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Top 3 Third Circuit Criminal Decisions: 2012 Edition

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals is often quiet, but it occasionally reveals unexpected truths.

We’re hopeful that one of those truths in 2013 will be that the court really does heart boobies. But for now, we’re looking at the past instead of the future.

Here are three of the more interesting criminal law rulings that the Philadelphia-based court issued in 2012.

1. Poisoning Your Husband's Mistress is a Chemical Weapons Offense

According to the Third Circuit, the federal government didn't overreach when it prosecuted a woman under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act for attempting to poison her love rival. Though the Act criminalizes the use of any chemical weapon, appellant Carol Bond argued that the statute was designed to target terrorist activity and was not meant for petty cases such as hers.

The Third Circuit noted that prosecuting Bond under the Act was questionable, but not clearly erroneous.

2. Unprovoked Flight Doesn't Create Reasonable Suspicion

Fleeing from a cop isn't a good idea, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that it doesn't automatically establish reasonable suspicion for arrest.

Reasonable suspicion of criminal activity may be formed by observing exclusively legal activity, but there still must be "a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the person stopped of criminal activity."

The cops can't simply arrest a person for running; they need additional information to support reasonable suspicion that a fleeing person has been involved in illegal activity.

3. A Defendant Can Be Too Creepy for a Downward Variance

In Kimbrough v. United States, the Supreme Court explained that the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) require that courts impose a sentence that is the minimum required to achieve the objectives of the sentencing court. When the primary objective of sentencing is incapacitation, the need to explain why a less severe sentence would not satisfy the objectives of a given sentence is drastically reduced.

The party appealing a sentence has the burden of proving that it is unreasonable, and the Third Circuit reviews sentences under an abuse of discretion standard.

In November, the Third Circuit applied that reasoning to find that David Sheridan's continuing propensity toward victimizing children required a lengthy sentence, and that his 360-month sentence was not unreasonable given his history of violence toward children. There may be a lot of criticism about the severity of child pornography sentencing guidelines, but that won't stop the courts from using them to keep convicted predators off the street.

What revelations will the new year bring? Come back to FindLaw's Third Circuit Blog to find out.

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