Third Circuit

The Federal Docket

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.

United States v. Michael Heinrich (3rd Cir. June 2020)

The Third Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction and remanded the case to the district court for an explicit ruling and reasonings on whether to exclude the defendant’s proffered expert evidence under Rule 403. The Court recognized its authority to conduct a de novo balancing test but held that remand was more appropriate where there was no record regarding the judge’s reasoning, the judge had not issued a formal ruling (instead having a law clerk inform the parties of the judge’s intent), and a trial judge is better positioned to conduct the Rule 403 balancing test.

United States v. Edwin Pawlowski (3rd Cir. July 2020)

In an appeal of a district court’s denial of a motion under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A) based on the district court’s weighing of the factors under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), the Third Circuit held that the proper standard of review is for abuse of discretion.

United States v. Harris (3rd Cir. July 2020), UNPUBLISHED

In an unpublished opinion, the Third Circuit held that it was error for the district court to require an inmate-defendant to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing a motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). Though the warden had denied the inmate’s request for compassionate release within 30 days of receiving the request, the statute allows an inmate to bring inmate may bring a motion directly to the court after 30 days elapse from the warden’s receipt of the request regardless of the warden’s response.

United States v. Francis Raia (3rd Cir. April 2020)

The Court held that the defendant had not exhausted his administrative remedies before filing his motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) because he had not waited 30 days for the BOP to respond to his request for such a motion and had not received an adverse decision. The defendant had not argued waiver of the exhaustion requirement based on futility, inadequate relief, or irreparable harm.

United States v. Tremayne James (3rd Cir. March 2020)

The Court affirmed the defendant’s sentence, holding that the defendant’s prior conviction for loitering under Pennsylvania law was not “loitering” or an “offense similar to” loitering under the Guidelines because the Pennsylvania offense requires proving criminal intent.

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