March 2013 Archives

March 25, 2013

Short Wins - A Remand In An Export Control Case

There's only one published win in the last week for a criminal defendant in our federal circuit courts. Gotta love a good case involving the Munitions List.

I would suspect that we should look forward to a slower stream of cases from the circuits as the country's budget crisis plunges forward.

Many of my friends are Assistant Federal Public Defenders, and, over the next few weeks these folks - who are already underpaid for a lawyer - will have to take furlough days. I know these folks and what a furlough will mean. Most of them aren't going to work less hard, they're just going to get paid less.

There's a nice article in the Huffington Post about the furloughs in federal defender offices.

There's a great quote in the article by United States District Judge Catherine C. Blake:

"It's important that people who don't have any power and any voice have people to speak for them . . . You never know when you might need the 6th Amendment."

I think Judge Blake is the finest judge on the federal district court bench because of her wisdom, her raw intelligence, and the caliber of her law clerks. It's great to see her speaking out on this important issue.

To the victory:

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Wu, First Circuit: Appellants were convicted of violating restrictions on the overseas shipment of weapons-grade technologies. Two of the convictions were for exporting items restricted under the U.S. Munitions List. The district court erred in not submitting to the jury an element of the offense. This violated appellants' Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Because the error wasn't harmless, appellants' convictions on these two counts were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

March 24, 2013

Indian Tribal Documents Are Not Documents From The Federal Government Even When The Federal Government Wants Them To Be

My grandmother was part Cherokee. I am, I understand, something around one sixty-fourth Cherokee. And, I understand, for years my grandmother's family tried to hide their Indian status.

They did that for a lot of reasons, but a big one is how the federal government would prefer it if fewer folks were Native American.

Oh, how times change - now the government wants folks to be Indians, as the Ninth Circuit's opinion in United States v. Alvirez shows us.

Every Unhappy Family Is Unhappy In Its Own Way

Edgar Mike Alvirez's family had gotten together to spend some time in each other's company. They were at his mother's house. His girlfriend was there. A woman named Drametria Havatone was also there.

At some point, Mr. Alvirez's mother and Ms. Havatone got to talking about how Mr. Alvirez doesn't help his mother out with her financial needs.

By way of counterpoint, Mr. Alvirez's girlfriend - and another woman - starting punching and kicking Ms. Havatone. Ms. Havatone was forcibly removed from the house by the two women.

She fell to the ground. If you believe what the jury did, as she lay there, Mr. Alvirez stepped on her ankle, breaking it badly in several places.

1386479_old_paper.jpgThe Law In Indian Country

Mr. Alvirez was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1153, which is a peculiar statute. Though it's called "Assaults in Indian Country", what it says is that it applies to an assault by an Indian:

Any Indian who commits against the person or property of another Indian or other person . . . assault resulting in serious bodily injury . . . within the Indian country, shall be subject to the same law and penalties as all other persons . . . within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.

So, to prove that Mr. Alvirez violated section 1153, the government had to prove that he committed assault resulting in serious bodily injury and that he is an Indian.

The Ninth Circuit explained how proving up Indian status works (internal citations omitted):

We apply a two-prong test to determine if this element has been met. First, the government must prove "that the defendant has a sufficient degree of Indian blood," and second, the government must establish that the defendant "has tribal or federal government recognition as an Indian."

To prove the first part of that, the Ninth Circuit has explained,

To satisfy the first prong, the government need only prove that the defendant has "some" Indian blood as a descendant of an Indian parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent.

One way to satisfy this test is by introducing a Certificate of Indian Blood.

Some Documents Are Better Than Others

At Mr. Alvirez's trial, the government introduced a Certificate of Indian Blood through an agent. It argued that the document, which was issued by an Indian tribe, was self-authenticating under Federal Rule of Evidence 902(1).

Though the district court let the certificate in, on appeal this argument lost. The Ninth Circuit held that a certificate from an Indian Tribe is not self-authenticating. Rule 902(1) lists the entities that can issue a self-authenticating document: "United States; a State of the United States; a commonwealth, territory, or insular possession of the United States; the Panama Canal Zone; and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands"

Indian tribes aren't on the list.

