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Hughes v. United States, No. 17–155, 584 U. S. ____ (2018)

Eric Hughes accepted a plea deal in 2013 after being accused of four charges related to drug conspiracy. He pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and being a felon in possession of a gun in return for the dismissal of the other two charges and the withholding of information regarding previous drug felonies. For the two guilty charges, Hughes agreed to serve a term of 180 months.

In his plea deal, no reference was made to the Guidelines range, however, upon accepting the deal, the District Court noted that the deal was “compatible” with the Guideline ranges. At the time, the recommended range for Hughes’s crimes was set at 188-235 months. Such a consideration by the District Court is required before accepting any plea deal.

Upon the adoption of amendment 782 to the Sentencing guidelines, a crime like Hughes’s would have a recommended range of 151-188 months. Hughes petitioned the court for a reduction in sentence under Amendment 782. The court denied Hughes a reduction on the grounds that Hughes’s plea agreement did not reference the guideline ranges and, therefore, his sentence was not based on the guidelines in a way that would warrant a reduction.

The Court indicated that “the controlling issue here is whether a defendant may seek relief under §3582(c)(2) if he entered a plea agreement specifying a particular sentence under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C).”  This is also called a “type-c” agreement.

 

Writing for the Court, Justice Kennedy said that “a sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is ‘based on’ the defendant’s Guidelines range so long as that range was part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement.”

 

“In the typical sentencing case there will be no question that the defendant’s Guidelines range was a basis for his sentence. The Sentencing Reform Act requires a district court to calculate and consider a defendant’s Guidelines range in every case.”  

 

The Court went to say that “a defendant’s Guidelines range is both the starting point and a basis for his ultimate sentence” and that agreed sentences under 11(c)(1)(C) were no different.  “Although in a Type-C agreement the Government and the defendant may agree to a specific sentence, that bargain is contingent on the district court accepting the agreement and its stipulated sentence.”  Further, the court noted that “the Sentencing Guidelines prohibit district courts from accepting Type-C agreements without first evaluating the recommended sentence in light of the defendant’s Guidelines range.”  Thus, although the plea deal did not directly reference the Guidelines, they are understood to have played a role in the sentence given that the Court is required to consider the guidelines before accepting a plea deal.

For these reasons, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and the case was remanded for further consideration.  No. 17–155, 584 U. S. ____ (2018)

No. 16–9493. Argued February 21, 2018—Decided June 18, 2018

Each year, district courts sentence thousands of individuals to imprisonment for violations of federal law. To help ensure certainty and fairness in those sentences, federal district courts are required to consider the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines. Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Office prepares a pre-sentence investigation report to help the court determine the applicable Guidelines range. Ultimately, the district court is responsible for ensuring the Guidelines range it considers is correct. At times, however, an error in the calculation of the Guidelines range goes unnoticed by the court and the parties. On appeal, such errors not raised in the district court may be remedied under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), provided that, as established in United States v. Olano, 507 U. S. 725: (1) the error was not “intentionally relinquished or abandoned,” (2) the error is plain, and (3) the error “affected the defendant’s substantial rights,” Molina-Martinez v. United States, 578

  1. S. ___, ___. If those conditions are met, “the court of appeals should exercise its discretion to correct the forfeited error if the error ‘ “seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” ’ ” Id., at ___. This last consideration is often called Olano’s fourth prong. The issue here is when a Guidelines error that satisfies Olano’s first three conditions warrants relief under the fourth prong.

 

Petitioner Florencio Rosales-Mireles pleaded guilty to illegal reentry into the United States. In calculating the Guidelines range, the Probation Office’s presentence report mistakenly counted a state misdemeanor conviction twice. As a result, the report yielded a Guidelines range of 77 to 96 months, when the correctly calculated range would have been 70 to 87 months. Rosales-Mireles did not object to the error in the District Court, which relied on the miscalculated Guidelines range and sentenced him to 78 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Rosales-Mireles challenged the incorrect Guidelines range for the first time. The Fifth Circuit found that the Guidelines error was plain and that it affected Rosales-Mireles’ substantial rights because there was a “reasonable probability that he would have been subject to a different sentence but for the error.” The Fifth Circuit nevertheless declined to remand the case for resentencing, concluding that Rosales-Mireles had not established that the error would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings because neither the error nor the resulting sentence “would shock the conscience.”

