Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part IV: Drug Crimes

November 24, 2009 by Kish & Lietz

Ed. Note: The first of this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2009 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect. This is our final post analyzing some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2009 amendments is available here.

As we discussed in this post in July, a new federal law directed at online pharmacies went into effect this April. The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act makes it illegal to distribute controlled substances that are prescription drugs over the Internet without a valid prescription, or to advertise for such distribution. In response to this Act, the United States Sentencing Commission made several amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines, including a new sentencing enhancement at §2D1.1, increasing the base offense levels for hydrocodone offenses, and assigning guidelines to the two new offenses created by the Act.

New Sentencing Enhancement at §2D1.1

The Commission added a new sentencing enhancement, which applies when the offense involved a Schedule III controlled substance and death or serious bodily injury resulted from the use of the drug. The enhancement provides a maximum of 15 years, or 30 years for second or subsequent offenses. Schedule III includes such drugs as anabolic steroids, morphine, hydrocodone, and ketamine.

The amendment adds two alternative base offense levels to §2D1.1 [Unlawful Manufacturing, Importing, Exporting, or Trafficking (Including Possession with Intent to Commit These Offenses); Attempt or Conspiracy]. §2D1.1(a)(4) is added to provide a base offense level of 26 for a Schedule III conviction involving death or serious bodily injury resulting from the use of the drugs. §2D1.1(a)(3) now provides for a base offense level of 30 in such a case where the defendant has one or more prior convictions for similar offenses.

Increased Base Offense Levels for Hydrocodone

The amendments modify the Drug Quantity Table in §2D1.1 to specify the base offense levels for hydrocodone as follows:

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Two New Offenses

Our previous post discussed the new offenses created by the Act. 21 U.S.C. § 841(h) prohibits the distribution, delivery, or dispensing of controlled substances over the Internet without a valid prescription. The Commission has referred this offense to §2D1.1. That Guideline already includes a two-level enhancement where a controlled substance is distributed “through mass-marketing by means of an interactive computer service” i.e., the Internet.

The second new offense at 21 U.S.C. § 843(c)(2)(A) prohibits use of the Internet to advertise the sale of controlled substances. § 843(c) is already referenced to §2D3.1, but the amendment changes the title of the Guideline to "Regulatory Offenses Involving Registration Numbers; Unlawful Advertising Relating to Scheduled Substances; Attempt or Conspiracy."

Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer Acquitted of Money Laundering, Drug Conspiracy, and Attempted Bribery

November 19, 2009 by Kish & Lietz

Yesterday a jury found Georgia criminal defense attorney J. Mark Shelnutt not guilty on all counts. He was acquitted of money laundering, drug conspiracy, and attempted bribery.

Three weeks ago, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from cases in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, decided U.S. v. Velez in favor of the defendant. That case involved a money laundering charge against a criminal defense attorney under 18 U.S.C. § 1957. Shelnutt was prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 1956, which required federal prosecutors to attempt to prove that ill-gotten gains were used for certain prohibited purposes, including facilitating underlying criminal activity, tax evasion, or evading money laundering statutes. The prosecution was unable to prove its case.

More information in the Shelnutt case can be found here.
Our previous posts regarding U.S. v. Velez are here and here.
We discussed U.S. v. Kaley, another case involving the payment of legal fees to criminal defense lawyers, here in September.

Eleventh Circuit Remands Livesay for Resentencing… Again

November 17, 2009 by Kish & Lietz

Yesterday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its fourth opinion regarding the federal sentencing of Kenneth Livesay, former chief information officer for HealthSouth Corporation. The Court has insisted that Livesay must serve time in prison for his role in the accounting fraud at HealthSouth. We are disappointed in the Court’s decision, because in our view, the sentence was supported by the Supreme Court’s decision in Gall v. United States.

Prior to 1999, Livesay was an assistant controller for HealthSouth who played a direct role in the accounting fraud that came to light following Sarbanes-Oxley in 2003. In 1999, however, Livesay decided that he could no longer stomach the fraud, so he transferred to the IT department, where he became CIO. Before the fraud was discovered, he was asked repeatedly to return to the accounting department, but he refused.

In 2004, Livesay pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, and falsifying records; falsely certifying financial information filed with the SEC; and a forfeiture court. Pursuant to his plea agreement, the government agreed to recommend a reduction in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility, a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, and a downward departure in exchange for Livesay’s cooperation with the government.

