I just returned from the Twentieth Annual National Seminar on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Kevin Napper, Laurel Moore Lee, and many others organized an outstanding seminar dealing with all aspects of federal criminal sentencing. It is always fun to get together with other federal practitioners and discuss how things are handled in federal jurisdictions throughout the United States.

Yesterday, we had an enjoyable panel discussion dealing with the “Presentence Report and the Sentencing Process” in federal court. We had a great group of individuals on our panel, including defense lawyers (Donna Elm and Adrienne Wisenberg), a federal prosecutor (Laurel Moore Lee), an Assistant Deputy Chief Federal Probation Officer (Ray Owens), and a sentencing mitigation specialist (Tess Lopez).

We covered a lot of ground in our discussion and part of that discussion reminded me that, in my humble opinion, at least one aspect of federal sentencing needs to change. In federal court, before most every sentencing hearing, a federal probation officer prepares a Presentence Report, also known as the PSR. Before the sentencing hearing, the PSR is disclosed to both parties. Very frequently, however, before the sentencing hearing, the federal probation officer that prepared the PSR meets with the federal judge that is conducting the sentencing hearing (in chambers) and makes a recommendation to the judge on what the ultimate sentence should be.

Earlier today, I learned of the Federal Criminal Rules Advisory Committee’s decision to vote down (on a 6-5 vote) a proposed change to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that would have required prosecutors to turn over all favorable evidence to the accused. Apparently, the Department of Justice convinced the Criminal Rules Advisory Committee to reject this proposed change. Although I am disappointed in this result, I can’t say that I am surprised. This is not the first time that the Department of Justice has flexed its muscle to prevent the Federal Criminal Rules from being amended in ways that require broader disclosure in federal criminal cases.

Several years ago, I learned that in 1974, the Advisory Committee and the Supreme Court recommended amending the Rules to require the parties in federal criminal cases to exchange witness lists. This proposed amendment had a broad base of support, and ultimately both the Advisory Committee and the Supreme Court agreed that the change should be made. Shortly before the effective date of the new rule, however, Congress (at the behest of the Department of Justice) suspended the effective date of this amendment to Rule 16, and ultimately removed the witness list disclosure provisions. As a result of this action, (and the Advisory Committee’s decision not to take up the issue again), the government is not required to provide the accused with a witness list in federal court.

Criminal lawyers that do not practice in federal court are often surprised (and shocked) to learn that the federal government is not required to turn over something so basic as a witness list when it prosecutes one of its citizens. Those of us that do practice regularly in the federal criminal system seem to just accept this as a reality and the price of doing business in federal court. This practice is particularly unfair, though, and the Rule needs to be changed. Most (if not all) state systems (including Georgia) require the disclosure of witness lists, and some states even permit the parties to take depositions in criminal cases.

In 2005, the United States Supreme issued its landmark decision in the federal criminal case of United States v. Booker. Among other things, the Court in Booker ruled that the federal sentencing Guidelines are no longer mandatory, but are instead advisory. Before Booker, it was undisputed that courts were required to apply the Guidelines that were in effect when the federal crime at issue was committed, if applying a later Guideline created Ex Post Facto concerns. In other words, if the Guideline in effect on the date of a sentencing established a harsher Guideline range, the sentencing court was required to apply the more lenient Guideline that was in effect when the crime was committed. An example that comes to mind arises in federal, white collar cases. For instance, under the Guideline that applied up until October 31, 2002, the base offense level in white collar cases was 6, rather than 7. For this reason, under the law as it existed before Booker, courts in white collar cases were required to use the Guideline with the base offense level of 6, as long as the crime was completed prior to the effective date of Guideline that changed the base offense from 6 to 7.

When Booker was decided, however, some people (mostly prosecutors) claimed that since the Guidelines were no longer mandatory, the Ex Post Facto principles discussed above no longer applied. According to these individuals, courts were now free to apply the Guideline in existence on the date of the sentencing, even when the Guideline in effect when the crime was committed provided for a more lenient sentencing range.