 

Held: A miscalculation of a Guidelines sentencing range that has been determined to be plain and to affect a defendant’s substantial rights calls for a court of appeals to exercise its discretion under Rule 52(b)to vacate the defendant’s sentence in the ordinary case. Pp. 6–15.

 

(a) Although “Rule 52(b) is permissive, not mandatory,” Olano, 507

  1. S., at 735, it is well established that courts “should” correct a forfeited plain error affecting substantial rights “if the error ‘seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings,’ ” id., at 736. Like the narrow rule rejected in Olano, which would have called for relief only for a miscarriage of justice, the Fifth Circuit’s shock-the-conscience standard too narrowly confines the extent of the court of appeals’ discretion. It is not reflected in Rule 52(b), nor in how the plain-error doctrine has been applied by this Court, which has reversed judgments for plain error based on inadvertent or unintentional errors by the court or the parties below and has remanded cases involving such errors, including sentencing errors, for consideration of Olano’s fourth prong. The errors are not required to amount to a “powerful indictment” of the system. The Fifth Circuit’s emphasis on the district judge’s “competence or integrity” also unnecessarily narrows Olano’s instruction to correct an error if it seriously affects “judicial proceedings.” Pp. 6–8.

 

(b) The effect of the Fifth Circuit’s heightened standard is especially pronounced in cases like this one. An error resulting in a higher range than the Guidelines provide usually establishes a reasonable probability that a defendant will serve a prison sentence greater than “necessary” to fulfill the purposes of incarceration, 18 U. S. C. §3553(a). See Molina-Martinez, 578 U. S., at ___. That risk of unnecessary deprivation of liberty particularly undermines the fairness,integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings in the context of a plain Guidelines error because Guidelines miscalculations ultimately result from judicial error, as the district court is charged in the first instance with ensuring the Guidelines range it considers is correct. Moreover, remands for resentencing are relatively inexpensive proceedings compared to remands for retrial. Ensuring the accuracy of Guidelines determinations also furthers the Sentencing Commission’s goal of achieving uniformity and proportionality in sentencing more broadly, since including uncorrected sentences based on incorrect Guidelines ranges in the data the Commission collects could undermine the Commission’s ability to make appropriate revisions to the Guidelines. Because any exercise of discretion at the fourth prong of Olano inherently requires “a case-specific and fact-intensive” inquiry, Puckett v. United States, 556 U. S. 129, 142, countervailing factors may satisfy the court of appeals that the fairness, integrity,and public reputation of the proceedings will be preserved absent correction. But there are no such factors in this case. Pp. 8–11.

 

(c) The Government and dissent maintain that even though the Fifth Circuit’s standard was inaccurate, Rosales-Mireles is still not entitled to relief. But their arguments are unpersuasive. They caution that granting this type of relief would be inconsistent with the Court’s statements that discretion under Rule 52(b) should be exercised “sparingly,” Jones v. United States, 527 U. S. 373, 389, and reserved for “exceptional circumstances,” Meyer v. Kenmore Granville Hotel Co., 297 U. S. 160. In contrast to the Jones remand, however, no additional jury proceedings would be required in a remand for re-sentencing based on a Guidelines miscalculation. Plus, the circumstances of Rosales-Mireles’ case are exceptional under this Court’s precedent, as they are reasonably likely to have resulted in a longer prison sentence than necessary and there are no countervailing factors that otherwise further the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

 

The Government and dissent also assert that Rosales-Mireles’ sentence is presumptively reasonable because it falls within the corrected Guidelines range. But a court of appeals can consider a sentence’s substantive reasonableness only after it ensures “that the district court committed no significant procedural error, such as failing to calculate (or improperly calculating) the Guidelines range.” Gall v. United States, 552 U. S. 38, 51. If a district court cannot properly determine whether, considering all sentencing factors, including the correct Guidelines range, a sentence is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary,” 18 U. S. C. §3553(a), the resulting sentence would not bear the reliability that would support a“presumption of reasonableness” on review. See 552 U. S., at 51. And regardless of its ultimate reasonableness, a sentence that lacks reliability because of unjust procedures may well undermine public perception of the proceedings.

 

Finally, the Government and dissent maintain that the Court’s decision will create an opportunity for “sandbagging” that Rule 52(b) is supposed to prevent. But that concern fails to account for the realities at play in sentencing proceedings, where it is highly speculative that a defendant would benefit from a strategy of deliberately forgoing an objection in the district court, with hopes of arguing for reversal under plain-error review later. Pp. 12–14.

