Constitutional Law

2nd Circuit Reverses Disbarred Lawyer's Fed'l Immigration Fraud Conviction Over Voir Dire Issue

A federal appeals court panel has reversed the immigration fraud conviction of a disbarred New York lawyer, finding that his constitutional right to a public trial was violated because the presiding judge excluded the attorney’s brother and the brother’s girlfriend from the courtroom during voir dire.

The judge reportedly did so to make room for prospective jurors, but that was not a sufficient excuse, the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals held in a Thursday opinion (PDF). The court also disagreed with a government argument that the closed-door jury selection didn’t require the reversal of Raghubir Gupta’s 2008 jury conviction for immigration fraud, calling the exclusion of the public during voir dire “unjustified” and “not trivial,” Reuters reports.

In an earlier ruling, a 2nd Circuit appellate panel came to a different conclusion last year. But after Gupta sought an en banc review, the panel decided to withdraw its 2011 opinion, to which the New York Law Journal provides a link, and substituted Thursday’s amended decision. The en banc panel was hence dissolved, the news agency explains.

Susan Wolfe of Hoffman & Pollok represented Gupta. She predicted that the reversal of her client’s conviction over the voir dire issue “is going to have tremendous significance,” explaining that she has received calls from all over the country from lawyers waiting to see what the 2nd Circuit would do before forging ahead with similar voir dire arguments.

A 2010 disbarment order (PDF) by the Supreme Court Appellate Division provides additional details.

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