Articles Posted in Federal Sentencing

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Doyle pled guilty to distribution of more than fifty grams of cocaine bade and was facing a 10 year minimum sentence and up to live imprisonment. After calculating his advisory guidelines rant of 262 to 327 at sentencing the district court asked his counsel if she had anything to say before the sentence was imposed and she used the opportunity to argue successfully for a sentence at the low end of the advisory guidelines range. The court did not ask Doyle himself if he wished to make a statement or to allocate as required by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Doyle’s counsel did not object. Doyle later filed a pro se motion to vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 2244 claiming that he had asked his former counsel to file a direct appeal but that she had failed to do so. The district court granted his 2255 motion with respect to his failure to appeal claim and the court ordered the remedy spelled out in U. S. v. Phillips, which requires vacating the original sentence and resentencing him to the same sentence as before, so it can be reviewed on appeal. It does not reopen the sentencing. The same sentence as before was imposed.

The sole issue for the appellate court was whether Doyle’s sentence must be vacated because his right to give allocution, as embodied in the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32 was violated. In the pre-Booker era, the court of appeals presumed prejudice from the district court’s failure to ask a defendant if he had anything to say before sentence was pronounced, except where the defendant was sentenced at the low end of the applicable mandatory guideline range. The question here is whether that low-end exception to a presumption of prejudice still applies in the post-Booker advisory guideline era.

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In U.S. v. Osman, the defendant appealed his restitution order following his guilty plea to one count of production of child pornography, one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. On six occasions Osman sexually abused an molested his approximately one-year-old daughter and used his cell phone to photograph his sexual abuse. He sent some of the child pornography images he had created to another individual in exchange for other child pornography images. When Department of Homeland Security executed a search warrant at Osman’s residence he admitted to using the internet to search or child pornography. A forensic examination of his electronic services revealed at least 94 movies and 588 images of child pornography that included his daughter.

After a grand jury indicted him with possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. As part of his plea he agreed to make full restitution to his daughter under the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Act 18 U.S C. 2259.

At the restitution hearing Osman argued the government’s estimate of A.E.’s future counseling needs was speculative given her very young age. The government’s position was that any estimate of damages and further counseling needs would be speculative to some extend in a case involving an infant victim but nevertheless asserted restitution was appropriate. The government used a licensed counselor who specialized with child victims of sexual abuse and testified about her experience involving victims of child sexual abuse and working with children at various developmental stages. She acknowledged her estimate about A.E.’s future need would be based on prediction about the care she would likely need and was in some sense speculative but her opinion was based on many years of research about the consequences of early adverse life events and her extensive experience counseling victims of abuse.

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McCullough was arrested and convicted for marijuana distribution. His conviction was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. McCullough. This is how the facts unfold. He was initially pulled over by an Alabama police officer for driving with a partially obscure license plate. While the numbers on the Alabama issued plate were visible, a license bracket in the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings obscured pares of the license plate including the state of issue. Alabama law provides that every motor vehicle operator shall at all times keep the license tag or license plate plainly visible on the rear end of a mother vehicles. The officer stopped McCullough because the officer believe that he had violated this law by having the eagle bracket. When McCullough was stopped, the officer issued him a ticket for failing to have a plainly visible license plate.

The officer then smelled marijuana coming from the inside of the truck and a search of the truck led to the discover of $8,335 and a marijuana. After the officer seized $4,000 and a key to a hotel room, the officer obtained a search warrant for the room and found $1,000, bags of marijuana and a gun.

He was charged with possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress on the grounds the officer lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop him for partly obscuring the license plate because Alabama law only requires that the alphanumeric symbols be visible not the full license plate. The district court denied the motion. He pleaded guilty to each count before a magistrate judge. Prior to sentencing the probation officer calculated the guideline range to be 262-327 base on his status as a career offender with a career history e category of VI and a consecutive mandatory minimum of five years for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

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In U.S. v Scheels the Defendant pled guilty to one count of production of child pornography and one count of receipt of child pornography and received a 600-month sentence of imprisonment. In calculating his sentencing guideline range, the district court imposed a four-level enhancement under 2G2.1(b)(4) of the U. S. Sentencing Guidelines. This guidelines provision requires the imposition of a four-level enhancement where a defendant’s “offense involved material that portrays sadistic or masochistic conduct or other depictions of violence.” The defendant conceded that the pornography he produced does depict sadistic or masochistic conduct and admitted that it contained among other things images involving whipping and bondage. But the defendant argued that the enhancement should not apply to him because the sadistic or masochistic conduct in the pornography was directed at him not the child victim.

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After a two-week trial, defendant in U.S. v Stein was convicted of mail, wire, and securities fraud based on evident that he fabricated press releases and purchase money orders to inflate the stock price of his client, Signalife, Inc, a publicly traded manufacturer of medical devices. The district court sentenced Stein to 205 months in prison, ordered $5 million in forfeiture, and $13 million in restitution. In his appeal Stein argued that the government failed to disclose Brady v. Maryland material to the defense before trial and knowingly relied on false testimony to make its case. As for the sentence, Stein argues that the district court erred in calculating actual loss for the purpose of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (MVRA) and § 2B1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. He argued that in estimating actual loss the district court erroneously presumed that all purchasers of Signalife stock during the period the fraud was ongoing relied on false information advanced by Stein.   He also argued that the district court failed to take into account other market forces that likely contributed to the investors losses.