 

SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,

  1. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined.
Class v. United States Plea

Rodney Class was arrested and charged with federal possession of “readily accessible” firearms on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. He pled guilty to this charge in federal district court. However, in Class’s plea agreement there was no express waiver of Class’s right to appeal his conviction. Class subsequently appealed his conviction on the grounds that the statute violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms and the statute was unconstitutionally vague.

The question before the Court was relatively short. Can Rodney Class appeal his conviction even though he pled guilty? Does the government’s plea agreement inherently bar these claims when making a plea deal or does Class and those like him need to expressly state in their plea agreement that they are reserving the right to appeal on certain grounds?

Class’s main contention in oral argument, argued by Jessica Amunson, is pretty simple. Because Class did not explicitly waive these two appeal charges, he is allowed to use them as an appeal. By the mere fact of pleading guilty, this did not waive those rights.

The government’s argument revolves around Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 11 deals with plea deals and plea agreements. The government citied the Advisory Committee notes of Rule 11, arguing that the writers intended that unconditional pleas of guilty “operate as a waiver of all non-jurisdictional claims. The problem is that Rule 11 has notoriously been amended many times over the years, confusing all courts of its true meaning.

One idea that was thrown around by every party, including the Justices, was the Blackledge-Menna doctrine. Blackledge-Menna are two cases from the 1970s. Class’s argument relies on this doctrine, which stated that criminal defendants were allowed to raise certain constitutional challenges on appeal despite the fact that they had already pled guilty. Blackledge dealt with a vindictive persecution claim and Menna allowed a defendant to bring up a double-jeopardy claim. Class argued that his Second Amendment claim would fall into the same lines as these claims. The government argued that while they do not disagree with Blackledge-Menna, those cases are only applied to those specific claims and the doctrine cannot be broaden.

Blackledge-Menna is not law, it is doctrine. So the Supreme Court traditionally would not want to issue an opinion based on doctrine alone. The Supreme Court likes tests to apply. Class argued that the test should be what Judge Henry Friendly coined many years ago on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. A guilty plea does not waive an appeal of any constitutional ground that would prevent the state from obtaining a valid conviction.

From the transcript of the oral argument, the Justices collectively pushed against the government’s assertions. Justice Breyer’s comments late into the government’s time summed up many of the Justices opinions about when a defendant pleads guilty and the consequences of that plea. Just because a defendant pleads guilty to the crime at hand does not mean that they admit to the statute itself.

“But what you haven’t admitted is that the statute, for example, is a valid statue. You haven’t admitted that. And another thing you haven’t admitted, you haven’t admitted vindictive prosecution because I did it… but they’re prosecuting me for a bad reason, and they can’t do that.”

This is what Class is arguing. He is arguing that while he did possess firearms in a readily accessible area on Capitol grounds, the statute itself that forbids this act is not constitutional. From Justice Breyer’s argument, defendant Class should not be barred from claiming a constitutional violation just by pleading guilty.

Even more of the hardliners on criminal law fell in line with liberal Justice Breyer. Justice Gorsuch stated a similar idea when a defendant pleads guilty “you’re not admitting even to what the statute says; you’re admitting to what’s in the indictment.”

Class’s argument seems pretty solid. Just because a defendant pleads guilty, it shouldn’t bar a constitutional appeal if the plea agreement is silent on the issue. Plea agreements can be extremely broad and cover a lot of ground. There is a whole legal argument if those plea agreements are fair and legal themselves. Regardless, federal and state courts allow the government to offer plea agreements that bar appeals. It’s just a matter of sticking the clause into the agreement itself. In Class’s case, the government did not add a clause into the plea agreement.  

The law firm of Jeremy Gordon has been practicing federal criminal appeals and post-conviction law since 2012. We have had successful outcomes in more than 60 cases in the past three years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve.

In United States v. Zuniga the Fifth Circuit remanded the conviction based on improper convictions.

Zuniga was a passenger in his vehicle.  Zuniga and the driver were followed by the police.  The police witnessed the vehicle fail to signal 100 feet continuously before turning left and park in a “disabled only” parking space (these things are law violations in Texas).  The officer who witnessed these violations was undercover and asked another officer to stop the vehicle.  The other officer did not see the law violations but stopped the vehicle anyway.  The driver did not have a license.  Zuniga had city warrants.  Both were arrested.  Zuniga was searched and was found to be in possession of a plastic bag of meth.  His vehicle was searched and a backpack with more meth was found as well as a firearm and holster.