The Federal Government Sometimes Wants Indian Tribes To Be A Part Of The Federal Government

The government also argued that tribes are basically a part of the federal government - so tribal documents are basically federal government documents. This, too, was shot down:

Tribes are "sovereigns or quasi sovereigns," Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Mfg. Tech., Inc., 523 U.S. 751, 757 (1998), not one of the political entities into which the federal government is divided, see Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49, 56 (1978) ("As separate sovereigns pre-existing the Constitution, tribes have historically been regarded as unconstrained by those constitutional provisions framed specifically as limitations on federal or state authority.").

Because the Certificate came in, it shouldn't have, and it went to whether Mr. Alvirez is an Indian for section 1153 purposes, the conviction was vacated and the case was remanded for a new trial.

This was a cool, tough case - nice work to AFPD Dan Kaplan for the win!

March 18, 2013

Short Wins - Day After St. Patrick's Day Edition

It's a good week for violent crime in the federal circuits - a robbery case from the First Circuit and an assault in Indian country winding up in the Ninth Circuit. And both resulted in a defendant-friendly remand. Go federal appeals courts!

Though I suppose the big news from last's week's defense wins in the federal appeals courts is the Third Circuit's United States v. Reynolds. There, the Third Circuit struck down a conviction for failing to register as a sex offender because the Attorney General's rule that applied SORNA (the federal statute that federalizes sex offender registry - because Congress thinks there simply cannot be enough federal criminal statutes) wasn't totally compliant with notice and comment rulemaking, in as much as there wasn't an opportunity for notice and comment on the rule before it was made.

It's a great issue - kudos to the Third Circuit for thinking the APA is the law even when it applies to people accused of crimes.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Almeida, First Circuit: Appellant was indicted and convicted of burglary. The court applied a robbery sentencing guideline, resulting in a sentence about twice what it would have been under the burglary guideline. Note 1 to guideline § 1B1.2 and the guidelines' Statutory Appendix provide that where the guidelines specify more than one offense guideline for an offense and no plea agreement agrees to a more serious offense, the court must pick the most appropriate guideline based only on the conduct in the indictment. Because the court picked a guideline that wasn't based on bank burglary, appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

2. United States v. Alvirez, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of assault resulting in serious bodily injury on an Indian reservation. Because Indian tribes aren't listed among the groups that may produce self-authenticating documents, the court abused its discretion in admitting an unauthenticated Certificate of Indian Blood as evidence that appellant has recognition as an Indian. Because the error wasn't harmless, appellant's conviction was reversed and the case remanded.

3. United States v. Reynolds, Third Circuit: Appellant was convicted of sexual assault and required to register as a sex offender. Years later, the Sex Offender and Registration Notification Act ("SORNA") was passed, which required sex offenders to comply with certain registration requirements. A rule was passed that made SONRA applicable to pre-SONRA offenders like appellant, but didn't provide a period for notice and comment on the rule. Because the Attorney General didn't have good cause to waive the notice and comment, the lack of good cause prejudiced appellant. As a result, appellant's conviction for failing to register was vacated.

4. United States v. Williams, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute oxycodone. Because the district court erred in applying a two-level enhancement for obstructing justice under § 3C1.1, appellant's sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

March 14, 2013

If You Transfer Someone's Personal Identity Information, You Don't Necessarily Use It, And They Aren't A Victim Of Your Identity Theft Conspriacy

Erica Hall was an office assistant at an OB/GYN office in Coral Springs, Florida. The job may not have paid well, because Ms. Hall was trying to make some extra cash on the side by selling patient information to some folks who would use it to get fake credit cards.

1385735_sterilisation.jpgMs. Hall was told by the folks the government described as her coconspirators that for every patient's personal information she handed over, she'd be paid $200. If the information was able to be used to create a credit card that could be used, she'd be paid $1000 for that patient information.

Even though Ms. Hall handed over information for between 65 to 141 folks, and that 16 of those people had information that could be used to make fake credit cards, she was only paid $200.

If you can't trust a co-conspirator, who can you trust.

Ms. Hall pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to identity theft, and wrongfully obtaining and transferring someone's health information.

When the probation officer wrote her presentence report, she was given a four-level enhancement for the offense involving more than 50 victims.

Ms. Hall objected to the "more than 50 victim" enhancement - she argued that a "victim" for the purposes of the fraud guidelines, is only someone who suffers and actual loss.

