U.S. First Circuit

U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog


It was a drug smuggling conspiracy straight out of a pulp novel -- or telenovella. For two years, Manuel "El Boss" Santana-Cabrera sent drug couriers on flights from San Juan to Philadelphia and New York. The couriers would check in with regular luggage, which airport workers would swap out with cocaine-packed suitcases to be handed off to a taxi driver upon arrival.

Eventually, the DEA caught wind, one smuggler turned on another, and bit-players Jorge Correa-Osorio and Denise Shephard-Fraser were arrested. In a dramatic in-court identification, Correa was outed as "El Don," responsible for smuggling the drugs into the airport. It was a scene, he argued on appeal, that was unduly suggestive and violated his due process rights.

First Circuit Judge Ojetta Thompson pulled no punches in rejecting an appeal from a criminal defendant who plead guilty to leading a conspiracy to import cocaine into Puerto Rico. Miguelito Arroyo-Blas had appealed his sentence, which he argued was based on improper categorization of his criminal history.

Those objections don't matter, Thompson held -- and she wasn't nice about it. Arroyo-Blas waived his right to appeal in the plea agreement and couldn't simply ignore that now.

Even though he entered a "straight" guilty plea, and was sentenced to the bottom of the range suggested by the federal Sentencing Guidelines, Carlos Torres-Landrua appealed to challenge the reasonableness of his sentence.

Torres was charged with just two counts of drug trafficking and one count of money laundering, but received 168 months (that's 14 years). He was part of a drug trafficking conspiracy that moved cocaine from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and then to the U.S. mainland. The First Circuit, however, affirmed his sentence.

A man convicted of burglary in Massachusetts did not have his rights violated when the state court limited his cross-examination of the victim and when the prosecutors withheld the 911 transcript, the First Circuit held on Wednesday.

In both cases, the court found, the information and theories the defense wished to advance were still introduced to the jury despite the alleged violations. The unpublished opinion was authored, perhaps with a fountain pen, by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

The verdict is in: After barely two days of deliberation, a federal jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty on all of the 30 counts relating to his involvement in the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon, which killed three and injured over 200.

Now that Tsarnaev has been found guilty on at least one of the 17 counts that carry the death penalty, the trial will now proceed to the sentencing phase, where the same jury will decide whether Tsarnaev should be given that sentence.

Lawyers in the Boston bombing trial presented their final arguments today, following weeks of testimony. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces 30 counts and a possible death sentence for his participation, alongside his deceased brother, in the twin bombings which killed three and left over 200 others wounded during the 2013 Boston Marathon.

In dueling narratives, prosecutors sought to portray Tsarnaev as a calculated jihadi who attacked the event to make a political point, while the defense characterized him as a young man under the influence of a brother who was much more to blame.

As New England begins to crawl out of one of its worst winters on record, it's easy to forget that Yanks' circuit court includes the tropical climes of Puerto Rico. But it does, given the First Circuit occasion to rule on a lawyer-on-lawyer fee dispute arising from the Estado Libre Asociado.

The dispute arose following successful representation in a personal injury case and ended in a (metaphorical) court room brawl between lawyers, as the esquires battled not only over their fee sharing agreement, but even over who actually represented the client.

Massachusetts has joined the ranks of states requiring attorneys to keep pace with technology as part of their ethical obligations. Among the changes the Supreme Judicial Court authorized to the state rules of professional conduct was the addition of a comment to Rule 1.1, which outlines a lawyer's duty to provide competent representation.

The change comes as more and more states, and the ABA, are recognizing that lawyers who don't understand new technology aren't just adorable throwbacks, but could be endangering their clients' interests.

Back in October, a federal judge in Puerto Rico bucked the same-sex marriage trend by declaring that the island wouldn't be going the way of almost every other court in holding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

Last Friday, though, Judge Perez-Gimenez's decision became a lot less relevant. Puerto Rico announced that it would no longer enforce its same-sex marriage ban.

Following an en banc reversal of fortune, Michelle Kosilek was denied the ability to have a sex-change operation paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Both a federal district court and a three-judge panel of the First Circuit agreed that the state should pay, but the en banc court reversed.

Now, Kosilek is taking her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.