Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Possible Different Twist on Padilla

After the United States Supreme Court's decision in Padilla v. United States, attorneys and courts are now well-versed about the necessity of informing defendants about the possible effects a guilty plea may have on their immigration status.  A recent published decision by the Court in United States v. Ataya, discusses a related issue that many of us may have not considered and is worth a brief discussion.

In this case, Mr. Ataya entered into a guilty plea to conspiring to commit health care fraud and wire fraud.  Although his plea agreement waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentence, Mr. Ataya filed a notice of appeal from the judgment.  The United States subsequently moved to the dismiss the appeal based on the waiver language.

In a published decision, the Court noted several issues with the district court's plea colloquy.  In particular, it found that the district court did not inform Mr. Ataya that the plea agreement required him to pay restitution and a special assessment.  Most importantly, however, the Court noted that the neither the plea agreement nor the district court told Mr. Ataya -- a foreign national who subsequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen -- that he could face "denaturalization" due to his conviction.  Although the Court held Mr. Ataya knowingly and voluntarily waived his appellate rights, the Court hinted that the failure to explain the denaturalization risk might invalidate the plea agreement as a whole and referred the motion to its Merits Panel to examine the issue.

While the Court may ultimately dismiss Mr. Ataya's appeal, this case serves as a reminder that counsel should take care in advising immigrant clients who enter into plea agreements -- even where such clients have become naturalized United States citizens.  While attorneys might overlook this issue where their client has taken the steps to become a naturalized citizen, this case emphasizes that one cannot be too careful in such cases.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Minor victim’s testimony sufficient to sustain sexual-assault conviction

Today, in a short published opinion, United States v. J.A.S., the Sixth Circuit rejected a 17-year-old defendant’s challenge to his conviction for sexually assaulting an 8 year old through vaginal penetration.

There was no medical evidence to show an assault, so the government’s case rested on the testimony of the victim.

The defendant made two arguments: (1) that the court shouldn't have admitted video of a forensic interview of the victim, and (2) that the victim's testimony was insufficient to convict him.

The court quickly dispatched the evidentiary argument. The video, the court concluded, fell under Rule 801(d)(1)(B)(ii), which allows for admission of prior consistent statements if offered to rehabilitate a witness after cross-examine.

The court also upheld the sufficiency of the evidence, distinguishing decisions from four other circuits that rejected convictions based solely on victim testimony. The court explained that in each of these cases the victims’ testimonies were vague about whether actual penetration occurred. In contrast, the victim in the case at hand testified at a bench trial that the defendant “put his pee in [her] pee,” that she “felt it” in her, and that it hurt.

Because he was charged for an act of juvenile delinquency under 18 U.S.C. § 5032, the defendant faced a maximum of 5 years’ imprisonment, and he received a 3-year sentence.