And cooperate, he did. Livesay immediately assisted the government in its prosecutions relating to the fraud. He created a roadmap for how HealthSouth had manipulated its accounts and provided information, including documents, he had maintained as evidence of the fraud. He met with various governmental agencies on at least 10 occasions and testified against CEO Richard Scrushy for four days and finance exec Sonny Crumpler for two days. The judge in those cases (and his most recent sentencing hearing) was particularly impressed with his credibility as a witness.

Judge Clemon of the Northern District of Alabama sentenced Livesay to 60 months probation, including 6 months of home detention, a $10,000 fine, and forfeiture of $750,000. The government appealed the sentence and the Eleventh Circuit remanded for resentencing in Livesay I, holding that the court below had failed to state the reasons supporting the extent of its departure from the Guidelines sentence.

On remand, he was given the same sentence. The Eleventh Circuit again reversed in Livesay II, holding that the departure and the ultimate sentence were unreasonable due to Livesay’s role in the massive fraud. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated Livesay II, and remanded for reconsideration in light of Gall. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit again vacated Livesay’s sentence in Livesay III, holding that the sentencing court had impermissibly considered Livesay’s repudiation of the conspiracy in its departure. Judge Clemon recused himself.

Judge Bowdre imposed the same sentence again at Livesay’s third sentencing hearing. In explaining its reasoning for the departure, the court focused on the significance and usefulness of Livesay’s assistance to the government, as well as the timeliness of that assistance. Then in its Booker analysis, the court focused on Livesay’s history and characteristics, including his inability to stomach participating in the fraud by remaining in the accounting department.

The court also focused on sentencing disparities in the case, particularly regarding Emery Harris, Kay Morgan, and Richard Botts. Livesay initially directed Harris and Morgan to make false entries, but after his move to another department, they were promoted to positions equal to or higher than his in the fraud and they remained until the end. Harris received only 5 months in custody and Morgan received 48 months of probation. Richard Botts, a senior vice president, received only 60 months probation and 6 months home confinement, like Livesay. After his resentencing for the same amount of time, the government did not appeal his sentence.

In Gall, the Supreme Court held that appellate courts must review the substantive reasonableness of sentences under an abuse-of-discretion standard and must give due deference to the district court’s decision that § 3553(a) factors justify the extent of the variance from the Guidelines range. The Court recognized that “[t]he sentencing judge is in a superior position to find facts and judge their import under § 3553(a) in the individual case” and have “an institutional advantage over appellate courts in making these sorts of determinations.” The Court also pointed out that while custodial sentences are more severe than probation, probation is a “substantial restriction of freedom” that should be given weight.

The Eleventh Circuit ignored the unique position of the sentencing judge and the weight of probation as a sentence in Livesay IV yesterday. Its opinion failed to mention any of the reasons for the sentencing court’s decision, simply holding that the probationary sentence “is patently unreasonable in light of Livesay’s role in this massive corporate fraud” and that “any sentence of probation would be unreasonable.”

Livesay’s attorney has stated his intent to request a rehearing. We hope the Eleventh Circuit reconsiders this case and prevents Livesay from enduring a fourth sentencing hearing. As of now, Livesay has already fulfilled payment of the fine and the forfeiture, as well as serving the home confinement time. He has lost his CPA license and spent 5 years with the agonizing uncertainty of the appellate process. As Judge Bowdre said at the last resentencing: “I believe it’s time for this to come to an end.”

The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Livesay I is available here.
The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Livesay II is available here.
The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Livesay III is available here.
The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Livesay IV is available here.
The Supreme Court's opinion in Gall is available here.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part III: Alternative Sanctions to Prison

November 13, 2009 by Kish & Lietz

Ed. Note: Last week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2009 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect. Once a week this month, we will post an analysis of some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2009 amendments is available here.

The Sentencing Commission has made it clear that judges now have more specific authority to impose sentencing options other than simply putting the defendant in prison. The Commission added intermittent confinement as a sentencing option, as well as adding community service as a potential mandatory condition of probation and reaffirming that community confinement is a possible condition of supervised release.

Intermittent Confinement

The most important alternative sanction addressed by the Sentencing Commission this year is the availability of intermittent confinement as an alternative to a traditional prison sentence. Before now, intermittent confinement has never been listed as a “sentencing option” in Chapter 5, Part F of the Guidelines. The Commission added a new guideline at §5F1.8 to specifically authorize such an option.

