The First Circuit today reversed a conviction in a federal criminal appeal. Or, at least one count of one of the co-defendant’s convictions. His other nine counts of conviction withstood appellate scrutiny. Still.
In United States v. Newell, two men were accused of fraud involving an Indian tribe of about seventy people in the northern part of Maine. The opinion is exactly the kind that appellate courts should be writing — it is dense and considers the arguments advanced by the parties in detail. At seventy-eight pages, it is perhaps not the terse read that most consumers of judicial opinions want. That said, if one important function of a court is to make sure the parties recognize that their arguments were heard, this opinion meets that standard. For the members of the tribe involved, there are almost ten pages of opinion per tribe member!
The reversal, though, is exactly the kind of appellate reversal that should happen. One of the men accused of the crime, Parisi, signed a check authorization for a person who was not employed with the tribe. Three witnesses for the government testified that they didn’t recall if Parisi knew that the person didn’t work for the tribe during the time period covered by the check. Parisi himself didn’t work for the tribe during that time period. As the First Circuit noted, “we see no reason to believe that he knew,with in a few months of his arrival, where every tribal member had worked in the previous fiscal year.”
This reminds me, just a bit, of the recent Onion piece, “Investigation Finds Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for 3 of 76 Murders“.
Still, a reversal of a conviction by a federal appellate court is rare enough it’s to be noted, even if it’s just the one count.
If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.