Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Warning: Santobello works both ways

Coming soon to a Government's Brief on Appeal near you....

The Third Circuit just handed appellate AUSAs a nifty new tool to combat pesky defendants.  In a nutshell, United States v. Irwin, 3rd Cir. Case No. 13-3407 (Aug. 26, 2014), says that if a defendant signs a Rule 11 plea agreement in which he agrees not to appeal, but then appeals anyway (at least without a decent reason for doing so), he has breached the agreement and relieved the government of its own obligations, including its agreement to give the defendant consideration for cooperating.  The penalty for the breach may not just be a dismissal of the appeal; it could be a remand for a harsher sentence.

From Julie McGrain at our sister blog in the Third Circuit:

Defendant Erwin plead guilty, pursuant to a cooperating plea agreement, to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute oxycodone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C), and 846. His plea agreement included a waiver of right to appeal his sentence if it was within or below the advisory Guidelines range resulting from a total offense level 39. In exchange for Erwin's plea, the government agreed not to bring further criminal charges against Erwin in connection with the criminal conspiracy, and it also agreed to seek a downward departure under U.S.S.G. §5K1.1.
At sentencing, the district court agreed with the parties and the PSR that Erwin's total offense level was 39. With an offense level 39 and Criminal History Category I, Erwin's initial Guidelines range was 262 to 327 months. This range was, however, capped at 240 months due to the statutory maximum for the offense of conviction. The government moved for a five-level downward departure under §5K1.1, requesting that the court depart from offense level 39 to offense level 34, as opposed to departing from the statutory maximum of 240 months, and sentence Erwin within the resulting range (151 to 188 months). Erwin did not object. The court granted the government's motion and sentenced Erwin to 188 months imprisonment.
Erwin appealed, arguing that the district court's use of offense level 39 as its starting point for the downward departure was error because, when combined with criminal history category I, offense level 39 yielded an advisory Guidelines range above the statutory maximum. The government did not cross-appeal, but argued in response to Erwin's appeal that Erwin's sentence should be vacated and remanded for de novo resentencing where, in light of Erwin's breach of the appellate waiver, the government would seek a "modest" increase in Erwin's sentence.
The Third Circuit began by considering the nature and scope of Erwin's appellate waiver. It concluded that Erwin's appeal was within the scope of the waiver, the waiver was knowingly and voluntarily executed, and Erwin failed to raise any meritorious grounds for circumventing the waiver. The Court noted that its ordinary procedure in such a situation would be to enforce the waiver by dismissing the defendant's appeal, thereby affirming the defendant's sentence. Here, however, the government asked the Court to vacate Erwin's sentence so that it could pursue the remedies specified in the breach provision of the plea agreement, i.e., bring additional criminal charges or withdraw its §5K1.1. motion. The Court found that Erwin's decision to appeal despite waiving that right in his plea agreement resulted in a clear breach of the terms of the agreement. The Court further concluded that the appropriate remedy for Erwin's post-sentencing breach of the plea agreement was specific performance, i.e., de novo resentencing with the government relieved of its obligation to seek a downward departure.
In rendering its opinion, the Third Circuit also decided two procedural questions of first impression. First, the Court concluded that cross-appeal rule did not apply and consequently did not bar the government from seeking de novo resentencing. Second, the Court named its source of authority to grant a de novo resentencing in this case as 28 U.S.C. § 2106, which permits the Court to modify, vacate, set aside, or reverse any judgment lawfully brought before it for review and remand the cause for further proceedings.

For Scott Greenfield's colorful (and critical -- of everyone involved) commentary, see here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Federal Prosecutors in Lexington, Kentucky: "Oops"

There is a lot to like about United States v. Noble, No. 13-6056, though I doubt many federal prosecutors share my excitement.  Particularly federal prosecutors in Lexington, Kentucky.

Courtney Noble was a passenger in a Chevrolet Tahoe driven by Marcus Adkins.  Law enforcement suspected the vehicle to be associated with a drug trafficking ring and conducted a traffic stop. Noble was "very nervous."

Adkins consented to a search of the vehicle. In order to conduct the search, police "removed Noble from the Tahoe and frisked him for weapons on the basis of Noble's nervousness, the fact that the Tahoe was suspected in a DEA investigation, and that [an officer's] training told him that drug traffickers are often armed."  Police discovered drugs, paraphernalia, and a firearm on Noble's person. Both men were charged with conspiracy, along with Dena Brooks, who was later found in a hotel room associated with the conspiracy.