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit squarely addressed this issue for the first time, and in our view, reached the right result (for the most part). In Wetherwald, (a federal white collar case), the defendants were convicted of defrauding investors out of millions of dollars. On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial court erred by applying the federal sentencing Guidelines that were in effect on the day of sentencing, rather than the more lenient Guidelines that were in place when the crimes at issue were committed.

Michael Diaz was charged with armed robbery and gun offenses nearly seven years ago. Since the age of 13, he has “changed identities” five times and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis. He represented himself during a bench trial in 2006, but the Eleventh Circuit vacated his convictions, holding that he had not knowingly waived his right to a jury trial. He refused treatment for his mental illness and was found incompetent to stand re-trial.

In 2003, the Supreme Court addressed involuntarily medicating criminal defendants for the sole purpose of rendering them competent to stand trial in Sell v. U.S. Last week in Diaz, the Eleventh Circuit explained:

Sell laid out these four standards the government must satisfy for involuntary medication to render a defendant competent to stand trial: (1) important government interests must be at stake, (2) involuntary medication must significantly further the state interests in assuring a fair and timely trial, (3) involuntary medication must be necessary to further the state interests, and (4) administration of the medication must be “medically appropriate, i.e., in the patient’s best medical interest in light of his medical condition.”

Last Monday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided United States v. Gowdy, an unbelievable case in which the Eleventh Circuit joined several other circuits in holding that one need not actually be in federal custody to escape from federal custody under 18 U.S.C. § 751(a).

Gowdy was convicted in the Northern District of Alabama for federal drug crimes, and then turned over to the state of Mississippi. Mississippi lost the federal detainer against Gowdy and then turned him over to the state of Alabama to face charges pending there. Alabama, never having received the federal detainer, released Gowdy when he completed his sentence there. When federal authorities discovered the mistake, they issued a warrant for Gowdy’s arrest. He agreed to turn himself in after making arrangements for the care of his daughter, but never did so.

Gowdy was charged with escape from federal custody. He was convicted on the theory of constructive custody – that he was in custody under his federal conviction, despite his mistaken release. The Eleventh Circuit agreed, holding “that the custodial requirement of § 751(a) is satisfied where a lawful judgment of conviction has been issued by a court against the defendant… [T]here is no additional requirement that the defendant be physically confined in an institution at the time of the escape.”

In this post in August, we reported that the Eleventh Circuit had held that a trial court abused its discretion in failing to instruct the jury on good faith reliance. In that opinion, the Court vacated convictions on three counts, but affirmed a conspiracy conviction. Last week, in United States v. Kottwitz, the Court decided on rehearing that the “[d]efendants introduced enough circumstantial evidence to warrant an instruction that — at some pertinent point –[they] may have relied on the accountant’s advice” on the conspiracy count, as well.

Good faith defenses are often significant in white-collar criminal cases. As we have lamented, the government continues to prosecute people on the basis of business decisions that are not intended to break the law. It is imminently important for defense lawyers to convey to the jury that a person acting in good faith cannot be guilty.

To receive a jury instruction in the Eleventh Circuit, a defendant need only show “any foundation in the evidence.” The first Kottwitz opinion, which is still good law inasmuch as it is consistent with this most recent opinion, provides a detailed explanation of when the trial court must instruct the jury on good faith reliance.

Federal criminal lawyer (and crackerjack fishing guide) Steve Salter sent us a link to a unique story involving a request by a lawyer to delay a federal trial so that he could attend the BCS title game in Arizona. In his request, the lawyer (and Auburn football fan) asked the judge to delay scheduling the federal trial so that he and his family could attend the game. The lawyer also stated that “[s]ince the last National Championship Game for Auburn was 1957 (and I was born in 1965) it is fair to say that this is a once in a life-time opportunity. Without Cam Newton (or Nick Saban as our coach) it is hard to imagine this ever happening again.” Along with his filing, the lawyer included a photo of his three young daughters wearing Auburn football jerseys.

