Sixth Amendment

The Federal Docket

United States v. Hamann (5th Cir. May 2022)

The Fifth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction after finding that the Government violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause when it presented testimonial hearsay from two non-testifying witnesses that alleged the defendant sold drugs. In doing so, the Fifth Circuit recounted its recent cases involving Confrontation Clause challenges and how the government “has repeatedly failed to take the lesson.”

United States v. Allen (9th Cir. May 2022)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the defendant’s trial and motions hearing had been closed to the public, which only had a live audio stream of the proceedings. The Court concluded this violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.

Hemphill v. New York (U.S. Supreme Court, January 2022)

In a 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed Hemphill’s conviction and remanded his case for a new trial. The Court held that the admission of a transcript from another suspect’s plea allocution implicating Hemphill violated Hemphill’s Sixth Amendment confrontation right. The Court rejected its previous “reliability” exception to the confrontation requirement—drawn from Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56 (1980)—clarifying that the only real exception permitted was in the case of an unavailable witness whom the defendant had already had an opportunity to cross-examine on the same matter. The Court also rejected the assertion that the “opening the door rule” applied in the context of the Confrontation Clause.

United States v. Lillian Akwuba (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a nurse practitioner’s convictions for drug conspiracy and healthcare fraud in a “pill mill” case. The Court held there was sufficient evidence to convict her of the drug offenses despite the government’s failure to provide any patient testimony that the prescription medications they received were unnecessary, and it affirmed her conviction for healthcare fraud based on her knowledge and participation in filing claims to government programs for office visits where patients received illegal prescriptions. The Court held that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the parties had stipulated to disputed fact, but held this did not amount to an improper directed verdict or deprive the defendant of her defense because the instruction did not relate to an element of the charged offense or any of the facts necessary to establish one of those elements, and the defendant was still able to present her theory of defense. The Court also rejected the defendant’s evidentiary claims.

United States v. Michael Anderson (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant who argued that the trial court violated his right to testify by asking him whether he would testify or waive his right and that the trial court violated Rule 30(b) of the federal rules of criminal procedure by sua sponte amending the jury instructions after defense counsel’s closing arguments. The Court held that district courts are not required to get a defendant’s choice to testify or waiver on the record but noted this can be beneficial to defendants as long as district court’s do not interfere with the defendant’s decision. The Court also held that the district court’s violation of Rule 30(b) did not warrant reversal where the court was amending a misstatement of law and defense counsel was not subjected to undue surprise or prejudice based on that correction.

Roderick Lewis v. Dushan Zatecky (7th Cir. April 2021)

In a 2-1 opinion, the Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of Roderick Lewis’s 2254 motion and remanded his case for re-sentencing. The Court held that the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel when his lawyer at sentencing only said he was “going to defer to Mr. Lewis if he has any comments. I don’t have anything to add.” The Court further held that this was one of those rare instances where prejudice is presumed pursuant to SCOTUS’s decision in U.S. v. Cronic, since trial counsel’s silence at sentencing “went beyond a failure to conduct adversarial testing; it was an announcement of abandonment.”

United States v. Gregory Olson (9th Cir. February 2021)

While denying a defendant’s appeal from a 2255 motion, the Ninth Circuit suggested the Sixth Amendment right to counsel can apply in certain cases before there has been an indictment filed. Here, the Court rejected claims by a defendant who alleged his lawyer had not communicated a pre-indictment offer to him after he received a target letter.

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. Lindon Amede (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant in a drug conspiracy case. The Court held that recorded hearsay statements between an unindicted co-conspirator and an undercover agent were admissible against the defendant where the exsitence of a conspiracy was proved by the co-conspirator discussing drug transactions with the undercover, saying he would send “my guy” to the undercover to conduct business,” and the defendant showing up to conduct transactions as discussed. The Court also held that drug offenses under 841(a)(1) do not require willfullness, that the district court did not err in precluding the defendant from presenting a duress defense, and the district court did not err in allowing the defendant to represent himself at sentencing.

United States v. Calvin McReynolds (6th Cir. July 2020)

The Sixth Circuit vacated the defendant’s sentence for drug conspiracy and remanded it to the sentencing court after the court held the defendant accountable for a higher drug quantity than the jury did at trial, which the defendant argued violated his Sixth Amendment claim. The court held that the sentencing court did not adequately explain its reasoning, so it could not review the constitutionality of the defendant’s claim.

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