The second link is to the Opinion of the Court and Dissent in RE:United States of America, arising out of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Petitioner, v. YEHUDI MANZANO, Respondent. The United States petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a Writ of Mandumus directed to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, specifically to Chief United States District Judge Stefan Underhill who is presiding over the underlying criminal case.
The 31 year old defendant had recorded his sexual encounters with a 15 year old girl who had both consensually engaged in the sex and knowingly consented to the recording. Of course, obviously the girl could not legally consent to either act and so the United States charged him. Manzano had uploaded the file to a private server and so the United States invoked jurisdiction under the commerce clause. He was charged with child pornography and transportation of child pornography. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.
Believe this prosecution to be an overreach by federal prosecutors and believing the mandatory minimum to be too harsh, Judge Underhill agreed to allow the defense to argue for jury nullification on the basis that the mandatory minimum sentence was too harsh. The federal prosecutors asked for and got an indefinite continuance of the trial proceedings and filed for a Writ of Mandamus ordering the Judge to refrain from either allowing the defense to argue jury nullification or from instructing the jury in regards to jury nullification.
By a 2 to 1 vote, the 3 Judge panel of the Second Circuit granted the Writ of Mandamus, although they denied a second request that would have prevented the Judge from informing the jury about the 15 year mandatory minimum sentence. United States Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan wrote for the majority, joined by United States Circuit Judge Denny Chin. Senior United States Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, his concurrence being in the part of the decision that denied mandumus in regards to the sentencing information.
Judge Underhill may have overstepped here, but I frankly agree that Judges need to push back when prosecutors overstep. Just because their was the tiniest invocation of interstate commerce was NOT a good reason to make this a federal case. It should have been prosecuted in the Connecticut State Courts where it belongs. And the 15 year mandatory minimum is clearly overkill, given the facts of this case.
The Circuit Judges CORRECTLY conceded that nullification is a valid part of a juries power. That has been long accepted. They simply stated that a District Judge cannot ENCOURAGE that behavior or allow counsel to encourage that behavior.
I agree that District Courts should not lightly be encouraging jury nullification. But in a situation such as this case, where the very prosecution of the case is a prosecutorial overstep AND where the mandatory minimum creates a potentially unjust outcome , I am not convinced that it is entirely improper to allow defense counsel to argue nullification. I would have joined in Judge Parker’s opinion.