Articles Tagged with “Sixth Circuit”

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This week’s favorite Short Win is United States v. Gray. I say this less because of the legal issue involved – a jury instruction for “malice” – than for how much fun the opinion is to read. Here’s the opening:

Words are slippery things. Take “malice,” its legal definitions alone can encompass: the intent to commit a wrongful act, reckless disregard for the law, ill will, wickedness of heart, and the intent to kill. See Black’s Law Dictionary 968-69 (7th ed. 1999). But can malice’s fifty shades of meaning include “improper motive?” Former flight attendant Nancy Gray, convicted of providing false information regarding a bomb threat on an airplane, seeks to convince us that she was denied a fundamentally fair trial when her jury was instructed that malice meant “evil purpose or improper motive.” Because we find that the district court’s definition just won’t fly, we vacate Gray’s conviction and remand this case for a new trial.

It goes on from there. And, really it’s a sad story about a flight attendant snapping. But it’s good prose.

To the victories!

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for you win.jpg1. United States v. Gray, First Circuit: Appellant’s conviction for giving false information regarding a bomb threat on an airplane was vacated and remanded because the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the definition of malice. By instructing he jury that malice could be “an improper purpose,” the trial court reduced the government’s burden of proof.

Defense Attorney: Inga L. Parsons
2. United States v. Medina, First Circuit: After pleading guilty to failure to register as a sex offender, Appellant was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment and 20 years of supervised release. This sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing because the 20-year period of supervised release was based on the erroneous classification of Appeallant’s SORNA violation as a sex offense. In addition, two conditions of supervised release–one restricting Appellant from accessing or possessing a wide range of sexually stimulating material, and the second requiring Appellant to submit to intrusive penile plethysmograph testing–were not justified by the record.

Defense Attorney: Edward J. O’Brien

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The third level for acceptance of responsibility is interesting – it’s one area where some courts have held the government has pretty much unfettered discretion to decide whether or not it should apply. Basically, a person is supposed to get the third level only if she’s pled guilty early enough to keep the government from working. Though some U.S. Attorney’s offices are more or less stingy about how early is early enough.

Regardless, it can be hard to overcome an unreasonable government position on the applicability of the third-level for acceptance.

Which is why I was glad to see United States v. Castillo – which challenges the sovereignty of the government’s decisionmaking about the third level and its applicability. Good stuff there.

To the victories!

Thumbnail image for you win.jpg1. United States v. Alejandra-Montanez, First Circuit: Appellants were convicted of criminal conspiracy charges for importing cocaine. Because of recent amendments to the sentencing guidelines that retroactively reduced most drug quantity base offense levels, the case was remanded for reconsideration of Appellants’ sentences.

Defense Attorneys: David A.F. Lewis, Leslie W. O’Brien, and Joshua L. Gordon
2. United States v. Martinez-Rodriguez, First Circuit: Appellants were convicted of drug and firearms offenses. Appellant Rodriguez’s conviction for the drug offense was reversed because the evidence was insufficient to connect him to Appellant Santini’s possession of narcotics. And the evidence connecting Appellant Santini to Appellant Rodriguez’s possession of a firearm was also insufficient, so that conviction was reversed as well. The only evidence of a connection between Appellants, who are brothers-in-law, was that they had been in a car together when the car was stopped. But the lack of evidence about the full nature of their relationship, of any plan they had to carry out a drug-trafficking offense, and of their prior dealings with each other was insufficient to show that the two had the requisite knowledge of the other’s offense.

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In white-collar cases, loss drives the sentencing guidelines. If a person is convicted of a federal fraud charge, probably the single biggest legal issue that will matter to that person’s sentence is what the loss amount is.

By contrast, the biggest thing about the case that will matter is what judge the person draws. It’s better to have a great sentencing judge and a high loss amount than a low loss amount with a judge who sentences more aggressively.

But I digress.

money-choise-concept-1439274-m.jpgThe government’s view of most fraud cases, in my experience, benefits from the clarity of hindsight. After everything has fallen apart, it’s easy to see that, say, a person selling an investment vehicle was using a new investor’s funds to pay someone who is clamoring for his or her money back.

