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.

Perjury
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.

Leadership
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.

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