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Federal Criminal Law

When is a law too vague to be Constitutional?

Short video with Ilya Shapiro discussing Johnson v. United States
Ilya Shapiro April 18, 2015

Senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, Ilya Shapiro explains the confusion concerning what constitutes a violent felony conviction under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act. In this upcoming Supreme Court case, Petitioner Johnson claims the ACCA is unconstitutionally vague while the government asserts that Johnson’s conviction for possession of a short-barreled shotgun satisfies the violent felony requirement of the statute.

Ilya Shapiro is co-counsel on the amicus brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Federal Defenders, Families against Mandatory Minimums and the Cato Institute in support of the Petitioner.
 
As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.

Whitfield v. United States - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 4-3-15 featuring John Stinneford
John F. Stinneford April 03, 2015

On January 13, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Whitfield v. United States. This case concerns 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e), which provides a minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for a bank robber who forces another person “to accompany him” during the robbery or while fleeing the scene.  The question is whether the requirement that the robber force another person “to accompany him” requires proof of more than a minimal movement of the victim.

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, which held that a bank robber, for purposes of §2113(e), “forces [a] person to accompany him,” when he compels that person to go somewhere with him, even if the movement occurs entirely within a single building or over a short distance.

To discuss the case, we have Professor John Stinneford, who is Associate Professor of Law and Assistant Director of the Criminal Justice Center at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.

Yates v. United States - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 3-17-15
Todd F. Braunstein March 17, 2015

On February 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Yates v. United States. This case concerns whether Mr. Yates’ order to his crew to throw undersized fish back into the Gulf of Mexico during the course of a government wildlife investigation violated the "document shredding provision" of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which makes it a crime for anyone who “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation.

Justice Ginsburg announced the judgment of a divided Court, and delivered a plurality opinion concluding that for purposes of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a "tangible object" refers to an object used to record or preserve information.  Justice Alito concurred, on somewhat narrower grounds.

Justice Ginsburg was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, which Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined. The judgment of the Eleventh circuit was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

To discuss the case, we have Todd Braunstein who is Counsel at WilmerHale.

Florida Fisherman off the Hook for Sarbanes-Oxley Violation: Supreme Court decides Yates v. United States - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
Todd F. Braunstein March 11, 2015

In a 4-1-4 decision issued on February 25, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held that a federal criminal law prohibiting the destruction of corporate records and other “tangible objects” could not be used against a commercial fisherman who threw undersized fish overboard to avoid prosecution. The decision featured an unusual lineup of justices, wave after wave of fishing metaphors, and a citation to Dr. Seuss. Todd Braunstein covered the November oral arguments on a Teleforum conference call, and he returned to wade through the complicated decision.

  • Todd F. Braunstein, Counsel, WilmerHale

Jennings v. Stephens - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 2-19-15 featuring Kent Scheidegger
Kent S. Scheidegger February 19, 2015

On January 14, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Jennings v. Stephens. The issue in this case involves a federal habeas petitioner who sought relief based upon three theories of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court granted relief on two theories but rejected the third. The question in this case was whether the prisoner must file a separate notice of appeal and a motion for a certificate of appealability in order to rely upon his third theory (which the district court had rejected) in defending against the State’s appeal.

In an opinion delivered by Justice Scalia, the Court held by a vote of 6-3 that the prisoner in this case was not required to file a cross-appeal or seek a certificate of appealability to rely on his third theory on appeal, because the theory was a defense of a favorable judgment below on alternate grounds.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the opinion of the Court. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Kennedy and Alito joined. The judgment of the Fifth Circuit was reversed and the case remanded for consideration of Jennings' third claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

To discuss the case, we have Kent Scheidegger, who is the Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.