Zuniga moved to suppress the stop and was denied on the grounds of the “collective knowledge doctrine.”  He later pled guilty to one count of Possession with Intent to Distribute 500 grams or More of Meth and Aiding and Abetting while preserving his right to challenge the suppression ruling.

At sentencing the court found Zuniga to be a career offender for his two priors of evading arrest and delivery of a controlled substance.  He was sentenced to 327 months and five years of supervised release.

Zuniga argued that his career offender sentence must be remanded under Johnson v. United States.  Zuniga filed a second supplemental brief based on United States v. Hinkle challenging the Texas Delivery of a controlled substance.  He had also challenged the reasonable suspicion of the stop as well as the application of the collective knowledge doctrine.  His reasonable suspicion arguments and his collective knowledge doctrine arguments were denied and after Beckles v. United States was published, Zuniga conceded that his argument about Johnson v. United States was foreclosed.  However Hinkle explained that Mathis does not allow sentencing courts to look at the actual method of delivery on which a defendant’s conviction was based on for purposes of determining whether the conviction constituted a controlled substance offense under the guidelines.

The government indicated that Zuniga did not raise this argument in the district court and in the opening brief to this court and as such the court should hold that Zuniga forfeited his right to bring this argument citing that Mathis only “reaffirmed” the principle articulated in Descamps.  The Court rejected this argument indicating that Mathis clarified the law on divisibility.  While Descamps was about whether a sentencing court could consult additional documents when a defendant was convicted under an ‘indivisible’ statute, Mathis was concerning “a different kind of alternately phrased law” and held that alternative means do not make alternative elements.  Hinkle then applied Mathis to a Texas Statute.

With that, the forfeiture argument was laid waste to.  The government conceded that the error was plain in this case especially when considering the disparity between the imposed sentence and the applicable guideline range.

The Fifth Circuit Vacated and Remanded.  U.S. v. Zuniga.

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In United States v. Cummings, the Second Circuit reversed a conviction because of prejudicial double hearsay.  Cummings was charged with several offenses regarding drugs, firearms and two counts of killing a person during and relation to a conspiracy to distribute cocaine base.  During the trial the government sought to offer evidence that Cummings threatened a cooperating witness because of his cooperation by offering the testimony of that person.  That person was going to testify to the defendant saying that he was going to kill the witness because of the witnesses’ cooperation.  Cummings’ counsel opposed, arguing that the probative value of that evidence was substantially outweighed the prejudicial effect under rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.  The Trial Court allowed the evidence in subject to a limiting instruction.

During the trial it came out that the witness did NOT actually hear Cummings actually say that he was going to “shoot [the witness] in the face.”  The witness never alleged that Cummings that to him directly, rather he said that to people around the witness.  Defense counsel did not re-raise the request for the limiting instruction and the court did not grant it.  There was no 404(b) instruction either (a 404(b) instruction means in this case that the jury wouldn’t have been allowed to use this threat as evidence that he committed the crimes he was charged with).  The prosecutor said at final argument that Cummings made those threats because he knew the evidence would be damaging to him at trial and that testimony, “was in fact completely devastating proof of [Cummings’] crimes.”

The Jury found Cummings guilty of all counts.

With regard to the hearsay evidence, the court held that the statements of the witness that Cummings didn’t say anything to him directly meant that it was less likely that the witness heard Cummings make the death thread.  So that means that other people heard Cummings say what he said and then told it to the witness.  That created a potential “hearsay within hearsay” problem; the first hearsay issue is when Cummings allegedly told some unknown person that he was going to “shoot [the witness] in the face.”  Then the second statement is when the unknown person told the statement to the witness who testified.

(Remember, under Federal Rule of Evidence 801, Hearsay is an Out of Court Statement offered in court for the truth of the matter asserted).