United States District Judge Kristi DuBose granted the motion, stating that “[t]he Court has a unique understanding of the predicament of Hartford’s lead counsel. See Exhibit A.” Exhibit A, which was attached to the judge’s order, was a photograph of a young girl in what appears to be an Auburn cheerleader outfit with a stuffed tiger sitting next to her.

When asked about the reference to Nick Saban as the Auburn coach, the lawyer said he was “hedging [his] bets in case the judge was an Alabama fan.”

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided United States v. Forey-Quintero. The Court held that Mr. Forey-Quintero, whose mother became a naturalized U.S. citizen while he was a minor, did not obtain derivative citizenship because he was not a lawful permanent resident before he turned 18.

Mr. Forey-Quintero came to the U.S. on a border crossing card when he was three years old. When he was 9, his mother filed a Petition for Alien Relative for him, but he was accidentally placed on the wrong list for obtaining a visa. When he was 16, his mother was naturalized and he applied for a visa. His application was approved 20 days after his 19th birthday. As such, he resided here permanently as a minor, but was not a “lawful permanent resident.”

Mr. Forey-Quintero later was kicked out of the country, and when he returned to be with his family he was charged with being found in the United States after removal. His attorney, Millie Dunn at the Federal Defenders Program for the Northern District of Georgia, argued that he was a citizen under the derivative citizenship statute. Before 2001, derivative citizenship was governed by Section 321(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which provided that a “child born outside of the United States of alien parents” automatically became a citizen upon the naturalization of the parent having legal custody if the child is or “begins to reside permanently in the United States while under the age of eighteen years.”

Next Monday, the federal Supreme Court will hear arguments in Pepper v. United States. In this fascinating case, the Court will consider whether judges can take a prisoner’s efforts at rehabilitation into consideration when that prisoner is resentenced. This case is interesting both because the government has changed its stance and because of the uncommon circumstance that Mr. Pepper was resentenced to three additional years in prison after four years of freedom.

Mr. Pepper pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and was sentenced to 24 months in prison, although the Sentencing Guidelines range was 97 to 127 months. The government successfully appealed that sentence, but the judge resentenced Mr. Pepper to the same amount of time, in part because of the prisoner’s efforts at rehabilitation following the first sentence. Prosecutors again appealed, arguing that such a consideration was an abuse of discretion. The Eighth Circuit agreed. Upon resentencing by a different judge, Mr. Pepper was ordered to return to prison to serve an additional 41 months.

After successfully appealing Mr. Pepper’s below-guidelines sentence twice, the Department of Justice has switched sides and is supporting Mr. Pepper’s contention on appeal to the Supreme Court that rehabilitation should be taken into account. As reported in this Des Moines Register article, when she was Solicitor General, Justice Kagan sided with Mr. Pepper, arguing that court rules do not prohibit “a court from considering at resentencing a defendant’s efforts at rehabilitation undertaken after his initial sentencing.” Rather, a federal law “specifically instructs sentencing courts to consider ‘the history and characteristics of the defendant.'” Justice Kagan will not take part in the Supreme Court’s decision.

Ed. Note: On November 1, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2010 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect, along with a temporary, emergency amendment to implement Section 8 of the Fair Sentencing Act. On the whole, the amendments reflect a reduction in federal criminal sentences and provide the sentencing judge with additional discretion. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2010 amendments is available here.

We discussed this amendment in detail in this post in April. The amendment deleted 4A1.1(e), which addressed the recency of previous imprisonment in calculating the criminal history points that increase a defendant’s sentence. That provision added points if the defendant committed the offense less than two years after release from imprisonment or while in imprisonment or escape status.

The proponents of this amendment argued that the recency and status guidelines were redundant, unfairly adding to the cumulative impact of the criminal history calculation. Statistics showed that the recency of a prior record, when combined with the status provision in subsection (d), predicted recidivism in only 1 case out of 1000. In addition, not only did recency fail to reflect meaningful differences in past criminal conduct, it was actually more likely to increase punishment for less culpable defendants. The effect 4A1.1(e) and (d) had on deported immigrants who illegally reentered the country was particularly egregious, considering other cumulative guidelines and their usual reasons for re-entry.