May 29, 2010
In the News & Around the Blogosphere
Stuart Pfeifer, LATimes, Prosecutors halt case against Broadcom co-founders
Nathaniel Popper, LATimes,Wesley Snipes may be helped by former financial advisor's arrest
Stuart Green, Opinion, Christian Science Monitor, Sestak, Clinton, and Obama: Was it a bribe?
May 27, 2010
Conspiracy is Not Limitless
Many prosecutors think of conspiracy as limitless, since after all Judge Learned Hand referred to conspiracy as "that darling of the modern prosecutor's nursery." (Harrison v. U.S.). But it isn't and prosecutors in South Carolina found that out today when a court granted a defendant's Rule 29 Motion. The case has a long and tortured history that started in 2005 with indictments of officers and employees of Medical Manager Corporation. The original indictment charged several folks, but after four years (yes, four years), the government dismissed several of the defendants prior to the start of trial. Two individuals went to trial and the court has now dismissed the case against them. Chief United States District Judge David C. Norton states:
"It is not this court's responsibility to salvage the government's prosecution. The government chose to indict, it chose to prosecute, it chose what evidence to present, and, even after specific inquiry by the court, it chose not to use expert analysis to prove any of the allegations with regard to the effect of the fraud, if any. The government made its bed and now it must lie in it."
In dismissing the case, the court further states:
"...in a case like this,to countenance the government's position that there was an express, original agreement to conceal, and/or that the conspiracy was ongoing because of conspiratorial objectives to conceal the conspiracy and to obtain personal enrichment, would eviscerate the boundaries of conspiracy law. This court simply cannot hold that Supreme Court case law, the statute of limitations, and general notions of fairness in our criminal justice system no longer have any meaning."
Attorneys handling this case were Joshua Dixon (Parker,Poe, Adams & Berstein LLP), John Lauro (Lauro Law Firm), Andrea St. Amand (Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough), Gary Trombley, Ronald Hanes, Matt Luka (Trombley & Hanes)
Order - Download Dismissal
Holder Memo - "Individualized Assessment"
AG Eric Holder issued a Memorandum on Department Policy on Charging and Sentencing that is different from former AG Ashcroft's Memo of 2003. It's a 2 1/2 page Memo with the term "individualized assessment" used four times, and "individualized justice" used one time. These terms tell the story of the Memo that moves policy from strict uniformity to understanding that not all people and cases are alike. He says it best when he states that "equal justice depends on individualized justice, and smart law enforcement demands it." The Memo repeals two prior memos of Deputy Attorney General Comey, and the charging and sentencing memo of 2003 issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Although the Memo aims for similar treatment for those who commit similar crimes and have the same culpability, it recognizes individuality and unique circumstances. It is wonderful to see included in this Memo an Attorney General's statement that "[p]rosecutors must always be mindful of our duty to ensure that these decisions are made without unwarranted consideration of such factors as race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation." It is also wonderful to see that new AUSAs can't just charge individuals haphazardly as "[a]ll charging decisions must be reviewed by a supervisory attorney."
One of the most commendable aspects of this Memo is the AG's statement that "[c]harges should not be filed simply to exert leverage to induce a plea..."
The new Department of Justice is definitely moving to restore respect and professionalism to this important office.
Memo - Download HolderMemo
See also Ryan J. Reilly, Main Justice, Holder Issues New Charging, Sentencing Guidelines
May 26, 2010
When the Law Is the Perp
Guest Blogger - Op Ed
With more than 20 years as an American criminal defense lawyer, I have witnessed the drafting and enforcement of innumerable federal criminal laws and regulations that patently fail to meet the basic requirements of fairness and justice. More and more, ordinary, hard-working people are being prosecuted for doing seemingly lawful, everyday things that run afoul of federal authorities or the tax collector. And then their nightmare begins.
Recently, I represented a physician who with other physicians and a medical supply company were involved in what can only be described as a profound personal and professional nightmare for them. Federal prosecutors decided to publicly investigate the clients for making treatment referrals that were not covered by Medicare or Medicaid. The patients in question, a number of whom were injured on the job and on worker’s compensation, came to the clients seeking to be made well again. When the clients made referrals for special treatment for patients with private insurance, sometimes the claims would be covered and honored by the insurance carrier, and sometimes they would not. It would depend on the carrier and the individual’s circumstances. To be sure, the treatment in question in this case has been covered by multiple insurance carriers whose names we all recognize.
Well, buried deep in the criminal code and the accompanying regulations, there are criminal penalties for making certain types of medical referrals when the patient’s medical care is covered by, in this case, (federally funded) Texas Medicaid or Medicare. In fact, a referral for more than $100 of the particular treatment in this case for a Medicaid/Medicare-covered patient can result in many years in prison – if dishonesty is involved. But today, the federal prosecution bar is set much lower than the bar for ordinary crimes such as theft. Even a mere paperwork mix-up can result in a major criminal investigation where federal regulations are concerned.
After three years of search warrants, subpoenas, interrogations, public embarrassment and scrutiny in the media, threats to their professional licenses, and significant legal and other expenses, it was determined that, as the clients knew all along, they had done nothing wrong. No indictments were issued. Their lives, the lives of their patients, and necessarily the lives and practices of other physicians and professionals seeking nothing more than to do right by their patients and clients, will never be the same. They must now live with the knowledge of what we as criminal defense attorneys have been watching unfold for decades – we are all potential victims of poorly drafted laws that can be improperly and selectively applied by prosecutors. The irony has not been lost on me. These doctor-clients were prosecuted not because they harmed anyone, but because they tried to help people.
To be sure, health care fraud is a pretty big business in America, with significant costs to all of us. But when the laws passed to deter and punish those who are actually committing those crimes are so poorly crafted that they lead to honorable, decent, everyday people becoming ensnared in our criminal justice system, there is no better evidence that we have a serious problem that must be addressed at the highest levels. We have reached a point where the federal criminal code rivals or exceeds the federal tax code in volume and complexity.
For nearly two years, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Heritage Foundation have studied this problem, and its causes, in great depth. Noting that the federal criminal code alone now has an estimated 4,450 federal crimes, with an estimated tens of thousands more criminal provisions buried in the federal regulatory code, our organizations set out to see how defective laws, specifically those lacking adequate intent requirements, actually get enacted. The conclusions of this study, and the common sense recommendations to stop and reverse this trend and return the federal criminal law to its rightful role in our free nation, are set forth in a recently released report, "Without Intent: How Congress Is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law."
As a practicing member of the criminal defense bar, I know that a lawyer’s job is to protect everyone’s rights, not just those of the criminally accused. Congress makes that job harder when it fails to recognize that a criminal law that no one understands – particularly one that can be violated accidentally, with no intent to hurt anyone – disserves society. Congress is eroding a core element of the criminal law – the intent to do harm or unjustly enrich one’s self. I hope members of Congress and their staff will consider that, and our report, the next time someone says, “There oughta be a law.”