(A note by Jeremy:  Okay, so when you’re dealing with two levels of hearsay then you have to have either an exception or that it’s not actually hearsay for each one.  You have to deal with each one on its own individually)

The court noted that although the first statement could be deemed “Not Hearsay,” because it is not offered for the truth of the matter asserted but rather for consciousness of guilt OR it could be deemed “Not Hearsay” because it is a statement by a party opponent (as in the case is U.S. v. Cummings and the U.S. is offering the statement).  But even if that clears Cummings stating it to the unknown person, it doesn’t clear the unknown person saying it to the witness.  The government didn’t call the unknown person and the court indicated that the only way that the statement gets in is if it was admitted for its truth.  If it wasn’t admitted for its truth then it wouldn’t be probative of his consciousness of guilt.  So since the second statement from the unknown person to the witness is hearsay without an exception, then it is inadmissible.

The court then weighed whether the admission was harmless error.  Although Cummings did not ask for a limiting instruction, the court determined that the death threat testimony created an undue risk that the jury construed the thread as evidence of Cummings’s murderous propensity.  Second the court did not provide a limiting instruction to the jury about the limited permissible purpose of the death threat testimony.  Third the government’s description of the death threat testimony went beyond the purpose of its admission because of the government’s final argument.  Finally, the hearsay nature of the death threat testimony unfairly prejudiced Cummings and may have affected the jury’s understanding of his testimony.

The second circuit reversed, 15-2035

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In United States vs. Miller the Third Circuit reversed and remanded a case for re-sentencing for allocution error.

The defendant was convicted of money laundering and mail fraud as well as aiding and abetting, both offenses as a result of insurance claims that the defendant filed concerning damages to his theater business.

During sentencing, the defendant allocuted and the District Court Judge invited the prosecutor to cross examine him during his allocution.

He raised appellate grounds based on the sufficiency of the evidence and errors in allocution.

The Court found that there was sufficient evidence to find Miller guilty of that offenses committed.

With regard to sentencing, the court determined that the prosecution should not be allowed to cross-examine a defendant during allocution and that doing so violated a defendant’s allocution rights.  This met the court’s plain error standard for this case (the allocution error was not raised in the district court) as the court had previously ruled that they must vacate for re-sentencing if the trial court violates the defendant’s right of allocution.

The Third Circuit Reversed, U.S. v. Miller, no. 16-1145

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The defendant was found guilty of one count of possession of child pornography for owning a collection of the material and bringing it across the US-Canada Border on the way to a family vacation for personal viewing.  He was sentenced to 120 months for the possession and 225 months for the transportation (the max was 240 months).  He was also sentenced to 25 years of supervised release with extensive conditions including the inability to use or possess any computer or any other device with online capabilities at any location except at his work unless participating in the computer restriction and monitoring program, a mandate that the probation was allowed to conduct periodic unannounced examinations of any computer equipment that he used, not being allowed to have any direct contact with a person under the age if 18 without supervision or any indirect contact with someone under 18 such as online.  He was also directed to “reasonably avoid and remove” himself from situations where he has any other form of contact with a minor and not to be in any area where persons under the age of 18 are likely to congregate like school grounds child care centers or playgrounds.

The defendant was a 44 year old white male with a life expectancy of 76.5 years at the time of his sentencing.

The court noted that a sentence is substantively unreasonable if it “cannot be located within the range of permissible decisions” as well as noting that the length of a sentence my be excessively punitive or needlessly harsh with or without far reaching post-release restrictions.  The court determined that the review of a sentence for substantive reasonableness is governed by the 3553 factors with particular attention to the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense and to promote respect for the law.  In addition, supervised release conditions are also governed by the same factors as well as involving no greater deprivation of liberty than is necessary to implement the statutory purposes of sentencing and that they are consistent with pertinent Sentencing Commission Policy statements.

The court noted that the guideline starting point in this case was 2g2.2 and that guideline is fundamentally different from most and must be applied with great care in order to prevent unreasonable sentences.  The court also noted that the offense level failed to sufficiently differentiate between offenders who distribute for pecuniary gain and those who distribute for personal noncommercial reasons.  The Appellate court noted that these concerns weren’t considered by the district court.

The court identified that 2g2.2 resulted in a sentence that came from outdated enhancements related related to the defendant’s collecting behavior even though he was not alleged to be involved in the production or distribution of such material.  The court also noted that the the defendant’s sentence was higher than that for individual who engaged in sexual conduct with in-person victims.  Simply put, he wasn’t the worst of the worst but he was sentenced as such; someone convicted of a more severe crime than the defendant in this case was given a less severe sentence.