After the Department of Justin conducted a criminal investigation of Stein and his work with Signalife, he was charged with money laundering and wire and securities fraud. Prior to his trial Stein moved to produce documents in the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) files. The government’s response was that is lacked control over the SEC and it did not conduct a joint investigation with the SEC. Prior to trial Stein learned that in the course of its investigation the DOJ had accessed a very small subset of documents in the SEC’s date base which the DOJ then provided to him. As a result he filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of this Brady violation. Following his conviction at trial, he obtained additional documents from the SEC that he believed were exculpatory and he filed motion for a new trial based on the Brady violation.

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In this case Garcia Martinez pleaded guilty to reentry after deportation in violation of 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1326(a) and his guidelines sentence was enhanced 16 levels by the district court who found his Florida conviction for second degree burglary of a dwelling, for which he was deported, was a crime of violence. He appealed the district court’s conclusion arguing that the facts of the Florida conviction for burglary of a dwelling as set forth in the presentence report do not qualify for a 16- level increase in his guideline range.

The court of appeals reversed after determining that the Florida statute does not fall under the enumerated offense clause definition for crime of violence under the sentencing guidelines.

The court arrived at this decision by first determining that the generic definition of the enumerated offense of burglary requires the unlawful entry into a building or structure with intent to commit a crime. However, the sentencing guidelines specifies that the offense must be a burglary of a dwelling. This required the court to determine the generic definition of a dwelling. It concluded a generic dwelling is a building or portion thereof, a tent, a mobile home, a vehicle, or other enclosed space which is used or intended for use a s a human habitation.

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In U.S. v Plate the defendant worked at Wells Fargo in Orlando Florida as a financial advisor. One of her long time clients was an elderly couple for whom she managed their securities and bond portfolio. She became close friends with the couple. As their mental capacities diminished with age Plate began to perform personal duties for the couple beyond the traditional financial advisor role. After Plate’s husband died, she eventually induced the husband to execute a Wells Fargo ACH authorization agreement allowing for the transfer of funds from the couples’ Wells Fargo trust account into a separate account. Plate manipulated the husband into writing her personal checks and then she liquidated the securities in the trust account by making a number of unauthorized sales. In total she defrauded the couple of $176,079 and left noting in the account.

She was charged with a single count of embezzlement by a bank officer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 656 and pled guilty to the offense. The PSI came back with a guideline range of 27-33 months.  Prior to sentencing Plate filed a memorandum asking for a probation sentence and to show remorse she sold her house to pay restitution and expressed determination to pay everything back. She argued probation was appropriate because her crime was an anomaly brought on by depression and reduced mental capacity following the death of her husband. To support her position she attached a forensic evaluation by a licensed psychologist who concluded that she had developed a maladaptive coping style of avoidance characterized by apathy and impaired emotional understanding and reduced mental capacity brought on by the loss of her husband.

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U.S. v. Trailer is an appeal from a sentence impose for violation the terms of supervised release that was part of the defendant original sentence for failing to register as a sex offender in violation to 18 USC §2255. A special condition of the original supervised release condition what the defendant was prohibited from having contact with children under the age of 18. A few months after the defendant’s supervised release began, the probation officer filed a petition seeking revocation of his supervised release stating that the defendant was living with his new wife’s four minor children; failing to follow the probation officer’s instruction to have no contact with these children, and failing to answer truthful inquires by his probation officer relating to whether he was having contact with children. The court revoked his supervised release and imposed a sentence of 18 months and a life term of supervised release.

The sole issue on this appeal is whether the life term of supervised release is substantively unreasonable because it is greater than necessary to accomplish the goals of sentencing and is not reasonably related to the 18 USC § 3553 factors.

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In this appeal Birge was convicted of one count of mail fraud pursuant to 18 U.S.C. section 1341 for writing herself $767,218.99 while serving as the Chief Clerk of the probate court of Chatham County, Georgia. The checks were drawn from the conservatorship accounts belonging to 31 minors, two incapacitated adults, and two estates. She was sentenced to 72 months imprisonment and appealed that sentence raising the issue that the district court erred in applying the vulnerable victim enhancement when it calculated her guidelines range.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines a vulnerable victim of an offense is a victim who is unusually vulnerable due to age, physical or mental condition, or who is otherwise particularly susceptible to the criminal conduct.

Birge argued that the district court should not have applied the enhancement to her because there is no evidence that she targeted the vulnerable victims. The court found that amended versions of the language of commentary to section 3A1.1 of the guidelines revised the language to only require that the defendant knew or should have known of the victims’ unusual vulnerability.

The Sentencing Commission amended the commentary to the guideline to include language that the adjustment applies to offenses involving an unusually vulnerable victim in which the defendant knew or should have known of the victim’s unusual vulnerability. The court pointed to precedent holding that commentary in the guidelines Manual interpreting or explaining a guideline is binding on the courts unless it violates the Constitution or a federal statute.

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In United States v. Cubero the Defendant appealed from his 151 month sentence and life-term of supervised release after pleading guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography and two count of possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B).   For various reasons he argued that his sentenced was procedurally and substantively unreasonable. His procedural challenges were anchored to a double counting argument that he received a two level increase under the sentencing guideline provision U.S.S.G. 2G2.2(b)(3)(F) for the distribution of child pornography, in that both the base offense level and the section 2G1.2(b)(3)(F) cover the act of distribution. The court of appeals rejected the argument by finding that the base offense level covers multiple possible violations of §2252(a)(2) including knowing distribution, knowing receipt, and knowing reproduction, and the guideline addressed the range of harms associated with child pornography distribution through various offense level increases and decreases.

He argued he was entitled to a two level decrease under USSG § 2G2.2(b)(1), which provides for a two-level decrease if the defendant’s conduct was limited to receipt or solicitation of child pornography and the defendant did not intend to traffic in or distribute the material. Unfortunately, the argument failed because the defendant used a peer to peer file sharing network to obtain hundreds of images and he elected to make them available to others.

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