Noble moved to suppress the evidence found during the frisk, and Adkins and Brooks joined the motion. The district court denied the motion to suppress, and all three defendants appealed.

The Sixth Circuit found that the search of Noble was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and vacated Noble's conviction.

But that left the court with "an awkward problem": neither Adkins nor Brooks can "explain[] how the frisk of Noble impacts their Fourth Amendment rights."  And that is because they obviously lack Fourth Amendment "standing" to object to the unreasonable search of Noble.  Their motions to suppress had no merit.

But it was their lucky day.

At both the district court and in its brief on appeal, prosecutors neglected to argue that Adkins and Brooks lacked standing to object to the search of Noble's person.  Thus, in a letter to the court after oral argument, the appellate chief of their office ("and to its credit") acknowledged that the government had "waived" the issue for appeal.

Facing an open question in the Sixth Circuit and a split of authority elsewhere, the court "join[ed] the majority of circuits to have considered this issue" and held that "the government may forfeit or waive its objection" to Fourth Amendment standing.  The court explained,
we would allow the government to raise an objection to a defendant's Fourth Amendment standing for the first time on appeal, provided that the government can show that the defendant plainly lacked standing and that our failure to recognize it would "seriously affect[] the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings." However, if the government fails to raise the issue in its opening brief on appeal, then the objection is waived. 
Here, because the government missed the issue of Fourth Amendment standing not only at the district court but also in the opening brief on appeal, both Adkins and Brooks got a windfall. Their convictions were vacated just like Noble's.

Judge Moore wrote the opinion and Judge Tarnow joined. Judge Kethledge dissented from the Fourth Amendment analysis alone, finding the "question . . . close" but ultimately concluding that the police were reasonable to ensure that Noble was not armed during the search of the vehicle.

Alleyne Error Not Harmless

In United States v. Hackett, No. 12-2248, the Sixth Circuit rejected the government's argument that a violation of Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), was harmless because the defendant admitted the facts giving rise to the greater mandatory minimum.

The defendant was charged in an indictment with using or carrying a firearm during a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), a crime carrying a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. At trial, he admitted to firing a handgun but disputed his motive for doing so. He was convicted.  Instead of sentencing him to the five-year mandatory minimum charged in the indictment, the district court sentenced him under Section 924(c)(1)(A)(iii), which raises the mandatory minimum to ten years "if the firearm is discharged."

There is no serious dispute that the sentence violated Alleyne, since the defendant's mandatory minimum sentence was increased on the basis of facts not found by the jury.  But the government nevertheless maintained that the error was harmless, given the defendant's admission to discharging the firearm.  Put differently, there is no question that the jury would have convicted the defendant of the ten-year offense if it had been given the option.  The problem with this argument, the court found, is that it would allow for a constructive amendment to the indictment, which can never be harmless.

Household Chores ≠ Forced Labor

United States v. Toviave, No. 13-1441, is a case about prosecutorial discretion -- and overreach.  Toviave appears to be an unsavory character, but his conduct didn't actually violate the federal statute under which he was charged.  Happily, Judges Rogers (writing), Sutton, and Suhrheinrich do not trust "the discretion of prosecutors" to protect law abiding citizens from similarly misplaced prosecutions.

The essential facts are as follows:
Toviave brought four young relatives from Togo to live with him in Michigan. After they arrived, Toviave made the children cook, clean, and do the laundry. He also occasionally made the children babysit for his girlfriend and relatives. Toviave would beat the children if they misbehaved or failed to follow one of Toviave’s many rules. 
Federal prosecutors in Detroit charged Toviave with visa fraud, mail fraud, and forced labor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589. Toviave pled guilty to the fraud charges but went to trial on the forced labor charges and was convicted.

While calling the defendant's conduct "deplorable" and "reprehensible," the Sixth Circuit found that prosecutors were wrong to make a federal case out of what appeared to be nothing more than child abuse --"a state crime, but not a federal crime."