With regard to his supervised release, the defendant would have been prohibited from interacting with family members or friends who have children under the age of 18 until he was 88 years old, well above his life expectancy and the condition that bars him form “indirect contact” is also confusing because it is unclear and could mean that he wouldn’t be able to go to sporting events, natural history museums or street fairs.

The court reversed  United States v. Jenkins 14-4295-cr

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Have you or a loved one been charged with or convicted of a federal crime? You need an experienced Federal Defense Lawyer who can help fight for your freedom. Because we are good at what we do, we have clients from all over the country to count on us to provide them with competent and reasonably priced services.

The law office of Jeremy Gordon is dedicated and focused on powerfully and effectively representing our clients. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your case with you. Contact us today for a free consultation and initial case review at 972-483-4865 or email us at [email protected]. Payment plans available.

An inmate in the First Circuit pled guilty to Felon in Possession of Ammunition.  He had two ACCA-Qualifying Maine Burglary conditions as well as a 2001 Maine Robbery Conviction and a 2004 Maine Drug-Trafficking conviction.  The District Court applied the enhancement.

On appeal, the Government argued that the inmate pled to a section of the Maine Robbery Statute that criminalized the “use of physical force on another” and noted that Maine’s Highest court recognized that “any physical force” suffices to satisfy the physical force element, even physical force that does not make direct contact with the victim. That means that the crime does not need a showing of force capable of “causing physical pain or injury” which is required under Johnson.  And that means that this particular crime cannot be used against him for ACCA purposes.

With regard to the inmate’s drug trafficking conviction, the court determined that it was not a “serious drug offense.”  The court determined that by rejecting that the Maine Legislature designates the crime as “trafficking” and that means buying and selling because the “meaning of the ACCA’s terms do not depend on the definition adopted by the State of conviction.”  The court also held that while the amount of drugs possessed can serve as an indicator of the purposes for which the drugs were possessed, at certain levels it is a rough and imprecise indicator and noted that the inmate’s quantity of drugs in this case (2 grams) would not rise to the level where the court could infer intent to distribute.

The First Circuit Reversed.  US. v. Mulkern, 1st Circuit No. 16-1146

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Have you or a loved one been charged with or convicted of a federal crime? You need an experienced Federal Defense Lawyer who can help fight for your freedom. Because we are good at what we do, we have clients from all over the country to count on us to provide them with competent and reasonably priced services.

The law office of Jeremy Gordon is dedicated and focused on powerfully and effectively representing our clients. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your case with you. Contact us today for a free consultation and initial case review at 972-483-4865 or email us at [email protected]. Payment plans available.

As many of you know, Congress and the President passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, otherwise known as the federal budget, this past week.  The bill funds the government until the end of September 2017. Remember, the fiscal year of the government is October 1 to September 30.

We are still waiting to hear about specific reforms to the government and the bureau of prisons.  As we find those I will let you know.  The text of the bill is below:

Salaries and Expenses (including transfer of funds)

For necessary expenses of the Federal Prison System for the administration, operation, and maintenance of Federal penal and correctional institutions, and for the provision of technical assistance and advice on corrections related issues to foreign governments, $7,008,800,000:  Provided, That the Attorney General may transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services such amounts as may be necessary for direct expenditures by that Department for medical relief for inmates of Federal penal and correctional institutions:

Provided further, That the Director of the Federal Prison System, where necessary, may enter into contracts with a fiscal agent or fiscal intermediary claims processor to determine the amounts payable to persons who, on behalf of the Federal Prison System, furnish health services to individuals committed to the custody of the Federal Prison System:

Provided further, That not to exceed $5,400 shall be available for official reception and representation expenses:

Provided further, that not to exceed $50,000,000 shall remain available for necessary operations until September 30, 2018:

Provided further that, of the amounts provided for contract confinement, not to exceed $20,000,000 shall remain available until expended to make payments in advance for grants, contracts and reimbursable agreements, and other expenses:

Provided further, That the Director of the Federal Prison System may accept donated property and services relating to the operation of the prison card program from a not-for-profit entity which has operated such program in the past, notwithstanding the fact that such not-for-profit entity furnishes services under contracts to the Federal Prison System relating to the operation of pre-release services, halfway houses, or other custodial facilities.

