Notice & Comment

D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed: Crime Spree

Last week was criminal law week at the D.C. Circuit. All three opinions issued in criminal appeals. I’ll turn to those shortly, but first something a little closer to this blog, if a bit further back in time: two weeks ago, fellow blogger, Judge Thomas B. Griffith, visited Mizzou Law School to speak about our duty to carry on public debates without contempt. The message is a critically important one. I am thrilled my students were able to hear it from him.

Turning to the cases, let’s begin with United States v. Evans, which at least had a nominal administrative-law nexus: it involved a traffic stop by United States Park Police officers. The panel (Judge Ginsburg, joined by Judges Millett and Rao) found no legal or clear factual error in the district court’s refusal to suppress evidence recovered in a protective pat-down search during the traffic stop.

In United States v. Holroyd, the Court (Judge Henderson, joined by Judges Pillard and Edwards) rejected an ineffective assistance of counsel claim by a defendant sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence for drug crimes to which he pleaded guilty. Holroyd contended that his counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that Holroyd qualified for a below-minimum sentence. Holroyd’s position depended on a contested reading of the First Step Act’s “safety valve” amendment . Because the Supreme Court recently rejected the interpretation Holroyd favored, the Court concluded that counsel’s decision was neither deficient nor prejudicial.

Finally, in United States v. Benton, the Court (Judge Henderson, joined this time by Judges Pan and Garcia) affirmed Jesse Benton’s conviction for campaign finance crimes in connection with funneling $25,000 from a foreign national to a fundraiser supporting Donald Trump. Among other things, Benton objected to the Government’s decision to charge him under the general false records provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, instead of the more specific false records provision of the Federal Elections Campaign Act. The decision contains an interesting discussion of the interaction between the rule that “when an act violates more than one criminal statute, the Government may prosecute under either,” and the general-specific canon of statutory construction. The Court concluded that the general statute—here, Sarbanes-Oxley—remains available unless Congress has evinced an intent to displace it with the more specific one. The panel also found no plain error in the district court’s admission under Rule 404(b) of Benton’s prior conviction for campaign finance violations, despite an intervening presidential pardon.

Speaking of charging elections-related conduct under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Supreme Court heard argument last week in Fischer v. United States. The Court is reviewing the D.C. Circuit’s holding that entering the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 attacks falls within the ambit of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s provision barring obstruction of an official proceeding. Aaron Nielson previously reviewed the D.C. Circuit’s decision on this blog.  The Supreme Court reportedly appears to be divided on the proper reading of the provision.

D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed is designed to help you keep track of the nation’s “second most important court” in just five minutes a week.

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