United States v. Colinford Mattis, Urooj Rahman (2d Cir. June 2020)

The Federal Docket

July 7, 2020

Pretrial Release – The district court did not clearly err in releasing defendants charged with throwing molotov cocktail into unoccupied police cruiser and did not err by not explicitly addressing the statutory presumption against release.

Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman are charged with violating 18 U.S.C. 844(e) by throwing molotov cocktails into an unoccupied police vehicle during city and nationwide protests against police brutality. The two men are attorneys in their early 30s.

The Government appealed the district court’s order releasing the defendants pending trial. The court released them on bond, with conditions including surrendering travel documents, being subject to random home and employment visits, and being on home confinement with location monitoring. Notably, the pretrial services office recommended release.

Despite the pretrial services position, the Government appealed the district court’s bond order. The Government contended that the district court clearly erred in not explicitly stating that it had considered the statutory presumption against release. Curiously, the government prosecutors argued that the pretrial services were wrong to assume “Mattis would act in a rational manner” since he had been willing to “risk his career and advantage of his education by participating in this crime.” Neither had significant criminal histories and had close family ties and extensive education as attorneys. The district court rejected the government’s arguments and held the conditions recommended by pretrial services were sufficient to safeguard the community and overcame the presumption against release.

On appeal, and applying the deferential standard of review of clear error, the Court concluded that it was not left “with a definite and firm conviction” that the district court erred in determining the conditions of release imposed were adequate to reasonably assure the defendant would not pose a danger to the community. The Court held that the district court’s lack of explicit reference to the presumption did not mean it did not consider it, especially since the issue was raised in the government’s memorandum.

Dissenting, Judge Newman emphasized the sensational facts of the case and argued that releasing the defendants “subjects the community to an unacceptable risk of danger.” He emphasized the deliberate nature of the offense and the defendants’ backgrounds as lawyers. Judge Newman’s analysis, however, seems to indicate it was not the actual risk of future danger that motivated his decision, but the nature of the offense, as he wrote: “I do not contend that it is certain they will act dangerously if released. I do not even say it is highly likely. I do say that the risk of their doing so is unacceptable, a risk no community should be asked to bear.”

Appeal from the Eastern District of New York

Opinion by Hall, joined by Lynch

Dissenting Opinion by Newman

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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