Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hon. Beryl Howell Interprets Southern Union Co.

The Supreme Court, in Southern Union Co. held that "where a fine is so insubstantial that the underlying offense is considered 'petty' the Sixth Amendment right of jury trial is not triggered and no Apprendi issue arises."  But the Court then went on to say that "not all fines are insubstantial, and not all offenses punishable by fines are petty."  The final ruling was that "Apprendi applies to the imposition of criminal fines."  (see here)

Today a district court interpreted that decision with the Hon. Beryl A. Howell penning the decision in United States v. Sanford LTD & James Pogue. The court looked at whether "evidence of monetary proceeds is either permitted or required to be presented to the jury."  So the court needed to examine Southern Union and also the Alternative Fines Act, 18 U.S.C. s 3571(d) and determine whether gross revenues offered by the government should be admitted under the Fed. R. Evid. Rules 402 and 403.    

The district court starts by noting that motive is admissible evidence and that the "relevance is not substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice."  That said, the court goes a step further holding "that the government's proposed specific measure of monetary proceeds ($24,045,930.79 in gross revenues) may not be admitted, standing alone, to establish the 'gross gain' that Sanford 'derive[d]...from' the charged offenses under 18 U.S.C. s 3571(d)."  The court stated, "[t]he government may not admit that specific monetary figure except to the extent, and only if, necessary for the jury to establish or calculate the appropriate measure of 'gross gain' 'derive[d] ...from' the charged offense, which the Court defines" later in its opinion.

It is here that things get particularly interesting.  Hon. Howell notes the ambiguity in the term "gross"  monetary amount. Being a master of the sentencing guidelines, Hon. Howell points out how the guidelines provide guidance on the meaning of "gross gain." She provides a wonderful lesson on the legislative history, even referencing the Model Penal Code. She notes how there are conflicting opinions on what constitutes gross gains. (nice law review topic for a student looking for the jurisdictional split for his or her student note). In the end she defines "gross gain" to mean "any additional before-tax profit to the defendant that derives from the relevant conduct of the offense."

But she also notes the importance of the term "derived from" and "concludes that the term ...requires that the government prove that a given monetary amount (either a gain or a loss) was proximately caused by the conduct of the charged offense in order to qualify as a 'gross gain' under s 3571(d)."

The court noted that it "requires additional information before deciding whether allowing the government to seek a fine under s 3571(d) would 'unduly complicate or prolong' the trial."

Hats off here to Attorney Greg Linsin of Blank Rome who raised this issue.

(esp) (w/ a hat tip to Irwin Schwartz).

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/2012/07/court-interprets-southern-union-co-.html

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