The court explained,
The government’s interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589 would make a federal crime of the exercise of these innocuous, widely accepted parental rights. Take a hypothetical parent who requires his child to take out the garbage, make his bed, and mow the lawn. The child is quarrelsome and occasionally refuses to do his chores. In response, the child’s parent sternly warns the child, and if the child still refuses, spanks him. The child then goes about doing his chores. There is no principled way to distinguish between that sort of hypothetical labor and what Toviave made the children do in this case. 
The court drew heavily from Bond v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 2077 (2014), in which the Supreme Court "recently reemphasized that we should be cautious in inferring Congressional intent to criminalize activity traditionally regulated by the states."  In Bond, the government argued that the defendant's conduct -- which amounted to "garden-variety assault" between spouses, albeit with a chemical weapon -- fell within the "very broad scope of the chemical weapon statute."  But due to the "deeply serious consequences of adopting such a boundless reading" of the statute, the Supreme Court disagreed and vacated the conviction.  The Sixth Circuit found "[t]he reasoning of the Supreme Court appears to apply directly to Toviave's case."

Friday, August 01, 2014

One day sentence reversed

Defendant Musgrave was a CPA who became involved in a tire recycling company.  Unfortunately for Musgrave, he picked the wrong partner, and as a result, the company went under. Musgrave lost a significant amount of cash, and so brought in the FBI, the SEC and Australian authorities to investigate his partner.  As a result, Musgrave himself was indicated on ten counts, including bank fraud and wire fraud.  His partner was also indicted, pled guilty, and received probation.  Musgrave went to trial and was convicted.

At sentencing, the court found the advisory Guidelines to be 57 to 71 months incarceration, but imposed a sentence of one day incarceration, citing his lack of criminal history, his own losses in the company, his decades of service to the community, the fact that the Guidelines overstated his culpability, and the restitution that would be imposed.  The Sixth Circuit reversed this sentence, finding that the district court considered impermissible factors in imposing the sentence, such as the civil losses incurred, the loss of his CPA license, and the fact that his felony conviction would be a part of his record.  The Court indicated that because these matters were not "consequences of his sentence" they could not be considered.  Further, the Court indicated that the district court failed to give adequate consideration to general deterrence, and that incarceration is favored for the type of offenses for which Musgrave was convicted.  The full opinion is here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Citing to Presentence Report

The Eastern District of Tennessee has started filing a sealed copy of the Presentence Report in ECF. This means there is a docket entry for the document, and attorneys are sent a filed copy with the PageID#. The copy that goes to the Sixth Circuit does not always have the PageID# on it. Either check with your case manager, or continue citing to the PSR as you did prior to it appearing in the electronic record.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

False distress signal = $489,000

Not much happening this week (so far) in the Sixth, so thought I would share this nugget with you.  Yesterday, the Court upheld the sentence in the case of United States v. Kumar. 13-3970  

Kumar was a 19 year old student at Bowling Green University who was studying aviation technology.  He dreamed of becoming a pilot for the Coast Guard after his graduation.  As part of his training, he was ordered to fly from an airport in Bowling Green, Ohio to Cleveland in back.  On the way back, flying over Lake Erie, he thought he saw a flare from a boat, and radioed it in.  He was then instructed by the airport to fly in for a closer look - he did not see a boat or anything, but he was fearful that he would be accused of "sounding stupid", so he told the airport that he saw a 25 foot boat with persons in life vests, with a strobe light activated.

This understandably prompted a response by more than the cavalry.  The United States Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces spent the next 24 hours searching for the fictitious boat.  A month after the search,  Kumar admitted he had lied.  The United States subsequently prosecuted him for a Class D felony "making a false distress call".

Kumar of course plead guilty.  But his punishment was far from light.  He was sentenced to 3 months incarceration, and 3 years supervised release.  But possibly even more importantly, Kumar was ordered to pay restitution to the United States and Canada for all of their expenses for the entire operation - $489,007.70

On appeal, Kumar challenged the imposition of the entire cost of the vessels, manpower, etc. for the time period.  He also challenged the court's authority to impose restitution for a foreign entity (Canadian Armed Forces).  The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that "all costs incurred as a result", as outlined in the statute, was broad enough to include all expenses and costs.

The precedential value of this decision is minimal, as there will not be too many cases handled for this type of offense.  But it is worth noting the facts - a 19 year old kid panicked, made a mistake, and will now pay the rest of his life for it.  He has what amounts to a $500,000 house payment, he has a felony conviction, and he has served 3 months in prison - all because he did not want to seem stupid.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 14 through 18, a busy week for the Sixth Circuit

Compared to most weeks, the 6th Circuit was very active this past week. There were five published cases, which appear to be noteworthy. I will provide a brief synopsis of all five.

1) Teresa Prewett v. Stanley Weems, Case No. 12-6489.


