June 5, 2012
Fifth Circuit Decision Has Many Inviting Issues for the Supremes
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences in U.S. v. Brooks, a case involving alleged "false reporting of natural gas trades in violation of the Commodities Exchange Act and the federal wire fraud statute."
Although the court distinguishes the Stein decision from the Second Circuit with the facts in this case, both cases had individual defendants who had their attorney fees cut off. In Brooks, the defense claimed it was from government pressure, but the Fifth Circuit said the factual findings were not present to confirm this conduct. The court found that the company's policy on payment of attorney fees was a discretionary policy. But when a company gets a deferred prosecution agreement one has to wonder if there is an incentive to show cooperation, albeit payment of attorney fees can not be a factor used.
There is also an interesting question of what constitutes "reports" for purposes of the CEA or CFTC regulations. This is an intriguing issue as one is basically violating federal law through a submission document. The Fifth Circuit rejected a void for vagueness argument here.
The Fifth Circuit also found the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction as meeting the recent Supreme Court decision in Global Tech, although they admit it does not use the same language. The question here is whether deliberately closing one's eyes is the same as taking "deliberate actions to avoid learning of the fact," the test set forth in Global Tech. I see a difference in that one is passive and the other is active. The Court seems to be satisfied with the evidence in this case, but one has to wonder if the Fifth Circuit should be quickly looking to change its pattern jury instruction to avoid this issue in future cases.
Then there is the question of defense witness immunity. A witness is on the prosecution witness list and is not called to testify because the prosecution has concerns about the witnesses truthfulness. The witness has not yet been sentenced (the government postponed sentencing for 39 months- obviously to be after this trial) and decides to take the Fifth Amendment. The prosecution called the witness the evening before the witness was to testify, but says the call was to determine if they needed to prepare the witness for cross-examination. The defense argues that the witness has exculpatory evidence for the defense. The defense asks for defense witness immunity and doesn't get it. One has to wonder whether the jury really had full information to resolve guilt or innocence? But the Fifth Circuit held otherwise.
And this is not a case where defendants are receiving light sentences. All the defendants were level one and yet all of their sentences exceeded 11 years imprisonment, with one receiving a 14 year sentence. Whoever thinks white collar offenders are getting off easy, needs to just look at this case to see that this is not the situation.
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