In hindsight, it’s easier to see a Ponzi scheme than it may be in the crush of the moment. Some people plan to run Ponzi schemes, others fall into them through circumstance. Such is the way of the world.

In any event, loss for a Ponzi scheme can be tricky. Generally, the loss amount under the sentencing guidelines is the amount of money that was reasonably foreseeable to be lost by the victims. And it’s what’s reasonably foreseeable for the person committing the crime.

Ok, fair enough. The trouble is with the “credit against loss” rule. The sentencing guidelines explain that when the person being sentenced has paid some money back before the authorities or the victims cottoned onto the scheme, that money should be deducted from the loss amount.

This makes sense. If my son steals $20 from my wallet, but feels bad and puts it back before I notice, he should get some credit for that.

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It’s been an interesting week in the federal circuits. Aside from the normal and expected sentencing appeals, there are two cases that caught my eye.

The first is United States v. Fard on withdrawing a plea. I often hear from people who have entered a plea and want to talk about hiring me to withdraw it. It can be maddening to see how other lawyers have poorly advised their clients, or have simply had them enter pleas that their client does not understand (sometimes, especially when the lawyer has no prior criminal defense experience, I fear the lawyer doesn’t understand the plea either). Fard helps, a bit, in attacking pleas that aren’t knowing and voluntary.

The second case I find interesting solely for the schaedenfraude it gives me. The case is United States v. Smith. There, an AUSA was appointed and confirmed to be a judge. As a judge, he worked on a case he also worked on as an AUSA. Hijinks ensue.

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And, after a really long break, we’re back. Apologies. This day job has been very busy lately.

And, of course, if you ever find yourself jonesing for my writing, you can always check out my stuff on Above the Law.

You saw our guest post on Hite last week – it’s a great case that bears a close read.

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Child porn cases are turning out to be a surprisingly large portion of what’s in federal court.

Child pornography is gross and wrong, to be clear. But these cases are, I think, a symptom of a larger problem.

All of us have times in our lives when we’re in the wilderness, when we feel adrift and alienated and unsure of where we’re going or where we are. Some folks in this time of life turn to alcohol, Some turn to drugs, video games, or other ways to keep themselves from facing the great chasm of dissatisfaction that their lives have become. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desparation” and all that.

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It’s been an interesting few weeks in the circuits (and, apologies for the gap in posting – pesky family vacations).

Probably my favorite is United States v. Mergen, about whether an FBI agent’s statements that what the guy charged with a crime was doing were ok and legal were admissible. I tend to think FBI stings that take advantage of how weak the entrapment defense is are one of the more loathsome things our federal government does – any time you can poke holes in that I think it’s a good thing.

Also of note is United States v. Bagdy – there, a guy who spent an inheritance on stuff that wasn’t restitution, instead of restitution, didn’t violate his supervised release conditions. Supervised release can be insane – especially when restitution is in play. Nice work for the Third Circuit in dialing it back.

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Remember back with this blog was more than just Short Wins? Remember when there were long and loving descriptions of cases?

I still aspire to get back to that vision for the blog – that was fun. Seriously, look for more long write-ups soon. I’ve been distracted by writing for Above the Law (here is a link to my columns (I particularly like the one about cannibalism)) and my day job as a practicing lawyer.

But, if you’re jonesing for those long write-ups again, thanks to the good people at James Publishing, you can now read them in one handy-dandy book. It has the jazzy title Criminal Defense Victories in the Federal Circuits. Or you could just read the archives.

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Today’s featured defense victory is United States v. Barefoot, which deals with a kind of surprising course of conduct in the Fourth Circuit. In Barefoot, a person gave information to the government to help them investigate other crimes. The information was given on the condition that the information not be used to prosecute him. The government broke that condition.

Happily though, the Fourth Circuit enforced it.

To the victories!

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In this edition, I think the most interesting case (of a number of interesting cases) is United States v. Garcia.

There, the government had an agent testify as an expert. The Fourth Circuit reversed, because the agent’s “expert testimony” exceeded the bounds of what counts as expert testimony.

The way agents get qualified as experts is, often, nuts. It’s good to see the Fourth Circuit rolling it back.