The defendant pled guilty to child pornography production offenses, and later the victim filed a civil against him for damages pursuant to 18 USC 2255(a). The allegation was that Weems produced 7 videos, and alleged each video entitled the victim to $150,000 of compensation. The question before the court was whether the victim could seek $150,000 for each individual video (totaling over $1 million), or for the entire criminal offense (a total of $150,000). Because the victim did not bring separate suits for each individual video and the suit arose out of a single “unbroken chain of events,” the victim was only entitled to one single cause of action for all 7 videos, and the total amount recoverable was $150,000.

2) United States v. Barbour, Case No. 13-5653.


This case concerned the Armed Career Criminal Act and how to define predicate offenses of crimes of violence. At issue was the defendant’s prior state conviction of two aggravated robberies. At the state level, both aggravated robberies were indicted in a single count. Ten years later, he was indicted for a federal firearms offense. The federal court found the two aggravated robberies each counted as a single predicate crime of violence for the purposes of the ACCA, resulting a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence under 18 USC 924(e). On appeal, the defendant challenged this, arguing that the robberies could not be separated. The 6th Circuit agreed with the defendant and vacated the sentence.

The opinion provides a good overview of the 6th Circuit’s stance on how to define separate offenses in the context of 924(e). Offenses can be separately counted if: 1) it is possible to discern the point at which the first offense is completed, and the subsequent point at
which the second offense begins, 2) it would have been possible for the offender to cease his criminal conduct after the first offense, and withdraw without committing the second offense, or 3) the offenses are committed in different residences or business locations. Page 5 of opinion. The court also made clear that the burden to prove whether the offenses were separate was on the government. Concluding the evidence before the district court was not clear as to when one robbery ended and the other began, the court vacated the sentence.

3) Gunner v. Welch, No. 13-3996


This was an appeal of the denial of a 2254 habeas corpus petition. The petitioner was convicted of drug trafficking and given a ten year sentence. The evidence showed that prior to trial, the prosecution offered a plea bargain to his counsel, but the petitioner claims he encouraged him to go to trial. He was convicted, given ten years, and appealed.

On appeal, his appellate counsel failed to inform him of his post-conviction rights, and specifically the fact that he had only a 180-day limit to file a post-conviction petition. As a result, the petitioner missed his post-conviction filing deadline. Petitioner filed a 2254 petition raising ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The district court denied.

The 6th Circuit reversed finding that appellate counsel's failure to advise the defendant about his post-conviction rights, and the 180-day time limit, amounted to ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The court's opinion is unique, and gets its Agency law issues, but ultimately reverses and remands. There is a discussion of Martinez v. Ryan claims (on ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel) as well. This case is interesting in evaluating the duties of appellate counsel, which include the right to inform a defendant of their post-conviction rights and deadlines as well.

4) United States v. Bryon Taylor, Case No. 12-3730


This is my case, so I will try to tether my editorializing, but probably won’t. Mr. Taylor was convicted in 2004 of crack cocaine offenses. His offense subjected him to a 120-month mandatory minimum, but the government filed an enhancement, setting him mandatory minimum at 240 months. He was able to pierce the mandatory minimum due to 5K, and got a sentence of 151 months.
After the retroactive crack cocaine amendments, a 3582 sentence reduction motion was filed, alleging his guideline range had been lowered 2 levels and that he was eligible for a reduction to 130 months.
The district court denied, and the 6th Circuit affirmed. Judge Boggs wrote the opinion, but Judge Donald wrote a dissent. Judge Boggs concluded that under USSG 1B1.10, which discusses eligibility requirements for reduction, prevented relief. The key term is whether a defendant’s “applicable guideline range” has been lowered. The majority concluded that under USSG 1B1.10, 1B1.1, and 5G1.1, all make clear that if the defendant was subject to a statutory mandatory minimum, then that mandatory minimum IS the applicable guideline range. Essentially, the 5K departure has no bearing on the reduction analysis, and as the Court says “the helpful defendant has bottomed out” at the mandatory minimum. This holding is consistent with another one of my appeals, United States v. Joiner.

Judge Donald’s dissent essentially argues that the statutory mandatory minimum becomes “inoperative” when the defendant cooperates and pierces the mandatory minimum. Because it is inoperative, it cannot act continue to act as a floor for 3582 eligibility. This is consistent with the holdings of the 7th Circuit (US v. Wren), 3rd Circuit (US v. Savani) and DC Circuit (In re Sealed Case).