The district court didn't agree though. The district court "concluded that the intentional transfer of information in exchange for consideration constituted actual use for the purposes of § 2B1.1(b)(2)(B)."

The Eleventh Circuit, in United States v. Hall, reversed the district court and vacated the sentence based on this application of the number of victims enhancement.

First, as the court of appeals pointed out,

Application Note 4(E) provides that a "'victim' means (i) any victim as defined in Application Note 1; or (ii) any individual whose means of identification was used unlawfully or without authority."

So, when the identity information was transferred, was that a use of the information?

The Eleventh Circuit said no:

When we apply the rules of statutory construction to the enhancement, we disagree with the district court's interpretation. We first consider the plain meaning of the word "used" as elaborated upon in Application Note 4E. As the Supreme Court noted in Bailey, the word "use" means "to convert to one's service," "[t]o employ," "to avail oneself of," and "to carry out a purpose or action by means of." 516 U.S. at 145, 116 S. Ct. at 506. In other words, "use" is the "application or employment of something . . . for the purpose for which it is adapted." Black's Law Dictionary 1681 (9th ed. 2009). "These various definitions of 'use' imply action and implementation." Bailey, 516 U.S. at 145, 116 S. Ct. at 506. On the contrary, the definition of "transfer" is "[t]o convey or remove from one place or one person to another; to pass or hand over from one to another, esp. to change over the possession or control of" and "[t]o sell or give." Black's Law Dictionary 1636. Transfer means something distinctly different than use.

If I transfer my car to you, that doesn't necessarily mean that I use it - I could just sign over the title. So, as the court of appeals found, transferring identity information - as Ms. Hall did - is a separate thing than using identity information - the thing that gets you the enhancement for the number of victims.

And Ms. Hall will go back for resentencing.

March 11, 2013

Short Wins - Slow News Day Edition

Only one win last week - on a technical issue of what counts as a crime of violence, statutory rape, and sentencing law.

Pity.

To the victory!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Rangel-Castaneda, Fourth Circuit: The district court incorrectly classified appellant's Tennessee statutory rape conviction as a generic "statutory rape" offense and, by extension, a "crime of violence" under the sentencing guidelines enhancement in § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii). This is because Tennessee's provision is significantly broader than the generic offense: in Tennessee, the age of consent is 18, while the "generic, contemporary meaning" of statutory rape sets it at 16. For these reasons, the case was remanded for resentencing.

March 6, 2013

The Third Circuit Shows How The Sentencing Guidelines For Fraud Are Complicated; Victims and Losses Bamboozle The Government And District Court

The federal sentencing guidelines are probably the most problematic in three areas - fraud, child pornography, and drugs.

Today's case, United States v. Diallo, illustrates two of the big problems with the fraud guidelines. First, they're really complicated - so complicated that federal prosecutors sometimes don't really understand how they work. In this case, the prosecutor at sentencing took a position so clearly inconsistent with the guidelines that the government abandoned it for the appeal.

(An astute reader will notice that this means the district court went along with the federal prosecutor's flawed guidelines understanding. It's a shame, but c'est la guerre.).

Second, the fraud guidelines are driven by what the "intended loss" is. And "loss" for sentencing guidelines purposes is a squishy notion. And squishy notions are bad when you're trying to figure out how much prison time to give someone.

785364_creditcard.jpgCredit Card Problems

Issa Diallo had a problem with credit cards. Sure, like many Americans, he charged more than he should of. Unlike many Americans, he put these charges on cards that weren't issued to him.

He went into a Wegman's (it's a grocery store, for our geographically diverse readers) and bought 26 gift cards with a counterfeit credit card. The next day he came back to do it again and was arrested.

Law enforcement went into his car with a warrant. They found a treasure trove of stolen identity documents:

53 counterfeit credit cards, a counterfeit Louisiana driver's license, 24 gift cards, a Global Positioning System (GPS), a laptop computer, a thumb drive, and a skimming device, which is a hand-held device that copies, stores, and encodes credit card information from a credit card's magnetic strip. A subsequent search by Secret Service agents resulted in the discovery of a second thumb drive and another gift card. Searches of the laptop and thumb drives revealed over 200 compromised Discover, Visa, and MasterCard credit card accounts.

