April 11, 2013

Short Wins - Public Defender Withdrawals of Two Kinds

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.

As the federal defender budget crisis gets worse, this kind of opinion may be comforting?

As you may have heard, there's been a lot of coverage of the federal defender budget situation in the press in the last week. The federal defender for the Southern District of Ohio laid himself off rather than do the same to his people. NPR had a big story on the federal defender system which is worth a listen.

What's frustrating about a lot of this coverage is that it blames the whole problem on the sequester. While the sequester is, of course, not helping, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced the budget restructuring on February 14th, before the sequester hit (and, even, before it was clear the sequester was going to hit).

The sequester is bad. And I'm all for getting the word out on that. But it seems that the FPD problem is also the result of something going on that isn't terribly indigent-defense friendly in the AO.

And, with that, to the victories,

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Baird, First Circuit: Appellant was convicted of possession of a stolen firearm. At trial, the court refused to give a jury instruction that would have allowed him to assert the defense of "innocent possession" of the stolen weapon. Because appellant was entitled to that instruction, his conviction was vacated and the case remanded for a new trial.

2. United States v. Barton, Second Circuit: An assistant federal public defender made a motion to withdraw from representing a defendant in a criminal case. The court abused its discretion by forcing the attorney to continue the representation because the defendant, after being informed of his right to counsel, refused to recognize the public defender as his attorney, said he didn't want an appointed attorney, and didn't attempt to establish his financial eligibility for appointed counsel.

3. United States v. Benoit, Tenth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of receipt and possession of child pornography. Because these convictions arose out of the same depictions, the convictions violated the double jeopardy clause, requiring remand to vacate one of the convictions and sentences. Additionally, because the court did not explain whether the specific losses suffered by the victim were proximately caused by appellant's action, remand for redetermination of the portion of damages attributable to appellant was required.

4. United States v. Doyle, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to failing to register as a sex offender and was sentenced to three years and one month in prison, followed by ten years' supervised release, which was subject to four special conditions. Because the court procedurally erred in failing to explain the reasons for imposing the special conditions, and because the record doesn't otherwise explain the basis for them, the special conditions were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

5. United States v. Fisher, Fourth Circuit.pdf: Appellant pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon. The officer responsible for the investigation that led to the appellant's arrest and guilty plea later pled guilty to defrauding the justice system. In particular, the officer admitted lying in the affidavit underpinning the warrant for appellant's home and car, where evidence forming the basis of the charge to which appellant pled guilty was found. The officer's affirmative misrepresentation, which informed appellants' decision to plead guilty, rendered appellant's plea involuntary and violated his due process rights. As a result, the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to vacate his plea.

6. United States v. LKAV, Juvenile Male, Ninth Circuit: Tribal authorities of the Tohono O'odham nation charged a juvenile with murder in 2009. In 2011, the United States filed its own charge against the juvenile and moved to commit him to an adult medical facility for psychiatric evaluation. Because the district court erred in committing the juvenile under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), rather than § 5037(e), reversal was required.

7. United States v. Logan, Eighth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 156 months in prison, which was later reduced to 120 months based on substantial assistance she provided after sentencing. Later, appellant filed a motion to reduce her sentence based on an amendment to the advisory guidelines that lowered the base offense levels for certain crack offenses. The district court erred in finding appellant wasn't eligible for a sentence reduction under her plea agreement. She was. Consequently, the case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog is published by The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC in Washington, DC. The Kaiser Law Firm represents people who have been charged with federal crimes, are under federal investigation, or have a federal criminal appeal.

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