The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause provides criminal defendants with the right to “confront”—i.e., cross-examine—the witnesses against them.  But can a criminal defendant “open the door” to the admission of evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause?  The U.S. Supreme Court will address that question in Hemphill v. New York, scheduled for oral argument next month.  The outcome of that case may significantly expand when prosecutors at all levels, from local district attorneys’ offices to DOJ Main Justice, can overcome defendants’ right to exclude absent-witness testimony.

Darrell Hemphill was convicted of murder in New York after another man was unsuccessfully prosecuted for the same crime.  Hemphill argued at trial that the first suspect committed the crime.  That was enough for the trial court, and ultimately New York’s highest court, to determine he had opened the door for the prosecution to introduce evidence rebutting Hemphill’s claim—specifically, an out-of-court statement by the first man that he did not possess the type of gun responsible for the murder.

Federal and state rules of evidence like New York’s typically allow a party to introduce rebuttal testimony like this—even if it could not do so originally—if the opposing party puts the issue into play.  But Hemphill argues that the Confrontation Clause is a separate safeguard that cannot be overcome simply by opening the door.  Under Hemphill’s theory, the first man’s statement should not have been admitted, even after Hemphill implicated him for the crime, unless the man could also be cross-examined at trial.
Continue Reading Supreme Court to Weigh Protections Under Confrontation Clause

On June 22, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Liu v. SEC that in an SEC civil proceeding a disgorgement award that does not exceed a wrongdoer’s profit and is awarded for victims is equitable relief permissible under the applicable statute. The opinion answers an important question left open by the Court in Kokesh v. SEC that disgorgement operates as a “penalty,” rendering claims for disgorgement subject to the five-year statute of limitations. See Supreme Court Reigns in SEC’s Disgorgement Power. Liu closes the door on speculation that the Court was poised to hold that the SEC did not have authority to seek disgorgement.
Continue Reading SEC Can Recover Disgorgement, With Limits

The Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in United States v. McDonnell raised questions about the constitutionality of expansive interpretations of federal bribery statutes.  However, the bribery statute at issue in McDonnell—quid pro quo corruption defined at 18 U.S.C. § 201(a)(2)—is not the only bribery statute in federal prosecutors’ toolbox.  Since McDonnell was decided, federal prosecutors have increasingly relied on 18 U.S.C. § 666 to pursue bribery charges that might otherwise be precluded by McDonnell’s holding.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Affirms Broad Reading of Sec. 666 Bribery

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a criminal case arising from a fraudulent scheme to cause massive gridlock at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013—otherwise known as the “Bridgegate” scandal. Bridget Anne Kelly, a staffer in then-Governor Chris Christie’s office, was convicted of wire fraud for her role in fabricating a fake traffic study and orchestrating lane reallocations as an act of political retaliation against a local mayor.

Affirming Kelly’s wire fraud conviction, the Third Circuit sustained the Government’s theory that Kelly and a fellow political operative fraudulently deprived the Port Authority of both physical property and intangible property, finding that the Port Authority has an “unquestionable” property interest in the Bridge’s traffic allocation and its public employee labor, and that the Port Authority has an intangible property interest in the public employees’ time and wages.
Continue Reading SCOTUS Considers Challenge to DOJ’s “Bridgegate” Theory

On June 21, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in Lucia v. SEC, finding that the manner in which the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) selects its “in-house” administrative law judges (ALJs) violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that ALJs are “inferior officers” and must be appointed by the president or head of the agency, rather than hired by SEC staff through the civil service process.  The immediate practical impact of the decision requires that petitioner Raymond Lucia be afforded a new hearing before “a properly appointed official.”

In recent years, capitalizing on what some commentators considered a “home court advantage” for enforcement actions, the SEC began favoring administrative proceedings in which agency ALJs serve as adjudicators rather than judicial proceedings in federal court.  An ALJ assigned to hear an SEC enforcement action has the power to issue an initial decision containing factual findings, legal conclusions, and appropriate remedies.  The Commission is not required to review the ALJs decision, and if it declines to review, the ALJs “initial” decision is deemed a final action of the Commission.  In practice, most ALJ initial decisions become final without any Commission review; for example, 2016 data revealed that 90% of SEC ALJ initial decisions were not reviewed by the Commission. 
Continue Reading SCOTUS Finds SEC ALJ Appointments Unconstitutional