He pled guilty to having counterfeit credit cards under 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(3). In the plea, there was no agreement about the number of victims or the amount of the loss. These are, of course, massively important to figuring out the guidelines range under U.S.S.C. § 2B1.1.

What's It Take To Be A Victim?

At sentencing, a Secret Service agent testified that there were credit cards for 51 financial institutions in Mr. Diallo's possession.

There's a four-level guidelines enhancement if there are more than 50 victims.

The government said that meant there were more than 50 victims, so the enhancement for more than 50 victims should apply.

The defense lawyer argued that "victim" for purposes of the number of victims enhancement, means people who actually lost money as a result of Mr. Diallo's criminal conduct.

What's the loss amount?

The Secret Service Agent testified that only $160,000 was actually charged on the cards that Mr. Diallo had. Though when you add up the credit limits for each of the cards, the total amount that could have been charged was $1.6 million.

So, since "loss" for the guidelines purposes means the higher of actual loss or "intended loss" - the amount that a person could reasonably think could have been lost as a result of the office - the government said that Mr. Diallo should have known that the loss could have been $1.6 million.

Mr. Diallo's attorney was able to get the agent to acknowledge that there was no way Mr. Diallo could have known what the credit limit on the cards was absent a subpoena.

The District Court Speaks

These were hotly contested questions. There was testimony and argument. The Third Circuit reports that:

The Court's analysis on these two issues consisted of the following: "The intended loss for credit cards he personally used and the cards he manufactured and provided to others totaled $1.6 million. Over 50 financial institutions were affected by his actions. So obviously it is a very serious offense."

It's not the most satisfying way to grapple with a hotly litigated legal issue.

The Appeal

On appeal, the government - perhaps reading the commentary for the sentencing guidelines that applied to this case relating to the number of victims enhancement for the first time - acknowledged that "victim" means "someone who suffered a loss."

Since not all of the financial institutions had cards that were actually used by Mr. Diallo, there weren't 50 or more companies that were actually harmed. So the government abandoned the "number of victims" argument.

Good on them for admitting their error. Perhaps it would have been better to do that before the sentencing hearing, but better late than never.

Turning to the loss amount issue, the Third Circuit started by setting the stage

This appeal requires us to determine how sentencing courts should calculate what "pecuniary harm was intended to result" from credit card fraud when the fraud's perpetrator did not know the credit limit, which is the potential loss amount from the stolen credit card.

The appellate court reasoned that if the district court had really done a searching analysis and decided that there was a reasoned basis for thinking that Mr. Diallo meant to take the full limit of each card, that could be supported, perhaps, depending on how good the reasoning was.

But that's not what happened here. And the Third Circuit was really not impressed with what the district court did.

from the District Court's statement at sentencing--"The intended loss for credit cards he personally used and the cards he manufactured and provided to others totaled $1.6 million" App. 30-31--we would be speculating as to what evidence or argument was the basis for the District Court's finding that $1.6 million was Diallo's intended loss amount. This type of "speculation 'is inappropriate' in light of the inherently discretionary nature of the sentencing court's decision."

The case was sent back for resentencing.

March 4, 2013

Short Wins - It's a Relatively Good Week For The Constitution

It's a good week in the federal circuits for folks accused of a crime.

Instead of the all-too-common diet of sentencing remands, there are some nice wins on our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and against uncounseled statements to law enforcement. Well done appellate counsel!

And, what week would be complete without an opinion on restitution in child pornography cases.

To the Victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Black, Fourth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm after his motion to suppress the firearm was denied. Because the officers who stopped him lacked reasonable suspicion to believe he was engaged in a crime, the stop violated the Fourth Amendment, and the firearm should have been suppressed as fruit of the unlawful search. For these reasons, the district court's ruling on the motion was reversed and appellant's conviction and sentence were vacated.

2. United States v. Gamble, Sixth Circuit: Appellants were convicted of two unrelated child pornography offenses and ordered to pay over $1 million in restitution to "Vicky," one of the people depicted in the images. Because the courts did not require a showing of proximate cause between Vicky's losses and the appellants' offenses, remand for that analysis was required. Furthermore, on remand, the lower courts must reconsider the extent to which appellants must pay restitution where they share responsibility for Vicky's injuries with hundreds of other child pornography viewers.

