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Appealing Federal Drug Convictions in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

Appealing Federal Drug Convictions in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals

If you or a loved one have been convicted of a federal drug crime in New York, Connecticut, or Vermont, you may be able to appeal the conviction to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. This article will explain the basics of appealing a federal drug conviction in the Second Circuit.

The Appeals Process

After being convicted at the district court level, the first step is filing a notice of appeal within 14 days of the judgment being entered. This puts your case into the appeals system. Next, an appeal brief must be filed, explaining the legal and factual errors made at the district court level.

The government then files a response, and you file a reply. Oral arguments may be held, where attorneys argue before a panel of three Second Circuit judges. Those judges then decide if errors were made below, if the conviction should be reversed, or if the sentence should be reduced.

Common Legal Errors in Drug Cases

Some of the common legal errors which can lead to a drug conviction being reversed include:

  • Fourth Amendment violations – where evidence was obtained via an illegal search or seizure
  • Miranda violations – where a statement was taken from the defendant without proper Miranda warnings
  • Improper expert testimony – where an expert witness was improperly qualified or gave unreliable opinions
  • Prosecutorial misconduct – such as inflammatory statements during closing arguments
  • Incorrect jury instructions – where the jury was not properly instructed on the law
  • Sentencing errors – such as miscalculation of drug quantity or other guidelines issues

If any errors like these affected your case, it may be possible to get your conviction or sentence reversed or reduced on appeal.

Recent Second Circuit Drug Decisions

There have been several recent Second Circuit decisions regarding federal drug laws which could help overturn convictions or reduce sentences on appeal. For example:

  • In United States v. Townsend, the court limited the definition of “controlled substance offense” under the sentencing guidelines, which could reduce some drug sentences. [1]
  • In United States v. McCray, the court found sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions do not always apply mandatorily, giving judges more discretion to reduce sentences. [2]
  • In United States v. Caronia, the Second Circuit overturned a pharmaceutical representative’s conviction for promoting off-label drug use, finding it violated free speech rights. [4]

These and other decisions give more ammunition to challenge federal drug convictions and sentences on appeal in the Second Circuit.

Strategies for Winning Drug Appeals

While appeals are complex, some key strategies can help win drug cases at the Second Circuit level:

  • Raise all viable legal errors made by the district court, even if arguments were not raised below
  • Challenge the sufficiency of evidence proving drug type and quantity
  • Dispute the application of mandatory minimums and guidelines enhancements
  • Object to the calculation of criminal history points
  • Argue that the overall sentence is substantively unreasonable

Presenting multiple overlapping arguments gives more ways for the appeals court to find errors and reverse or reduce the conviction and sentence.

Seeking Certiorari to the Supreme Court

If the Second Circuit appeal is unsuccessful, the last option is seeking review from the U.S. Supreme Court via a petition for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court rejects most cert petitions, but may agree to hear a small fraction of cases involving important legal issues, circuit splits, or serious injustices.

For example, there is currently a cert petition involving interpretation of federal drug laws and mandatory minimum sentences which has divided appeals courts. If the Supreme Court hears the case, it could impact many federal drug sentences nationwide. [3]

Consult an Experienced Federal Appeals Lawyer

This article covers just a basic overview of federal drug appeals – the full appeals process is extremely complex. If looking to appeal a federal drug conviction in the Second Circuit, it is essential to consult an attorney experienced specifically in federal criminal appeals to discuss the best strategies for your particular case.

Do not wait to file your notice of appeal, as it must be filed within 14 days of judgment. But there are often other options even after appealing, such as petitioning to vacate the conviction or reduce the sentence. So it is never too late to fight an unjust federal drug conviction.

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