be a huge burden to force the government to use the mutual legal assistance process when a provider opts to store the data at issue outside the U.S.?

Featuring:

  • Jeffrey M. Harris, Partner, Bancroft PLLC
  • Prof. Jamil N. Jaffer, Adjunct Professor of Law and Director, Homeland and National Security Law Program, George Mason University School of Law and former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

McDonnell v. United States - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 7-12-16 featuring Gregory G. Katsas
Gregory G. Katsas July 12, 2016

On June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court decided McDonnell v. United States. Robert F. McDonnell, former Governor of Virginia, was convicted in a jury trial of eleven counts of corruption. During the trial prosecutors sought to prove that McDonnell and his wife Maureen, while he was Governor, accepted money and lavish gifts in exchange for efforts to assist a Virginia company in securing state university testing of a dietary supplement the company had developed. The McDonnells, prosecutors argued, took “official action” on behalf of the company in exchange for money, campaign contributions, or other things of value, in violation of various federal statutes. Robert McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed McDonnell’s conviction, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted his request to remain out of prison pending resolution of his case.

The question before the Supreme Court was 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.

By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Fourth Circuit and remanded the case. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, holding that  “an official act' is a decision or action on a 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.' The 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy' must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is 'pending' or 'may by law be brought' before a public official. To qualify as an 'official act,' the public official must make a decision or take an action on that 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,' or agree to do so.” Given that the lower courts applied too broad an interpretation of the term “official act,” the Chief Justice explained, the jury instructions were erroneous and it may have convicted Governor McDonnell for conduct that was not unlawful. The Court therefore vacated his convictions and remanded the case for a determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Governor McDonnell of committing or agreeing to commit an “official act”--and thus allow for a new trial--or whether the charges against him must be dismissed. 

To discuss the case, we have Gregory G. Katsas, who is Partner at Jones Day.