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We have too many federal criminal laws – more than 4,000. And, as frequent readers of this blog will note, there are times when the federal government prosecutes a person that is a close call – it may or may not be a crime.

673264_hammer_to_fall.jpgFor example, in United States v. Costello, the government prosecuted a woman for giving her boyfriend a ride from the bus station on the theory that this was “harboring” an illegal alien. (read my prior write-up on the case here).

In marginal cases like these, the defense normally argues that this is government overreaching. The government normally brushes aside this argument saying, in essence, “trust us.” “We,” the government continues, “have scarce resources and good judgment. We won’t prosecute anyone except for really bad people.”

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There are a handful of resentencing remands in the federal courts last week.

Perhaps most interesting is United States v. Francois, remanding because the sentence imposed exceeded the statutory maximum. One doesn’t see that too often (though it’s preserved in even the most aggressive appeal waivers – I think of it as a theoretical thing rather than a real meaningful risk, but, hey, last week was the week.).

To the victories!

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October 29, 2007 started bad for Cortez Fisher.

He walked out of his house and the Baltimore police approached him (he lived in Baltimore). They asked to talk to him. He said no. He tried to drive away, but backed into a cop car.

He was arrested and searched – they found empty glass vials in his pants pocket.

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Many white-collar cases start the same way – a person is an entrepreneur. He has a vision for a business he’d like to build. He wants to do great things and reform an industry.

Things are going well, but he wants to move to that next level. Getting to the next level – whatever it is – takes a little faith, a little elbow grease, and, sometimes, a few cut corners.

The trouble with cutting corners is that once you start to cut them, then get hard to uncut. The corner cutting gets baked into your business model. At some point, the cost of fixing the corner cutting exceeds what you think you can spend on it.

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Last week was a great week for folks appealing a federal conviction.

In United States v. Garrido and again in United States v. Cone fraud convictions were reversed by the Ninth Circuit and the Fourth Circuit. Separately, in the Ninth Circuit, a conviction was reversed and remanded for a Miranda violation in United States v. Barnes.

There was also a bit of news in the continuing budget problems plaguing federal defender’s offices – two federal judges wrote a nice op-ed in the Washington Post about the problem.

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Bernard Kurlemann may have done many things – he borrowed millions to build a pair of houses in Mason, Ohio, for example – but he did not make a false statement to a bank.

And the Sixth Circuit, in United States v. Kurlemann, held that the district court was wrong to instruct the jury that it could convict him for anything less.

1418355_flag_blowing_in_the_breeze.jpgThe Costs of Owning Expensive Real Estate

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Three opinions are in this week’s “short wins” – on restitution calculation, competency in a bank robbery case, and the Fair Sentencing Act.

And, in federal public defender budget news, the New York Times had an editorial last week calling for more sensible funding of the government services required by the Constitution. Here’s the best bit:

The right to counsel is already badly battered in state courts, largely because most states grossly underfinance the representation of impoverished defendants. Indigent defense in federal criminal cases has served as an admirable contrast because of the high quality and availability of federal defenders. Now this system is in peril. Federal defenders will not be able to take the time to visit clients in prison or search for facts that could raise doubts about clients’ guilt.

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United States v. Izurieta is an odd opinion. Turns out the Eleventh Circuit was a very good defense attorney in this case.

Two brothers – Yuri and Anneri Izurieta – ran an import/export business. They brought food into the United States from Central America.

999830__3.jpgThey were charged with not following FDA procedures when they brought food into the country that – according to a trial stipulation – contained e coli and salmonella.

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Last week was an active week in the federal appeals courts.

Perhaps most interesting – especially to those who are concerned about the state of our federal public defenders – is the Second Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Barton. There, a federal defender tried to get out of a case but the judge wouldn’t let him out.

On those facts, it turns out that was reversible error.

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Two wins in the Eighth Circuit – nice. Other than that, it’s a whole lot of resentencing news.

In news related to last week’s short wins post, though, where I lamented that Assistant Federal Public Defenders will be doing the same work with less pay, here’s more information about the horrible budget/employment situation in our country’s federal defender’s offices.

In particular, I received an email calling me out for underdescribing how bad the situation is.