Buildings and Facilities

For planning, acquisition of sites and construction of new facilities; purchase and acquisition of facilities and remodeling, and equipping of such facilities for penal and correctional use, including all necessary expenses incident thereto, by contract or force account; and constructing, remodeling, and equipping necessary buildings and facilities at existing penal and correctional institutions, including all necessary expenses incident thereto, by contract or force account, $130,000,000, to remain available until expended, of which $50,000,000 shall be available only for costs related to construction of new facilities:

Provided, that labor of United States prisoners may be used for work performed under this appropriation.

Federal Prison Industries, Incorporated

The Federal Prison Industries, Incorporated, is hereby authorized to make such expenditures within the limits of funds and borrowing authority available, and in accord with the law, and to make such contracts and commitments without regard to fiscal year limitations as provided by section 9104 of title 31, United States Code, as may be necessary in carrying out the program set forth in the budget for the current fiscal year for such corporation.

Limitation on Administrative Expenses, Federal Prison Industries, Incorporated 

Not to exceed $2,700,000 of the funds of the Federal Prison Industries, Incorporated, shall be available for its administrative expenses, and for services as authorized by section 3109 of title 5, United States Code, to be computed on an accrual basis to be determined in accordance with the corporation’s current prescribed accounting system, and such amounts shall be exclusive of depreciation, payment of claims, and expenditures which such accounting system requires to be capitalized or charged to cost of commodities acquired or produced, including selling and shipping expenses, and expenses in connection with acquisition, construction, operation, maintenance, improvement, protection, or disposition of facilities and other property belonging to the corporation or in which it has an interest.

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Have you or a loved one been charged with or convicted of a federal crime? You need an experienced Federal Defense Lawyer who can help fight for your freedom. Because we are good at what we do, we have clients from all over the country to count on us to provide them with competent and reasonably priced services.

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The Tenth Circuit recently reversed the conviction in U.S. v. Dahda.  Roosevelt Dahda was convicted on a drug conspiracy with over 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana.  On appeal, Dahda alleged 7 grounds for appeal, including that the District Court erred setting [Dahda’s] base-offense level by miscalculating the amount of marijuana attributed to [Dahda].

While the rest of the grounds were overruled on appeal, ground 5, which alleged that the district court erred in estimating that each pallet of drugs in this case contained 80 pounds of marijuana, was sustained.  The court indicated that “the government bears the burden to prove drug quantity through a preponderance of the evidence,” and the base-offense level may consist of an estimate if it contains some record support and is based on information bearing “minimum indication of reliability.” Basically that means that the amount of marijuana was discussed in the trial or the sentencing and that the information was reliable.

However, in this case, the information wasn’t reliable.  The appellate court found that the quantities in the pallets varied.  The government’s witnesses indicated that each pallet had “between five or ten to eighty pounds of marijuana.”  Near the end of the conspiracy, each pallet usually contained 80 pounds but there “could have been” times when the pallets contained more than 80 pounds.  The government witnesses also failed to mention a time frame for when the pallets contained 80 pounds.  The court indicated there was no way to tie the testimony of the government’s witnesses to the shipments that were attributed to Roosevelt and, as such, it was insufficient.  The court also rejected the government’s harmless error analysis because while the government’s argument on harmlessness refers to other drugs that were found on other co-defendants, the drugs that were found in total were not even close to the amount of drugs that the defendant was found  to be responsible for.

The Tenth Circuit Reversed, U.S. v. Dadha, No. 15-3237

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Have you or a loved one been charged with or convicted of a federal crime? You need an experienced Federal Defense Lawyer who can help fight for your freedom. Because we are good at what we do, we have clients from all over the country to count on us to provide them with competent and reasonably priced services.

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In U.S. v. Ricky Davis, the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court vacated and remanded a conviction for attempted sex trafficking of a minor.

The defendant in that case was accused of bringing a minor to his house and discussing the possibility of the minor making money by going on dates, taking photos of her and assisting her in getting the photos online to a known escorting website.

Davis was arrested and indicted for sexual exploitation of a minor (18 USC 2251) and attempted sex trafficking either by force or of a minor (18 USC 1591 (a), 1594).

The indictment alleging that Davis violated 1591 stated that he,

“knowingly attempted to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, and maintain by any means, a person to engage in a commercial sex act, to wit: a minor female victim, . . . knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the person had not attained the age of 18 years[.]”

However at trial the jury instruction as to that count provided that

“The elements of sex trafficking are: . . . (2) knowing that [the minor] had not attained the age of 18 years, or recklessly disregarded that fact, or the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe [the minor], and that [the minor] would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act . . . [.]”