3. United States v. Ramirez, First Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and distribution of crack cocaine. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Because the record was unclear as to whether the court applied an enhancement for knowingly or intentionally using a minor person when committing the offenses, remand was required to resolve this question.

4. United States v. Hunter, Seventh Circuit: The district court properly granted appellant's motion to suppress statements he made to police after asking for his attorney. Because appellant unambiguously and unequivocally invoked his right to counsel, the officers should have stopped questioning him. As a result, the statements appellant made after asking for his attorney were properly suppressed.

5. United States v. Bell, D.C. Circuit: Appellant was convicted of conspiring to possess and distribute PCP. He argued that his lawyer was ineffective because the lawyer didn't tell him that he could have received a lower sentence under the "safety valve" provision of the Guidelines. Appellant also said his lawyer was ineffective because the lawyer didn't request a continuance at the sentencing hearing when it became apparent that appellant didn't about the safety valve. Because the record suggested a serious possibility that the lawyer was ineffective and that this ineffectiveness prejudiced appellant, remand was proper to resolve this uncertainty.

6. United States v. Moore, Fourth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of carjacking, using a firearm in the carjacking, and conspiracy. Because the district court erred in denying appellant's motion for a new trial, which was based in part on newly discovered evidence that a picture of a potential suspect in the underlying offenses was mislabeled, his conviction was vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

March 2, 2013

When Counting Bribes For Sentencing Guidelines Purposes, You Only Count The Ones That Actually Happened

Michael Roussel used to be a Captain in the New Orleans Police Department. As you might expect, he was convicted of bribery.

After his conviction at trial, he went to sentencing. The judge determined that an enhancement for receiving more than one bribe was warranted. The Fifth Circuit, in United States v. Rousel, disagreed.

419055_rainy_night_in_the_french_quar.jpgSynergy

Mr. Roussel was friends with Joey Branch. As a result of Mr. Branch's plea and cooperation agreement with the federal government, one suspects that they are no longer friends.

But back in 2008, Mr. Branch was an entrepreneur trying to place private security guards and Mr. Roussel was a police official with deep connections in a police force that has a tradition of officer's moonlighting as private security guards.

There was synergy in their relationship.

Of course, the thing about success is that one naturally wants it to continue and build. What was once an exciting threshold quickly starts to look like a stale plateau. And so it was with Mr. Branch and Mr. Roussel. Soon, they were working together to try to get more business for Mr. Branch's company. And that involved recorded calls to a confidential informant.

The informant worked for an energy company, and part of his job was to hire security guards during natural disasters. Roussel, Branch, and the informant agreed that uncertified, but falsely represented as certified, guards would be hired by the informant's company in exchange for the three splitting the profits and a fake job for the informant's wife.

Mr. Roussel ultimately gave $1,000 to the informant as earnest money of a sort. He and Mr. Branch were arrested soon after that - no other money was made.

Is Each Payment A Separate Bribe?

At sentencing, the district court determined that Mr. Roussel should receive a guidelines enhancement for being involved in multiple bribes.

Here's what the district court said:

[w]hat was intended was a series of actions over a period of time. This contract was to continue for some period of time in the future . . . . It could not be anticipated exactly when they would occur, but whenever there would be a presidentially declared natural catastrophe or emergency and Entergy would be required to immediately beef up its security force, then . . . Gladius, would be called upon to supply security officers, . . . but in any event, it seems to me that that is very different from a one-time agreement to pay a bribe that is then just paid over in installments. This was going to be a series of actions. Effectively another bribe to be paid every time there was another event that occurred.

If you're bribing a public official and tell him that you're going to give him, say $10,000 for selecting your bid for a federal contract, and you pay him in two installments of $5,000, is that one bribe or two? One can see how this could be a hard question.

Here, though, the Fifth Circuit thought it wasn't that tricky - in counting the number of bribes, you don't look at all the stuff that could have happened if the full deal went through. Instead, you look at what actually happened.

Or, as the court of appeals said

Simply put, the government proved the payment of only one bribe--the $1,000 "good faith" money to Dabdoub. The rest was all speculative.

Mr. Roussel is going back for resentencing.