3rd Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Third Circuit
U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Criminal Law Category

It was the scandal that ended the Philadelphia Traffic Court. Two sitting, three former, and one senior Traffic Court judges, along with a Traffic Court administrator and two businessmen, were indicted in 2013 for their alleged roles in a ticket-fixing ring.

This week, two of those judges were sentenced: ex-Judges Thomasine Tynes and Robert Mulgrew each received prison sentences for offering perjured testimony about their roles in the conspiracy. According to Mulgrew's attorney, the ticket fixing scheme was a decades-long practice that predated all of the defendants, but it is likely no more -- the Traffic Court was disbanded in favor of a new program integrated with the Municipal Court.

Last month, we reported that the Pennsylvania legislature had passed Senate Bill No. 508, a law that would allow a crime victim to prevent the crime perpetrator from talking about the crime if doing so would make the crime victim feel bad.

The Pennsylvania law in this case was pretty squarely targeted at Mumia Abu Jamal, convicted in 1983 of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Almost immediately after Gov. Bill Corbett signed it into law, Mumia supporters sued to block its enforcement.

It's a rare occasion when a federal appellate court upholds a grant of habeas corpus. It's rarer still when the habeas petition centers on ineffective assistance of counsel. Nevertheless, last month, the Third Circuit overturned the district court's denial of habeas corpus to Dung Bui, a Pennsylvania resident convicted in federal court of growing marijuana.

So what exactly happened that led the Third Circuit to this infrequent result?

You know the old trope of the two friends who couldn't be more different? "The Odd Couple"? "Bosom Buddies"? "The Patty Duke Show"? Well, Estate of Lagano v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office is like that, except one was Chief of Detectives for the East Brunswick, New Jersey, police department and the other one might be a mobster. (I smell a "Sopranos" spin-off!)

Frank Lagano was under investigation; his friend Michael Mordaga was the detective. Mordaga told his friend to hire a particular attorney to make all of it go away. Instead, Lagano became a confidential informant for the New Jersey Attorney General's office.

On December 1, in one of the most anticipated cases so far this year, the Supreme Court will hear Elonis v. United States, also known as the "Facebook threats" or "rap lyrics" case. Here's our prior coverage:

Rap lyrics, however, have very little to do with the case. Anthony Elonis made a series of increasingly threatening statements on Facebook, aimed variously at a co-worker, his ex-wife, the amusement park he was fired from, an unspecified school, the local sheriff's department, and the FBI. The questions presented amount to whether a criminal threat can be solely subjective, or whether it must be both objective and subjective. (The Third Circuit said that subjective intent was irrelevant.)

"Civil regulatory scheme" or "criminal punishment"? How would you classify a newly instated requirement that all sex offenders wear an ankle monitor at all times, check in with officers at the parole board when needed, and if they violate the rules, be subject to criminal penalties?

If that sounds a lot like parole to you, you're not alone. The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that the state's 2007 Sex Offender Monitoring Act (SOMA) amounts to ex post facto punishment when applied to those who had committed their crimes before the law was enacted.

"SOMA looks like parole, monitors like parole, restricts like parole, serves the general purpose of parole, and is run by the Parole Board," the court explained. "Calling this scheme by another name does not alter its essential nature."

Prosecutor? No need. How about defense counsel? Nah, they can represent themselves.

Meet Judge Louis DiLeo. Back in 2010, in the Linden, New Jersey, municipal court, DiLeo held a "trial" consisting of himself as the judge and prosecutor, the two defendants representing themselves (after denying their request for a public defender), and the police witness, who cross-examined them.

Unsurprisingly, the two convictions were later reversed, Judge DiLeo was reprimanded, and last week, the Third Circuit upheld the district court's holding that he had lost his judicial immunity by going all Judge Dredd on the parties.

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? And if a person puts child pornography in a shared folder, but no one downloads it, has that person "distributed" child pornography? By a 2-1 margin, the Third Circuit said "no."

David George Husmann was already on supervised release for a child pornography conviction when the probation department was alerted that his computer had accessed pornographic websites. A probation officer visited his house, ultimately seizing four USB flash drives. Husmann also had file-sharing applications installed on his computer. Several of the pornographic files were in a "shared" folder that could be made available to others on the file sharing network.

The so-called automobile exception to the warrant requirement is like Prince: constantly changing, keeping you guessing, but retaining a certain timeless sex appeal with its intricacies and exceptions. (Is it Gant or is it Belton? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.)

Joseph Donahue was staring down the short end of the automobile exception. Donahue was convicted of fraud in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The court ordered him to surrender at a particular time, but he never appeared. U.S. marshals found him in New Mexico in a Ford Mustang. Marshals took the Mustang, searched it, photographed it, and even X-rayed it -- all without a warrant.

There was a guy, a guy we'll keep anonymous (this case does involve Alcoholics Anonymous, after all) who was an insider at the Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corporation ("PHLY"). In mid-2008, he had a few relapses, and when he returned to AA, his long-time AA confidant, Timothy McGee, asked about the absences. The insider blurted out that he was stressed about work because PHLY was about to sell at three times its book value: $61.50.

McGee, as you have probably already guessed, went out and bought as much of PHLY's stock as possible, flipping the stock after the acquisition announcement for about $290,000 in profit. The SEC noticed the suspicious transactions, asked him about it, and eventually, McGee was convicted of insider trading and perjury under a misappropriation theory.

McGee challenged his conviction, arguing that AA mentorship falls outside of the "recognized dut[ies]" and relationships that can support such a conviction.