Articles Posted in Interpreting Statutes

Published on:

It’s exceptionally rare for the Fourth Circuit to reverse a life sentence for someone who caused another person to die in the course of a botched bank robbery. And when the panel that heard the appeal has both Judges Wilkinson, and Niemeyer – whoa nelly – that’s one whopper of a government error.

1097248_guard_with_machine_gun.jpgA Bank Robbery Gone Bad

September 28, 2008 did not turn out the way Larry Whitfield had planned.

Published on:

Ours is a large and complicated government. Much of it isn’t run by statutes or cases, but by regulations.

Violating a regulation can be a crime – depending on the regulation.

Regulations are strange animals. They can be challenged under the Administrative Procedures Act. If you don’t like what an agency does, the APA gives you a mechanism to complain about it to a judge.

Published on:

If you’re reading this at work, you may be committing a federal crime (depending on where you are reading it, and you’re employer’s policies about reading the internet). Here’s hoping you don’t get charged!

If you’d willing to brave the threat of Johnny Law, or you’re at home, please read on.

Mr. Nosal Wanted To Start A New Company

Published on:

Former Congressman William Jefferson, a son of New Orleans, will perhaps be best known for having been found with cash – cold, hard, cash – in his freezer.

He was convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia of eleven charges in connection with a bribery scheme involving his role as a member of Congress and officials in Africa. In a major coup for his lawyer, he was not convicted of the offense involving the cash found in his freezer.

IMG_3793.jpgHe was convicted, alas. And, the Fourth Circuit affirmed 10 of his 11 counts of conviction in United States v. Jefferson.

Published on:

As frequent readers of this blog know, the Armed Career Criminal Act gets a lot of appellate attention.

Simply put, if you’ve been previously convicted of a felony, and you’re found with a gun, that’s a federal crime. Normally, the most you can get for that crime is 10 years.

But, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, if you have three prior convictions for either a crime of violence or a drug distribution offense, then you face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, and a maximum sentence of life.

Published on:

James Kimsey was not a lawyer.

But when Frederick Rizzolo was deep in a hard bit of contentious litigation, James Kimsey wanted to help out. Mr. Rizzolo’s lawyers withdrew from the case. Mr. Rizzolo tried to go on without a lawyer, but his efforts were poor. One can imagine that Mr. Rizzolo felt the situation was bleak.

68920_law_education_series_5.jpgJames Kimsey came to the rescue. While not a lawyer, Mr. Kimsey had some prior legal experience – he was previously sanctioned for the unauthorized practice of law. He was also, apparently, willing to work for free.

Published on:

Deanna Costello’s love knew no boundaries. Literally. For years she had a romantic relationship with a man who was not in the United States lawfully. It led to a strong judicial slapdown of the Department of Justice by one of our nation’s leading jurists, in United States v. Costello.

Ms. Costello’s Boyfriend

Ms. Costello lived in Cahokia, Illinois, perhaps five miles from St. Louis. She lived with a man from Mexico for a year ending in July 2003. That time ended when he was arrested on a federal drug charge. He plead guilty and was sent back to Mexico after his prison sentence.

Published on:

As the internet has made it easier for people to share information – from snarky comments about published criminal cases in the federal circuits, to snarky comments about politics or the Academy Awards – it has made trading child pornography much easier.

Twenty years ago, to trade child pornography, you had to use the mail or meet someone with the same interest. Now, just about any person with an internet connection can find this contraband in less than an hour.

533138_law_and_order.jpgThe easy flow and production of child pornography is a serious social problem. My concern is that the only solution we seem to be thinking about is to criminalize the market for it and make the punishments for participating in this market draconian.

Published on:

In an en banc opinion, last week the Ninth Circuit agreed with Occupy Wall Streeters that corporations are not people. Sadly for those in Zuccoti Park, the court of appeals opinion is limited to whether corporations come within the scope of a federal statute that criminalizes sending threats through the mail. Unlike the Supreme Court of Montana, the Ninth Circuit is not going to ignore Citizens United. But, for the American incarnation of Time’s Person of the Year, it’s a start.

1316747_letter_box.jpgKurt Havelock

It isn’t clear to me whether Kurt Havelock would approve of the larger political point about corporate personhood that his case represents. Clearly, Mr. Havelock has political views.

Published on:

Perhaps one of the most celebrated charging strategies by the federal government was to investigate and charge Al Capone with tax evasion. The feds weren’t really after him for tax crimes – they wanted Al Capone because he was a mobster. Yet by charging the tax offense, the federal government was able to get a conviction that stuck.

Yet the government runs a risk when it charges an auxiliary crime – one that isn’t the main offense that they’re targeting but, rather, something that derives from it.

The Fifth Circuit’s recent opinion in United States v. Harris illustrates this point.