Articles Posted in Guilty Pleas

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The First Circuit’s decision in United States v. Lopez-Pastrana, 15-1894 (1st. Cir. May 4, 2018) is long, but can be summed up simply: federal courts can’t impose a term of supervised release on a charge that resulted in no prison time, even if the sentencing court is trying to help the defendant obtain federally-subsidized medical care for a serious condition.  Here’s what happened in Lopez-Pastrana:

The Government charged Mr. Lopez-Pastrana with two drug crimes and two weapons crimes.  He entered into a plea agreement.  Mr. Lopez-Pastrana would plead guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute (Count III) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking (Count IV).  In exchange, the Government would dismiss Counts I and II.  The agreed-upon (but non-binding) sentencing range was zero to six months imprisonment for Count III, and a 60 month mandatory-minimum on Count IV.  Of course, there was an appeal waiver in the plea agreement.

At sentencing, Mr. Lopez-Pastrana explained he has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”), which, if you believe the commercial, makes you feel like an elephant or some other large animal is sitting on your chest.  His sentencing attorney told the district court that Mr. Lopez-Pastrana had a 20% chance of surviving the next four years.  The Government thought he was overstating the matter.  According to the Government, the Bureau of Prisons represented that “his medical condition is not an end-stage disease” and that his condition had improved during the four months he was incarcerated and awaiting sentencing.  (Aside: BOP has a very high opinion of its ability to care for sick people.  Check out the 11th Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Seecharan, where a defendant’s doctor opined the defendant would die of infection if he went to prison, and the district court ordered incarceration based on BOP’s response was that it “could handle anything.”  Happily, the 11th Circuit reversed for resentencing).

Back to Mr. Lopez-Pastrana. The district court sentenced him to 60 months in a prison medical facility on Count IV, with 5 years of supervised release.  But the sentence on Count III engendered some debate.  The district court basically gave Mr. Lopez-Pastrana an ultimatum.  Option 1: 12 months of home confinement with federally funded medical care as a condition of supervised release, and no time in prison.  Option 2: 6 months in prison.  Mr. Lopez-Pastrana took the 12 months of home confinement and appealed.

Michael Brownlee is board-certified as an appellate expert by the Florida Bar.  He practices in federal appellate courts around the country and is the founding member of The Brownlee Law Firm.  To learn more visit appealattorney.com or email Mike at mbrownlee@brownleelawfirmpa.com.

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United States v. Fard is a nice study in the wrong way for a lawyer to handle a plea hearing.

Let me say, at the start, that I get that a plea hearing can be hard. Sometimes a lawyer sees what’s in his client’s best interests more clearly than the client. There can be a temptation to push a client really hard to take a plea when the client doesn’t want to. And getting a client who has reluctantly inked a plea through a plea hearing can also be hard.

There are few things you can do to handle that. Maybe you spend more time with the client explaining why a plea makes sense. Maybe you talk – with permission – to the client’s loved ones about whether a plea makes sense. Maybe, if the client doesn’t want to plead, you reflect that it’s the client’s Sixth Amendment right to go to trial, and not the lawyer’s and you take the case to trial.

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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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Michael Louchart sold some guns. They were stolen and he knew it.

The feds caught up to him and charged him with conspiracy to steal firearms and with receiving and selling stolen firearms, each of which violated 18 U.S.C. § 922. In the indictment, the government said that Mr. Louchart was involved in the theft of more than 75 firearms.

It’s not a coincidence that if a person steals more than 75 firearms they are then eligible for a sentencing enhancement under the sentencing guidelines.

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You’ve got to feel for federal district judges.

Their caseloads are going up as the Senate refuses to confirm judges to replace those who have left the bench. Justice Scalia doesn’t respect them. Their pay hasn’t been meaningfully increased in years.

So you could understand why a federal district court judge would want to have fewer trials.

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Jesus Rodriguez took a long time coming to the truth. But in his appeal in United States v. Rodriguez, the D.C. Circuit held that, sometimes, coming to the truth late is coming soon enough.

Mr. Rodriguez was indicted for cocaine distribution. He faced a five-year mandatory minimum.

There Are Two Ways To Get Under A Mandatory Minimum Sentence

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As the Supreme Court reminded us a few weeks ago, most criminal cases end in a plea. United States v. Saferstein, from the Third Circuit, is a stark reminder of how a plea can go sideways, and a lovely example of one feature of federal plea practice – appeal waivers.

GoInternet – They Made Money The New Fashioned Way

Mr. Saferstein was the CEO of GoInternet.

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Everyone makes mistakes. Even criminal defense lawyers.

Luis Juarez bought a gun. When he bought the gun, he said that he was a U.S. citizen. The government thought he was lying about that.

Mr. Juarez was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 911, which criminalizes making a false statement about being a United States citizen.

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The Supreme Court recently decided two cases about what a lawyer has to do when representing a client deciding whether to take a guilty plea or go to trial – Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye.

These cases hold, basically, that if a defense lawyer messes up when representing a person in connection with a decision to plead guilty, that violates the person’s constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. As a result, the harm that was done by the lawyer’s mistake can, and must, be undone. So, a person who was hurt by a lawyer’s mistake can challenge what happened to him and possibly have a conviction or sentence undone.

The New York Times took the notable step of issuing an editorial praising the decisions. Lots of folks have commented on the effects of the rulings (like this guest post at Sentencing Law and Policy).

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The federal criminal justice system runs on pleas. If every person charged with a crime demanded that the courts give them the attention that the Constitution guarantees them, United States Attorney’s Offices wouldn’t be able to prosecute as many people as they do, and federal district courts would grind to a halt.

In the New York Times this week, Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University – who wrote The New Jim Crow, arguing that our criminal justice policy is, in essence, a continuation of America’s legacy of not being so awesome about issues of race – wrote a piece arguing that criminal defense lawyers should band together and insist that all our clients go to trial to crash the system.

1226064_prison_cells_2.jpgThe Michelle Alexander piece has generated all kinds of attention, from geeky to professional.