Criminal Law News - U.S. First Circuit
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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.

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.

"[T]he district court's definition just won't fly," Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote in not even the first of several puns in a case about making a false report of a bomb threat on an airplane.

In a 2-1 split, a First Circuit panel reversed a former flight attendant's conviction for making false threats, finding the federal district court erred when it defined "malice" for the jury as not requiring an "evil purpose."

Three times, attorneys for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal district court in Boston to change the venue for the trial, arguing that he couldn't get a fair shake in the city where the bombing took place in 2013. The district court denied his request, which meant the ball ended up in the First Circuit's court.

On February 27, a split panel denied Tsarnaev's petition for a writ of mandamus -- again -- acknowledging that "any high-profile case will receive significant media attention" but nevertheless concluding that Tsarnaev didn't meet the criteria for showing "clear and indisputable, irreparable harm."

Jury selection begins today in the most talked-about trial of the year, the murder trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who stands accused of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 260.

Rarely has just the jury selection of a case brought with it such media attention -- but then again, this is the Boston bombing case. To fuel your desire for news about what's going on, here are five fast and interesting facts as jury selection gets underway:

The case of alleged Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continues to reach its scheduled fever pitch on January 5, when the federal trial against him is set to commence.

On December 18, Tsarnaev will appear live, in court, for the first time since he was arraigned last July, reports The Boston Herald. The December 18 hearing marks the final pre-trial conference. But that's not all that's happening. Here's an update on Tsarnaev's legal saga:

Fun Opinion Reverses Conviction for Accidental Firearm Possession

If there's one thing I think of when I think of the First Circuit, it's the judges' unique writing styles. We've spent a lot of ink praising the unique stylings of Senior Judge Bruce Selya, but he's not the only person whose opinions stand out -- his successor, Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, really deserves a shout-out as well.

Take today's opinion for instance. She starts with this:

Foster Starks, Jr. was not having a good day. First, he learned that his son had been arrested, then he was tasked with the unenviable job of retrieving a rental car from the son's irate girlfriend. Lastly, as he was nearing home that night, he saw a State Trooper's blue lights reflected in the rental's rearview mirror. So one could say that the cherry on the cake of Starks's day was the Trooper's discovery of the bag on the seat beside him -- containing, as it did, a gun and two boxes of ammunition.

It's great storytelling, and the ending ought to brighten Starks' otherwise bad streak of luck.