On Friday, the Second Circuit issued a published opinion affirming the district court's habeas grant in Langston v. Smith. First, the details of the case:
Langston v. Smith, 10-3045-pr
- Affirming Grant of Habeas (Published Opinion by Lynch)
- Argued: 10/18/10; Decided: 1/7/11
- Panel: Feinberg, Newman, Lynch
- Lower Ct. Info: 07-CV-2630, 2010 WL 2989992 (EDNY July 20, 2010) (ERK)
- Issues: Insufficient evidence that petitioner committed an assault in furtherance of the crime of weapon possession
Let me just say that it is a wonderfully written opinion by Lynch. And I am not just saying that because it is a habeas grant. When Lynch was nominated to the bench, I reviewed his district court work. One thing was clear: he was a great thinker and a great writer. And the abstract issue in this case was right in his wheelhouse.
I talked a little bit about the facts of the case at the time of the district court habeas grant. It was case three in this weekly review.* Here's a quick review of the facts: petitioner arranged to sell some guns to undercover officers. When petitioner brought the officers to the place where the same was going to occur, three men pulled out guns and opened fire on the officers. One of the officers was hit and permanently injured. Petitioner was charged with, and convicted of, committing an assault "in furtherance of" gun possession.
*I'd just like to point out that, in his opinion, Judge Lynch block quoted the same paragraph from the district court decision that I blocked quoted in my prior post. Says a lot about how strong that paragraph was.
Judge Lynch concluded that no trier of fact could rationally conclude that the facts of the case support such a conclusion. As did the district court, Judge Lynch concluded that there had to be a "nexis" between the assault and the underlying crime. While the assault may have been in furtherance of robbery, there was no rational reading of the evidence to show that the assault was in furtherance of the perpetrator's desire to possess the guns. Lynch further concluded that the state court's rejection of this claim was unreasonable.
That is a highly simplified version of the analysis. The legal analysis is actually pretty abstract and a great intellectual exercise, if you want to give a work out to the logical pistons in your brain. Let me give you one teaser from the opinion. It's from a footnote:
At times, the State appears to argue that, because both the assault and the possession were in furtherance of the attempted robbery, they must have been in furtherance of each other as well. This claim rests on the logical fallacy that one of two independent efforts to bring about the same end necessarily aids the other. In furtherance of preparing for a successful vacation one might both stop the mail and pack a suitcase. Although both of these actions further the success of the planned vacation, it cannot be inferred that the packing was done in furtherance of stopping the mail. Neither can it be logically inferred that, because both the possession and the assault were committed in furtherance of an attempted robbery, the assault was committed in furtherance of the possession.
Pretty abstract, huh? I am still trying to process the analogy to see whether I agree. A lot of the opinion offers these logical jewels. It's a great opinion.
As I mentioned in the prior post, one interesting side note here is that a different district judge rejected the claim on both procedural and substantive grounds in Cherry v. Walsh. Lynch notes this in his opinion. Lynch states, "We find the dsitrict court's analayis in Cherry, which cited no caselaw to support its interpretation of the 'in furtherance of' element, unpersuasive, and for the reasons set forth below agree with Judge Korman's contrary analysis in the instant case." After reading that sentence, I became very curious as to who the judge was in Cherry. I have to admit that I was very surprised to see who it was based on my admiration of his work in several other cases (such as this one, which I have previously described as probably my favorite habeas case of all time).