“Intermittent confinement” usually means spending only nights and weekends in custody, but judges may specify other intervals of time. The new sentencing option is available only during the first year of probation or supervised release. As a condition of supervised release, it is available only for violation of a condition of supervised release and only when facilities are available.

Criminal defense lawyers should explain to judges that the new guideline (and the Judicial Administration and Technical Amendments Act of 2008, which inspired it) show that the Commission and Congress recognize that judges should consider sentences other than traditional imprisonment.

Community Confinement

Until now, there has been considerable confusion regarding whether a judge has authority to sentence a defendant to community confinement (in a community corrections facility, such as a halfway house) as a condition of supervised release. This option can be an important part of a defense sentencing recommendation because judges often want defendants to have some restriction on their liberty, even if they have been convinced that supervised release is appropriate. The recent amendments clear up the confusion, reaffirming in the Guidelines that residency at a community corrections facility is a possible condition of supervised release.

The confusion stemmed from the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (the Act). The Act renumbered 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b), which listed potential conditions of probation. Unfortunately, the Act failed to make all of the necessary changes to statutes referring to subsections of the renumbered statute. This oversight created confusion about many of the conditions that had been renumbered.

Previously, 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d), which addresses conditions of supervised release, stated that any of the conditions listed in § 3563(b) could be imposed as a condition of supervised release, except the condition listed at (b)(11). Prior to the Act, that condition was intermittent confinement. After the renumbering, however, community confinement became (b)(11). Because § 3583(d) was not amended to conform to the renumbering, community confinement was unintentionally excluded as an allowable condition of supervised release. Congress finally corrected its mistake by amending § 3583(d) to refer to (b)(10) (intermittent confinement) with the conditions discussed above.

Community Service

Another point of confusion created by the Act was whether community service was a potential mandatory condition of probation. The new amendments clarify that community service is a potential mandatory condition of probation in §§5B1.3(a)(2) and 8D1.3(b), instead of notice to victims and residential restrictions.

Prior to the renumbering by the Act, judges were usually required to include a fine, restitution, and/or community service as mandatory conditions of probation, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3563(a)(2). After the Act’s renumbering fiasco, § 3563(a)(2) required judges to include restitution, notice to victims, and restrictions on the defendant’s residence. The Commission recognized the mistake, but changed the Guidelines and included a note explaining that the change may have been unintended by Congress.

Congress finally corrected this mistake, as well, by amending § 3563(a)(2) to require restitution and/or community service, unless a fine has been imposed. As a result, the Commission amended the Guidelines accordingly. The amendments change §5B1.3(a)(2) and §8D1.3(b) to require restitution and/or community service as mandatory conditions of probation for a felony, unless the court has imposed a fine or finds on the record that extraordinary circumstances would make such conditions plainly unreasonable.

Eleventh Circuit Holds Crime of Eluding a Police Officer at High Speed or with Wanton Disregard for Safety is a Crime of Violence in the Same Category as Burglary and Arson

November 10, 2009 by Kish & Lietz

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit decided U.S. v. Harris. Anthony Harris was charged in federal court with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Mr. Harris’s felony conviction was under Florida Statute § 316.1935, which makes it a second degree felony to flee or attempt to elude a police officer while driving at a high speed or in any manner which demonstrates a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

Mr. Harris fled from police while driving between 70 and 80 miles per hour, eventually crashing his car into a tree and injuring his passenger. The Eleventh Circuit held that such a crime qualifies as a “crime of violence” along the same lines as burglary and arson.

As we mentioned in this post two weeks ago, the law regarding “violent felonies” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) has been in a state of flux following the Supreme Court decisions in Chambers, Begay, and James in the past couple of years. We discussed Chambers in this post. Courts have looked to those decisions to define “crime of violence” under the Sentencing Guidelines, as well, because the definitions for both phrases are virtually identical.

In James, the Supreme Court held that federal courts should look at the elements of the predicate offense categorically to determine “whether the conduct encompassed by the elements of the offense, in the ordinary case, presents a serious potential risk of injury to another.” In Begay, the Supreme Court further enhanced the test, explaining that the predicate offense must be similar in kind and degree to the examples specifically enumerated in the ACCA: burglary, arson, and extortion. The Court in Begay held that drunk driving did not fit the bill.

Last week in Harris, the Court applied James and Begay, finding that “[f]leeing from the police at high speed or with ‘a wanton disregard for safety of persons or property’ does indeed ‘show an increased likelihood that the offender is the kind of person who might deliberately point the gun and pull the trigger.’” It held that the crime is violent, like burglary, because it displays callousness toward risk, and aggressive, like arson, because the driver “wields a weapon in a place … populated with innocent drivers and pedestrians.” For those reasons, it held that the predicate offense was a crime of violence for the purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines.