This was also in another place in the jury instructions AND the prosecutor argued the same thing in the closing argument.  The clause stating that “the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe [the minor]” is new.  The court should not have used this in the grand jury or in closing statements because the grand jury didn’t indict him for it.

The court held that a constructive amendment occurred because

“the crime charged [in the indictment] was substantially altered at trial, so that it was impossible to know whether the grand jury would have indicted for the crime actually proved.”

The court also held that this was a constructive amendment and not a variance.  The court indicated that the difference was that

“An amendment of the indictment occurs when the charging terms of the indictment are altered, either literally or in effect, by the prosecutor or a court after the grand jury has last passed upon them. A variance occurs when the charging terms of the indictment are left unaltered, but the evidence at trial proves facts materially different from those alleged in the indictment.”

The appellate court indicated that the district court’s jury instruction and the government’s argument had the effect of altering the terms of the amendment.

The Ninth Circuit reversed U.S. v. Davis, No. 15-10402

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Antwon Jenkins was convicted of kidnapping and using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The firearm conviction required a consecutive sentence to the kidnapping charge.

Jenkins argued on appeal that his federal kidnapping offense was not a crime of violence, and thus his gun charge under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) could not stand. The Seventh Circuit agreed.

A conviction can constitute a “crime of violence” under the “force clause” of 924(c) or the “residual clause.” However, the Seventh Circuit in United States v. Cardena, 842 F.3d 959, 996 (7th Cir. 2016) held that the “residual clause” of 924(c) is unconstitutionally vague. Thus, if the kidnapping charge was not a crime of violence under the “force clause,” the 924(c) conviction was improper.

A conviction qualifies under the “force clause” if the crime “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A).

The Seventh Circuit held that “kidnapping as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a) does not require the use of force as an element.”

Because the kidnapping offense could not be used to support Jenkins’ conviction on the 924(c) charge, Jenkins’ conviction on the 924(c) count was reversed. See: United States v. Jenkins, No. No. 14-2898 (7th Cir. 2017).

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Have you or a loved one been charged with or convicted of a federal crime? You need an experienced Federal Defense Lawyer who can help fight for your freedom. Because we are good at what we do, we have clients from all over the country to count on us to provide them with competent and reasonably priced services.

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“Prisoners have a Sixth Amendment right to be present when legal mail related to a criminal matter is inspected,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held. See: Mangiaracina v. Penzone, No. 14-15271 (9th Cir. 2017).

Nick Mangiaracina, an Arizona prisoner, sued jail officials after his properly marked legal mail was opened twice. Mangiaracina filed grievances about the opening of his legal mail. Mangiaracina also alleged that jail staff told him that they“’can open legal mail outside our presence if they want to,’ that there is no law against it, and that ‘they just do it in our presence as a courtesy.’”

While Mangiaracina’s legal mail was only opened twice outside his presence, the Ninth Circuit held that “even isolated incidents of improper mail opening may, in appropriate circumstances, be sufficient to allege a Sixth Amendment violation.”

Jail officials argued that Mangiaracina was also required to allege that his mail was actually read by guards, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed.

“If the practice of opening legal mail in the presence of the prisoner is designed to prevent correctional officers from reading it, then the natural corollary is that a prisoner whose mail is opened outside his presence has no way of knowing whether it had been (permissibly) inspected or (impermissibly) read. In other words, Mangiaracina could not in good faith have alleged that jail employees had read his mail, since he had no basis for knowing what had happened to his mail prior to delivery,” the court wrote.

The court also concluded that jail officials could not “identify any legitimate penological interest that would be served by opening legal mail outside Mangiaracina’s presence,” citing the jail’s own policy that required legal mail to be opened in the presence of inmates. “Defendants have identified no reason in their briefing for deviating from this policy. No special deference is therefore required,” the court held.

The district court’s dismissal of Mangiaracina’s suit was accordingly reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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Have you or a loved one been charged with or convicted of a federal crime? You need an experienced Federal Defense Lawyer who can help fight for your freedom. Because we are good at what we do, we have clients from all over the country to count on us to provide them with competent and reasonably priced services.

The law office of Jeremy Gordon is dedicated and focused on powerfully and effectively representing our clients. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your case with you. Contact us today for a free consultation and initial case review at 972-483-4865 or email us at [email protected]. Payment plans available.