Senior Appeals Attorney Edward Zas Argues Lockhart v. United States in U.S. Supreme Court

On November 3, 2015, Edward Zas, Senior Attorney in the Appeals Bureau for the Federal Defenders of New York, argued Lockhart v. United States, No. 14-8358, in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Lockhart -- whom the Federal Defenders have represented in the district court, on appeal to the Second Circuit, and in the Supreme Court -- was Ed Zas-- Lockhart Caseconvicted of possessing child pornography. Ordinarily, that offense carries no mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of 10 years. However, a 10-year mandatory minimum (and a 20-year maximum) applies if a defendant has "a prior conviction ... under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward." 18 U.S.C. 2252(b)(2). In the district court, Mr. Lockhart (represented by Mildred Whalen of the E.D.N.Y. office), argued that his prior sexual abuse conviction did not trigger the enhanced mandatory minimum because it involved an adult, not a minor or ward. The district court disagreed and sentenced Mr. Lockhart to 10 years. Mr. Lockhart (represented by appeals attorney David Lewis) appealed, but the Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that the phrase "involving a minor or ward" modifies only "abusive sexual conduct," not "aggravated sexual abuse" or "sexual abuse." Thus, the Second Circuit concluded, any conviction relating to sexual abuse, regardless of the victim's age, qualifies as a predicate. 

Against long odds, Mr. Lockhart convinced the Supreme Court to grant certiorari and review Mr. Lockhart's sentence. Before the Supreme Court, Mr. Lockhart (represented by a team of appeals attorneys including Mr. Zas, Mr. Lewis, Barry Leiwant, Darrell Fields, and Daniel Habib), argued that, under the "series qualifier" canon of statutory interpretation, which dates back to Supreme Court cases from the 1920s, the phrase "involving a minor or ward" modifies all three terms in the preceding series, so that any conviction must "involve a minor or ward" in order to raise the sentencing range. Because Mr. Lockhart's did not, he is entitled to resentencing without regard to any mandatory minimum. A lively oral argument featured a notable exchange between Justices Scalia and Breyer about the role of legislative history in statutory interpretation. It was Mr. Zas's second oral argument before the Supreme Court; previously, he secured a 9-0 reversal of his client's conviction, on speedy trial grounds, in Zedner v. United States, 547 U.S. 489 (2006).

A decision in Lockhart is expected by the end of June. Additional information, including the certiorari-stage pleadings and merits briefs, is available at http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/lockhart-v-united-states/