| , ,
Last week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to make a pair of Guidelines amendments retroactive, meaning they could apply to thousands of federal inmates serving time. Under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2),”in the case of defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission…upon motion of the defendant …the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent they are applicable ….”
In a 4-3 vote, the Commission voted to make the “status points” amendment retroactive. Whereas a defendant previously received 2 points for committing an offense while under a term of supervision (probation, supervised release), the new Guidelines amendment will reduce the number of points or eliminates them completely for such offenders. By making this amendment retroactive to offenders who previously received the 2-point enhancement, almost 11,500 inmates are eligible for a potential sentence reduction. The average inmate would have had a lower Guidelines range by 14 months under the new Guidelines.
In another 4-3 vote, the Commission voted to make the “zero point offender” amendment retroactive. Under the new Guidelines, offenders will receive a 2-point reduction to their offense level if they have no criminal history and their offense does not present certain aggravating factors. Over 7,272 inmates would have been eligible for this reduction, and the average inmate would have had a lower Guidelines range by 15 months under the new Guidelines.
The retroactive amendments go into effect on February 1, 2024, though inmates can file motions for sentence reductions immediately.
In other Commission-related news, the Commission voted to consider additional policies such as “possible amendments to the Guidelines Manuel to prohibit the use of acquitted conduct in applying the guidelines.”
| , ,
This month, the Supreme Court issued two noteworthy opinions limiting the scope of federal fraud statutes, specifically those that prohibit “honest services fraud.” Under 18 USC 1346, a “scheme or artifice to defraud includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”
In Ciminelli v. United States, the Court unanimously invalidated the conviction of a construction company owner who had engaged in bid rigging for government contracts, which deprived the government of “potentially valuable economic information necessary to make discretionary economic decisions.” As a result, the trial court instructed the jury that “property” as defined under the fraud statute, included “intangible interests such as the right to control the use of one’s assets.”
The Court held that this was error, as the right to such intangible but “valuable economic information” was not a “traditional property interest” protected by the statute. The Court’s holding will likely be used to challenge future fraud prosecutions involving intangible losses.
In Percoco v. United States, the Court invalidated another defendant’s conviction, this time that of a former official in the Governor’s office in New York who, while on hiatus from his official role to assist in the governor’s campaign, accepted money to advise a real estate development company in its dealings with a state agency. Specifically, Percoco had lobbied internally to urge other officials to ease certain work requirements for the company, which received government funding.
The Court held that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it could convict Percoco of honest services fraud, even while not serving as a public official, if it found that he “dominated and controlled any government business” and that “people working in the government actually relied on him because of a special relationship he had with the government.” The Court held these instructions were too vague and swept too broadly. However, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that a private citizen cannot be convicted of depriving the public of honest services, reserving the question whether some private citizens could have the “necessary fiduciary duty to the public.”
| , ,
ast month, the Department of Justice released its “First Step Act Annual Report,” summarizing efforts to implement the sentencing reforms enacted under the First Step Act of 2018.he report covers the BOP’s implementation of its recidivism risk assessment (the controversial PATTERN score, which allegedly is racially biased), its implementation of recidivism-reducing programs that allow inmates to earn time off their sentences, the status of prison work programs, and other important reforms under the FSA.
The report also provides brief summaries of some of the most significant steps taken since the last report issued in April 2022 Among those developments, the BOP reports that it has finalized its policy for awarding “earned time credits” and has been awarding those credits as quickly as possible. The BOP also reports that it has expanded the use of home confinement for eligible inmates, wherein they allow inmates to serve the last months of their sentence in home confinement.
Recent Supreme Court Opinions
In a matter of first impression for the Supreme Court, a 7-2 majority of the Court held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act only applies in the civil context and that there is no statutory immunity for foreign sovereigns in the criminal context. The Court remanded to the Second Circuit, however, to determine whether a bank partially owned by the Republic of Turkey could still claim immunity under common law against claims of violating anti-Iranian sanctions.
| , , ,
In a 6-3 decision, a majority of the Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations began running on a death row inmate’s claim of insufficient procedural due process when his prior “state litigation ended.” In this case, that was not when the trial court denied his motion for DNA testing of the murder weapon, but rather when the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.
| , , ,
In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated by the trial court’s admission of his co-defendant’s confession, during which his co-defendant stated that the defendant committed the murder, because the defendant’s name had been redacted from the confession. Even though the defendant was logically the only person the co-defendant’s confession could be referring to, the Supreme Court held it was not “directly accusatory,” or at least not directly enough, to warrant reversal.
Recent Circuit Court Opinions
| , , ,
The First Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. The Court held that the trial court erred in excluding certain expert testimony from a clinical psychologist. While the trial court had allowed the witness to testify as an expert in the field of internet sexual behaviors, it erred in prohibiting the witness from opining on the defendant’s internet chats and whether chats like his met the pattern shown by child predators who communicate with minors online.
| , ,
The First Circuit vacated the sentence of a former police officer convicted of RICO conspiracy. The Court held that the district court erred in considering the PSR’s mere mentioning of the defendant’s prior administrative complaints, without more to substantiate them, as a basis for an upwards variance from the Guidelines.
| , , , , ,
The Fourth Circuit vacated a defendant’s convictions for committing a crime of violence while failing to register as a sex offender. The Government dismissed other charges against the defendant and allowed him to plead guilty to one charge conditionally so he could appeal whether his underlying kidnapping offense was a “crime of violence,” and after an intervening opinion held that kidnapping isn’t, the Court held that the district court erred in allowing the Government to reinstate the original charges against the defendant since the Government was still bound by its prior plea agreement.
The Federal Docket
The Federal Docket is a monthly newsletter providing lawyers and the community a summary of recent important decisions in the area of federal criminal law from the United States Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The opinions are compiled, summarized and analyzed by Tom Church, an attorney in our firm’s federal criminal defense practice.