Third Circuit

The Federal Docket

United States v. Abreu (3rd Cir. May 2022)

The Third Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence after holding the district court improperly enhanced the defendant’s offense level under the Guidelines based on the defendant’s prior conviction for conspiracy to commit second degree murder. The plain text of the relevant Guidelines provision does not include “conspiracy” under the definition of “crime of violence,” and courts may not rely on commentary to increase a defendant’s Guidelines range when the commentary goes beyond the plain text of the Guidelines.

United States v. Zayas (3rd Cir. April 2022)

The Third Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction for distributing drugs within 1,000 feet of a playground under 21 USC 841, where the trial court did not instruct the jury in how to define a “playground” as defined under 21 USC 861(e)(1). The Court concluded that whether the facility is a playground is an element of the offense that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, joining the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits.

United States v. Nasir (3rd Cir. November 2021)

After bouncing between the Third Circuit and the Supreme Court, including after an en banc decision, the Third Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction but remanded for resentencing, reaffirming its holding that the defendant was not a career offender based on his prior state law convictions, since “the plain language of the guidelines does not include inchoate “attempt” drug crimes like the one that was used as one of Nasir’s predicate offenses.”

United States v. Icker (3rd Cir. September 2021)

The Third Circuit held that the district court had plainly erred in imposing a condition of supervised release requiring the defendant to register as a sex offender under SORNA where the defendant did not have a conviction for a “sex offense” under SORNA’s definitions. The defendant was convicted of depriving the civil rights of individuals under color of law by using his position as a police officer to coerce women to engage in sexual conduct with him. The Court also held that since he was not notified of SORNA’s requirements prior to his sentencing, his appellate waiver was not entered into knowingly and voluntarily.

United States v. Scott (3rd Cir. September 2021)

Joining the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits, the Third Circuit held that a conviction for Hobbs Act robbery is not a prior conviction for a “crime of violence” under the “Career Offender” provisions of the Guidelines.

United States v. Malik Nasir (3rd Cir. December 2020), EN BANC

Sitting en banc, the Third Circuit held that inchoate offenses are not included in the definition of “controlled substance offenses” under the career offender guidelines because commentary to the Guidelines is not binding when it is inconsistent with or broader than the text of the Guidelines. The Court also held that a court reviewing a defendant’s Rehaif challenge under plain error review is limited to considering the record presented at trial, not the whole record, and a new trial is warranted where there is no evidence presented to a jury regarding the defendant’s knowledge of his prior felony.

United States v. Cory Melvin (3rd Cir. October 2020)

The Third Circuit vacated a district court order denying a defendant early termination of supervised release, holding that the district court applied the wrong legal standard when it found the defendant had not established changed, unforeseen, or exceptional reasons warranting early termination. A district court has broad authority and discretion to terminate a term of supervised release “if it is satisfied that such action is warranted by the conduct of the defendant released and the interest of justice.” 

United States v. Jamel E. Easter (3rd Cir. September 2020)

In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit vacated defendant’s denied motion for resentencing under Section 404 of the First Step Act and remanded for resentencing, holding the § 3553 factors must be considered anew when a sentence is modified. The Court relied on the plain text of 18 U.S.C. § 3582, § 404 of the First Step Act, and § 3553, which all refer to “imposing” a sentence and thus require consideration of factors relevant to imposing a sentence, such as a defendant’s post-sentence rehabilitation.

United States v. Scott Capps (3rd Cir. October 2020)

In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence, holding that the abuse of trust adjustment under 3B1.13 applies only to the actual money laundering conduct and not to the underlying offense from which the funds are derived. The Court held that the enhancement did not apply where the defendant stole passwords at his job to issue checks from abandoned accounts, since that was not the basis of the money laundering count, and did not apply to the defendant sending the checks to his friends for deposit into their bank accounts or the defendant’s bank account, since the defendant did not occupy a position of trust in relation to that conduct.

United States v. Mohammed Jabateh (3rd Cir. September 2020)

In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction of immigration fraud and perjury for lying during his oral interview with a USCIS officer about his involvement with organizations and killing others in his home county. Although the Court held that the statute applied only to written documents, the defendant’s conviction was not plain error since the statutory interpretation was not clear and no other court had considered the statute’s ordinary meaning before.

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