Friday, August 27, 2010

No Title to Capture Truly Deplorable and Heinous Facts

Trying to catch up with our AFPDs' summaries. This case is truly horrible. Defendants were guards at a detention center. Interesting discussion of plain error, Apprendi, and other issues.

WESLEY LANHAM (08-6504; 09-5094);

SHAWN FREEMAN (08-6506; 09-5095),

Direct Appeal


Defendant were convicted of violating an inmate’s civil rights in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242, and of making a false entry in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519. They were prison jailers when an inmate (J.S.) was raped in jail. Defendants and their supervisor decided to "scare" J.S. after the latter was arrested for a traffic violation. They placed him in a general population jail cell and incited atrocities. Defendants appealed their convictions and sentences, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions, and Defendant Freeman claimed that he was entitled to a downward sentencing departure. The government appealed the district court’s application of the 2006 Sentencing Guidelines to the defendants’ sentences and the court's refusal to apply a sentencing enhancement to Defendant Lanham.

The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court sets of the facts of the offense in painful detail in the first 7 pages of the opinion. The conduct of these defendants was egregious.

The Circuit Court ruled that, although the trial court had abused its discretion in failing to exclude two jurors for cause, the error was harmless, as the jurors were struck peremptorily. The government’s striking of a third juror for cause was correctly allowed by the trial court. The panel was constitutionally acceptable.

The trial court’s limitation on the scope of cross-examination was reviewed for plain error where there was no preserved objection. Since there is no 6th Circuit case on point, the Court of Appeals looked to other circuits and found a split of authority. In that case, plain error cannot be found.

"Where there are conflicting authorities, the district court could not have committed plain error." Court found that, at a minimum, a court of appeals cannot correct an error unless that error is clear under current law. Because the law on the issue was not clear, the district court did not commit plain error.

There was sufficient evidence as to each defendant to convict each of violating the inmate’s civil rights. As to filing false reports, the wilful omission of facts is sufficient falsification to be a crime.

The enhancement under the statute was properly submitted to the jury. The defendants were charged under 18 U.S.C. § 241 for conspiring to violate J.S.’s civil rights. The indictment charged that the acts in furtherance of the conspiracy included aggravated sexual abuse; the statute establishes a ten year maximum sentence for those convicted under the statute. But it includes an increased penalty of "any term of years or for life" if the conspiracy included an act of aggravated sexual abuse.

Because the question of whether an act of sexual abuse occurred is a factual issue that increases the penalty for a violation of § 241 beyond the otherwise prescribed statutory maximum, the question had to be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000). The district court properly submitted the question of whether aggravated sexual abuse occurred to the jury, and adopted the definition of aggravated sexual abuse found in 18 U.S.C. § 2241 (Court cites 1998 version).

The sentence reduction for minimal was properly denied to Defendant Freeman.

The trial court’s use of the guidelines in effect at the time of the crimes was appropriate in the face of appeal by the government. Ex Post Facto concerns would have been implicated by use of a later version of the advisory guidelines and the trial court correctly recognized those concerns.

The trial court’s decision not to apply a leadership role to Defendant Lanham’s guideline scoring was appropriate and supported by the record.

The court sentenced Lanham to 180 months and Freeman to 168 months in prison.

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