Friday, June 17, 2011
NACDL's 1st Annual West Coast White Collar Conference, “Turning The Tables On The Government” – “From Push to Shove: Defending Against Higher Sentences,” Friday, June 17, 2011
Guest Blogger: Darin Thompson, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender (Cleveland,OH)
The seminar closed with a discussion of sentencing strategies. Moderated by Jeffery Robinson, the panel consisted of David Angeli, Ellen Brotman, U.S. District Court Judge Robert T. Dawson, Vito de la Cruz, and Jan Nielsen Little.
Mr. de la Cruz started the discussion by suggesting that because the guidelines still carry considerable weight, plea agreements should (where possible) be negotiated to impose a statutory cap on the possible penalty. With regard to the guidelines, Mr. de la Cruz discussed looking at the way in which the guideline was drafted. If the guideline was not based upon a Sentencing Commission study and empirical evidence, the case law is clear that the district court can reject the guideline based upon policy alone.
Ms. Brotman seconded those comments, and noted the excellent resources made available by federal defender offices to assist in analyzing whether the guideline at issue may be subject to challenge on this basis.
Judge Dawson noted the reason behind the guidelines was to establish some sense of fairness between sentences, but were intended to be recommendations only. Post-Booker, the “real work” at sentencing is with regard to variances.
Mr. Angeli suggested that the “deconstructing the guidelines” approach may be effective with regard to 2B1.1 guidelines, because those guidelines have not evolved due to careful Sentencing Commission study. Ms. Brotman followed up by noting that this kind of attack should be supported by empirical evidence in favor of the sentence that is being sought, rather than just relying on omissions by the Sentencing Commission. She additionally noted that the initial research upon which the guidelines were based was flawed, because it only included defendants who were sentenced to prison.
Mr. Angeli discussed Pepper v. U.S., a Supreme Court case which held that post-1st-sentencing, pre-re-sentencing rehabilitative efforts can be taken into consideration. He noted that the Court held that the sentencing guideline which did not make good policy sense could and should be disregarded. The holding in Pepper suggests that a number of other policy statements are now subject to challenge.
Ms. Little noted that the Sentencing Commission has compiled a huge variety of statistics, available on their website, which can be used to make arguments for lenience. For example, she noted that statistics supporting a relatively high frequency of variances with regard to similarly situated defendants can be cited to request a similar variance. Ms. Brotman suggested that the Sentencing Commission can remain relevant by making this information even more readily available.
Ms. Brotman discussed the application of the four purposes of sentencing listed in 18 U.S.C. 3553 apply to white collar cases. The negative use of the same factors by the government was discussed by Mr. Robinson and Ms. Little.
Ms. Brotman discussed the Ninth Circuit’s review of white collar sentences, and noted with concern that a number of the Judges have expressed that discretion in white collar cases should be reined in because Judges are more inclined to be sympathetic to white collar defendants because they are more likely to actually be similar to them with respect to their background.
The panel noted (with audience agreement) that Assistant United States Attorneys are almost uniformly asking for guideline sentences. Ms. Brotman noted that this rigid policy often eliminates them from the discussion regarding the appropriate sentence.