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Media Alerts - U.S. v. Sheehan - Second Circuit
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September 25, 2016
  U.S. v. Sheehan - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Affirms Conviction for Use of Destructive Device to Commit Extortion, Finding Jury Reasonably Concluded Partially Constructed Pipe Bomb was a Destructive Device

Area of Law: Criminal Law

Issue(s) Presented: Whether there was sufficient evidence to establish that a partially constructed pipe bomb planted by defendant constituted an explosive device and whether instructions provided to the jury, or the prosecutor's statements during summation, were improper.

Brief Summary: Following a jury trial, the defendant, Daniel Sheehan, was convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York for extortion and use of a destructive device to commit extortion when he sought to extort payment from Home Depot stores by placing a device, that he contended was an inert pipe bomb, in one Home Depot store and threatened to plant similar devices in other stores if he were not paid. On appeal, Sheehan challenged his conviction for use of a destructive device to commit extortion, contenting the device he planted lacked an igniter and therefore was incomplete. The Second Circuit rejected his challenge, holding that the government had to show only that the device was capable of exploding. The Second Circuit also rejected Sheehan's claim that the jury was improperly instructed that it could convict if the planted device constituted a "combination of parts" designed to "convert[] a device into an explosive bomb and from which an explosive bomb could be readily assembled" and found that the government's comments in summation did not deprive him of a fair trial.

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Extended Summary:
Defendant Daniel Sheehan was tried before a jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York for extortion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and use of a destructive device to commit extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(B)(ii). The evidence presented at trial, including a confession made by Sheehan, established that after practicing assembling and detonating a pipe bomb in his shed, Sheehan assembled another device and placed it in a cardboard light fixture box previously purchased from a Home Depot. Later, Sheehan placed the cardboard box containing the device in a Home Depot store but did not initially connect the pull string (a triggering mechanism used to detonate the device when box is picked up) to the shelf, but returned to the Home Depot a week later and affixed the string. He subsequently messaged the store manager stating there was a bomb in the lighting department, that the manager was in no danger, and that he was seeking payment of 2 million dollars. The store manager called the bomb squad which used a robot to unscrew the bomb cap in an attempt to disassemble the device and the device exploded, damaging parts of the store. Sheehan was convicted and appealed, challenging only his conviction for use of a destructive device to commit extortion.

A destructive device is defined for purposes of the applicable criminal statute as either an explosive bomb, or "any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device [listed in the statute] and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled." On appeal, Sheehan argued the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt on the enhanced charge of using a destructive device to commit extortion because the device he left in Home Depot was not a "destructive device" and could not be readily converted into such a device. The evidence presented at trial indicated that, although Sheehan's statement had indicated he had placed one in the device, none was found at the scene, and Sheehan argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish that an igniter was present. The government argued that the explosion could have destroyed the igniter. On appeal, the Second Circuit rejected Sheehan's sufficiency challenge, holding that a reasonable jury could have found that a device that is incapable of detonating in its intended manner, but still capable of detonating, is an explosive bomb within the meaning of the statute.

Sheehan also argued that the jury should not have been instructed that he could be convicted on the theory that the device constituted a "combination of parts" designed to convert a device into a bomb and "from which an explosive bomb may be readily assembled," because such a combination¿of¿ parts theory is inapplicable to completed devices. Moreover, he contended that the court was required to instruct the jury that subjective intent is required on such a charge. The court rejected these arguments, finding that the phrase "any combination of parts" extends to both fully disassembled and partially completed devices and, therefore, a combination¿of¿parts instruction is appropriate as long as a rational jury could find a device was at least partially disassembled and, further held that subjective intent was not required. Lastly, Sheehan argued, for the first time on appeal, that the government's summation deprived him of a fair trial because various statements mischaracterized the evidence, reflected the prosecutor's personal beliefs about defense counsel, or denigrated the defense expert. The court determined that most of the comments made were permissible and, even if some of the comments were improper, they did not amount to flagrant abuse, the standard required because the objection was not preserved at trial.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel (if known): Circuit Judges Winter, Wesley, and Lynch.

Argument Date: 04/21/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/23/2016

Docket Number:
No. 15-1028

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Robyn Downing

Counsel: Jonathan I. Edelstein, Edelstein & Grossman, for Defendant¿Appellant Daniel Patrick Sheehan. Jo Ann M. Navickas and Lara Treinis Gatz, Assistant United States Attorneys (of counsel), for Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn, New York.

Author of Opinion: Judge Lynch

Circuit: 2nd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Elyse Diamond

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 09/25/2016 07:33 PM     2nd Circuit  

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