A petition for rehearing will be filed, but one thing should be made clear. This appeal, and many like it, concern on the definition of “applicable guideline range” found in USSG 1B1.10. The majority, and the corresponding similar appeals, all conclude that the mandatory minimum = the applicable guideline range, regardless of any subsequent departures or 5K grants. BUT, the Sentencing Commission, days before the issuance of this appeal, issued new sentencing guideline amendments. Specifically, the Commission changed 1B1.10, to add the following language:

If the case involves a statutorily required minimum sentence and the court had the authority to impose a sentence below the statutorily required minimum sentence pursuant to a government motion to reflect the defendant's substantial assistance to authorities, then for purposes of this policy statement the amended guideline range shall be determined without regard to the operation of §5G1.1 and §5G1.2.

So, this new amendment, which takes effect on November 1, 2014, essentially adopts Judge Donald’s position (and my position). In total, a cooperating defendant will not be hampered by their pierced mandatory minimum in seeking a sentence reduction. More to come.......

5) United States v. Kilgore, No. 13-5623


Defendant was sentenced to 70 months for being a felon in possession of a firearm. While performing community service at a police station, he stole two firearms from the evidence room. At sentencing, he was given a 2-level enhancement for “stealing” the firearms (2K2.1(b)(4)). He was also given a 4-level enhancement under 2K2.1(b)(6)(B), for possessing the firearm in connection “with another felony offense.” He challenged the 4-level enhancement, stating the stealing of the firearms was not an other felony offense. The Sixth Circuit agreed, finding the act of stealing the firearms could not amount to another felony offense is connection with the illegal possession of the same firearms. His sentence was reversed and the case was remanded.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Policy and Perjury and Leadership, oh my!

Last week, the Sixth Circuit ruled in United States v. Kamper and Head, 12-5167 and 12-5800. The cases concerned an MDMA distribution conspiracy. Kamper was the "administrator" of the conspiracy and Head, a chemist, was "in charge of manufacturing." The conspiracy was Kamper's idea and he provided the start up funds. Head had access to chemicals and knew how to make the drug. Other co-conspirators were involved.

Policy disagreements
Kamper pled guilty. He argued at sentencing (well, pre-sentencing and at sentencing) that the MDMA-to-marijuana ratio in the guidelines was based on discredited science. He asked the district court to select a new ratio, or to vary from the Guidelines. The district court concluded "that the Sentencing Commission is in a better position than this Court to take into account all of the various value judgments involved in adopting a particular guideline." The district court provided other rationales as to why it could not reject the ratio established in the Guidelines.

The Sixth Circuit ruled the district court was wrong. It ruled "district judges may exercise their discretion to reject Guidelines ratios because of policy disagreements in all aspects of the Guidelines." It clarified its ruling in Bistline: "the courts have the authority to reject the Guidelines range selected by Congress," provided they articulate their refutation of the particular Guideline. Most of all, "The district court must not rely on the Guidelines for reasons that Kimbrough rejected, such as institutional competence, deference to Congress, or the risk that other judges will set different ratios."

The Sixth decided the district court was wrong, but had otherwise sufficiently justified Kamper's sentence as to not warrant remanding for a new sentencing hearing.

Head went to trial. He testified on his own behalf and "flatly stated that he had never produced MDMA." He had "no idea" how the stuff was made. The jury convicted him, and his presentence report recommended a two-level obstruction-of-justice enhancement for the perjury. The district court applied the enhancement, over Head's objection.

The Sixth Circuit reversed this decision. District courts must go through a two-part evaluation: (1) identify the portions of the testimony that are perjurious, and (2) make a specific finding for each element of perjury. Perjury, in turn, has three elements: (1) false statement under oath (2) concerning a material matter (3) with the willful intent to provide false testimony. The district court ruled the statements were false, but failed to make factual findings about the other two elements of perjury: materiality of the matter or Head's intent.

Head also objected to the three-point bump for being a manager or supervisor of the conspiracy. The district court ruled the enhancement applied because each of the three co-conspirators was "jointly the manager or supervisor of the entire operation."

The Sixth Circuit reversed. To qualify for the enhancement, a defendants "must have managed or supervised one or more other participants and not merely the criminal scheme." So the district court misapplied the law when it ruled the three co-defendants were "jointly the manager or supervisor of the entire operation." The Sixth Circuit acknowledged "the record arguably demonstrates that Head was responsible for directing other individuals in menial tasks" but asserted the district court erred when it did not make a factual finding that Head managed or supervised other individuals involved in the conspiracy.