In this blog article we address some of the major case law developments of recent weeks. We hope this offers assistance to any reader that has any of these issues.
In White, a divided panel from the Second Circuit vacated a conviction for illegal possession of a gun by a felon after making two significant rulings. First, it held that the district court had committed “manifest error” by granting a Government motion to preclude evidence relating to the Government’s charging decisions, “without an inquiry into its relevance and probative value to the respective case.” Second, it held that the district court had also committed reversible error by precluding the defendant from telling the jury that an NYPD Detective, the Government’s main witness against him, had been found to have testified untruthfully by a different judge in earlier proceedings involving an unrelated but similar gun case.
In the latest Guantanamo Bay ruling, District Judge Royce Lamberth of the D.D.C. sharply rebuked the Government for attempting to change, significantly and without justification or need, the rules for counsel-access for the 168 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay. Calling the new rules an “illegitimate exercise of Executive power,” Judge Lamberth concluded that they would place the detainees’ rights to access the courts “in a subordinate position to whatever the military commander of Guantanamo sees as a logistical constraint.”
In Hedges, District Judge Katherine Forrest of the S.D.N.Y. issued a permanent injunction against the implementation and enforcement of a controversial law enacted last year which allows the indefinite detention and trial by military commission of any person who has “substantially supported” the Taliban or “associated forces” in armed conflict. Calling the statute “unconstitutionally vague,” Judge Forrest firmly rejected the Government’s contention that it merely codified and reaffirmed the detention authority it already had under the sweeping and never-ending AUMF, which was hastily passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It should be noted that the Government has already appealed this ruling.
In Karper, Magistrate Judge Treece of the N.D.N.Y. held that a provision of the Adam Walsh Act (namely, 18 U.S.C. § 3142(c)(1)), which mandates both home detention and electronic monitoring as conditions of pre-trial release for most child pornography crimes, is unconstitutional under both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. In so ruling, he took strong issue with contrary rulings from the Eighth and Ninth Circuits, the only two Circuits to have addressed the constitutionality of § 3142(c)(1)) to date.
In a decision that raises more questions that it resolves, the Fourth Circuit, in Wooden, reversed, as “clearly erroneous,” a district court’s finding that the Government had failed to present sufficient evidence to justify the civil commitment of a sex offender about to be released from prison on the grounds that he was a “sexually dangerous person,” as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a).
In Murray and Worley, the Third and Fourth Circuits, respectively, addressed – and rejected – the tendency of many Federal judges to accept – blindly and without explanation – the recommendations of the Probation Department regarding the imposition of special conditions of supervised release in cases even remotely involving sex offense crimes; and both cases called for more detailed explanations of and justifications for the imposition of such special conditions.