Because we see more parallels between this crime and drunk driving than with burglary or arson, we are disappointed with this decision.

The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion in Harris is available here.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part II: Economic Crimes

November 5, 2009 by Kish & Lietz

Ed. Note: This week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2009 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect. Once a week this month, we will post an analysis of some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2009 amendments is available here.

Identity Theft Amendments

Congress directed the Sentencing Commission to increase the penalties under several of the identity theft statutes in Title 18. In response to that directive, the Commission added a new enhancement and a new upward departure provision, as well as expanding the definition of “victim” and the factors to be considered in calculating the amount of loss.

The new enhancement is located at §2B1.1(b)(15). It adds two levels if either of two prongs is met: (A) where the offense involved an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (fraud in connection with computers) and intent to obtain personal information, or (B) where the offense involved unauthorized public dissemination of personal information. The (A) prong was formerly a part of the computer crime enhancement, which has been redesignated as §2B1.1(b)(16).

The new upward departure is an amendment to §2H3.1 (Interception of Communications; Eavesdropping; Disclosure of Certain Private or Protected Information.) It explains that an upward departure may be warranted where an offense involved the personal information or means of identification of a substantial number of people.

The Commentary to §2B1.1 is amended to expand the definition of “victim” for purposes of the victims table at subsection (b)(2). Under the amendment, “victim” includes persons whose means of identification was taken and used, but who was fully reimbursed by a third party, such as a bank or credit card company. It only covers victims, though, whose information was actually used.

The amendments also change Application Note 3(c), regarding calculation of loss, in two ways. (1) Where property is copied, rather than taken, the estimate of loss may be calculated based upon the fair market value of the copied property. (2) In cases involving proprietary information, the estimate of loss may be calculated based upon the cost of developing the information or the reduction in value of the information resulting from the offense.

In this post in May we discussed Flores-Figueroa v. U.S., a Supreme Court case in which the Court held that aggravated identity theft requires the government to prove that the defendant knew that the means of identification that he or she used, transferred, or possessed actually belonged to another person. We discussed the case again in August in this post, when the Eleventh Circuit applied it in U.S. v. Gomez. An amendment to Application Note 1 of §2B1.1 clarifies that for information to be considered “personal information” it must involve information of an “identifiable individual.”

The amendments also clarify Application Note 2(b) of §3B1.3 (Abuse of Position of Trust or Use of Special Skill) to include defendants who exceed or abuse the authority to issue or transfer means of identification.

Counterfeiting Amendments

The Sentencing Commission resolved a split in the circuits regarding whether offenses involving “bleached notes” should be sentenced under §2B5.1 or §2B1.1. “Bleached notes” are genuine U.S. currency that has been stripped of ink and re-printed to appear as a high denomination note.

In U.S. v. Inclema in 2004, the Eleventh Circuit held that, because such notes are altered, they should be sentenced under §2B1.1. The amendments change this rule, specifically providing for bleached notes to be sentenced under §2B5.1. The Commission explained that technological advances in counterfeiting “have rendered obsolete the previous distinction in the guidelines between an instrument falsely made or manufactured in its entirety and a genuine instrument that is altered.”

Intellectual Property Amendments

In response to Congress increasing the maximum sentences for violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2320 (Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services) where the offender causes or attempts to cause serious bodily injury or death to 20 years or life, respectively, the Sentencing Commission amended the enhancement at §2B3.5(b)(5) (Criminal Infringement of Copyright or Trademark.)

The amendment brings the two-level enhancement into parallel with §2B1.1(b)(13) by clarifying that the guideline also applies when the offense involved the risk of death and increasing the minimum offense level to 14.

Housing and Economic Recovery Act Amendments

Congress created two new offenses in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. The Commission refers 12 U.S.C. § 4636b to 2B1.1 and 12 U.S.C. § 4641 to 2J1.1 and 2J1.5. Other similar statutes were referred to the same statutes.

Section 4636B criminalizes working for regulated entities in certain capacities after the Federal Housing Finance Agency has prohibited it. The Commission explains that it is similar to an economic crime and thus best accounted for by reference to §2B1.1. This testimony by the Chair of the Federal Defender Sentencing Guidelines Committee describes the unsuitability of the chosen guidelines for these new offenses.