Friday, October 26, 2012
This panel was moderated by James Felman (Kynes, Markman & Felman, P.A.). The opening panelist, Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson, Vice-Chair, U.S. Sentencing Commission, spoke about the 2012 Guideline Amendments which go into effect soon if Congress does not modify the changes. Some of these changes are in the white collar crime arena. Specifically, there are modifications to certain frauds – insider trading, mortgage fraud, securities fraud, and financial institution fraud. Many of these changes regard the determinations of loss. In some instances the commission changed the application notes.The speaker also noted that the Sentencing Commission is in a multi-year study of economic crimes. (proposed amendments can be found here)
Providing a congressional perspective was Bobby Vassar (Chief Minority Counsel, Subcommittee Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, U.S. House of Representatives) who reminded us that no one gets defeated in an election by being tough on crime. Providing an executive perspective was Michael Rotker, Criminal Appellate Division, U.S. Department of Justice. From the defense side was Amy Baron Evans, Federal Defenders Sentencing Resource Counsel.
Two individuals provided international perspectives: Clarisse Moreno (Kynes, Markman & Felman, P.A.) and Stephan Terblanche (University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa). Ms Moreno noted that in France if you get two years or less, very rarely will you serve prison time. Absent it being a human rights violation, in Norway the maximum penalty is 21 years. Ms. Moreno also noted that the recidivism rate is low in Norway. Stephan Terblanche noted that where movies and other items from the U.S. are looked at elsewhere, the sentencing guidelines do not export very well. Having the international perspective offered by these speakers was particularly fascinating and offered a welcomed dimension to this sentencing discussion.
The opening address was given by Edwin Meese III, former U.S. Attorney General. He talked about how to make our system “effective, efficient, and just.” He noted that the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is aligned with the Heritage Foundation on this important issue of overcriminalization. He spoke about the improper use of the criminal law and process for political reasons and social regulation, emphasizing the misuse of limited resources. He gave some frightening examples of how ordinary law-abiding citizens were caught up in the criminal process. He said that the estimate today is that there are over 5,000 criminal statutes and then there are also regulatory offenses, and his estimate is over 300,000 federal criminal penalizing statutes and regulations. He noted the lack of a meaningful mens rea in many of these statutes. He mentioned how overcriminalization problems in the United States also involve cases in international law. He suggested that we need education (educating the public and legislators) and also legislators should not be able to delegate criminal responsibility to an agency for the creation of a crime. The legislature should also make crimes clear with a necessary ingredient being the mens rea. In this regard he advocated for an innovation of using mistake of law, something that is being experimented with in New Jersey. Finally, placing all criminal laws in Title 18 is something that he thinks will assist.
This opening address was a lead into a discussion of the next panel on the topic of Overcriminalization,
a panel moderated by Professor Sara Sun Beale. She started with questions of asking whether we have a problem of Overcriminalization and if so, what do we should do about it. The first speaker was Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice. She said that U.S. detains youth five times more than the next industrialized country. She noted that Japan does not detain their youth; they resolve issues in an alternative method. Community based alternatives are needed. Professor Roger Fairfax (George Washington) discussed the “smart on crime” philosophy. Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney of Kings County, Brooklyn, New York, who created 29 new alternative programs, including a re-entry program, noted the need for criminal law reform.The last speaker was Professor Luis Chiesa (Pace Law School), who offered a comparative perspective from a civil law view. He suggested using rules of construction similar to European courts and others. This international perspective added another dimension to this discussion.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The sentencing is today at 2:00 PM Southern District of New York Time. (And is there really any other time in the Universe?)
As I noted on Monday, Gupta's Guidelines Range, according to the Government and the Probation Office, is 97-121 months.That's a Level 30. Gupta's attorneys put Gupta's Guidelines Range at 41-51 months. That's a Level 22. The different calculations are based on different views of the gain and/or loss realized and/or caused by Gupta. Gupta's attorneys are seeking a downward variance and asking for probation, with rigorous community service in Rwanda. Serving a sentence in Rwanda is not as strange as it may sound on first hearing. After all, criminal defendants in Louisiana regularly do time in Angola.
But seriously, lawyers and germs, there is a practice pointer in here somewhere. Practitioners naturally strive to obtain the lowest possible Guidelines Range as a jumping off point for the downward variance. It is psychologically easier for a judge to impose a probationary sentence when the Guidelines Range is low to begin with. It is legally easier as well, because the greater the variance from the Guidelines, the greater the judicially articulated justification must be.
But too many lawyers push the envelope in their Guidelines arguments, thereby risking appellate reversal on procedural grounds. This is a particular danger when the judge is already favorably disposed toward the defendant and looking for ways to help him. Failure to correctly calculate the Guidelines is a clear procedural error. (Some of the federal circuits try to get around Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough by setting up rigorous procedural tests. The Fourth Circuit is the most notorious outlier in this regard.) Lawyers must be on guard against the possibly pyrrhic and costly victory of an incorrectly calculated Guideline range, followed by probation. One solution is to have the court rule on alternative theories. "This is the Guidelines Range. These are my reasons for downward variance. Even if the Guidelines Range was really at X, as the Government argues, I would still depart to Y for the same and/or these additional reasons." If the judge already likes your client, getting him or her to do this is often an easy task.
Of course, Judge Rakoff needs no instructions in this regard. One of our ablest and sharpest jurists, and a leading Guidelines critic, he will attempt to correctly calculate the Guidelines Range in an intellectually honest manner and will downwardly (or upwardly) vary as he damn well sees fit, with ample articulation.
Monday, October 22, 2012
As my colleague Solomon Wisenberg wrote, see here, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat K. Gupta is scheduled to be sentenced this Wednesday, October 24, by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Southern District of New York upon his conviction of insider trading and conspiracy.
The sentencing decision in this case is a particularly difficult one. On the one hand, Gupta is (or was) a man of exceedingly high repute who has done extraordinary good works, as attested to in sentencing letters by Bill Gates and Kofi Annan, and, if sentencing were based on an evaluation of the defendant's entire life, even considering the serious blemish of this case, Gupta might well deserve commendation and not punishment.
On the other hand, the crime for which Gupta was convicted, albeit arguably aberrational, was a brazen and egregious breach of the faith which was placed in him precisely because of his outstanding reputation. Indeed, while Gupta's motivation appears not to have been greed or personal gain, a factor that ordinarily would suggest leniency, one may conclude that his crimes resulted from an arrogance of power and privilege and the belief that as a "master of the universe" he was above the law.
Gupta, having gone to trial and expected to appeal (challenging the same wiretap that is a subject of the appeal by Raj Rajaratnam discussed by my other colleague, Ellen S. Podgor, see here), is at somewhat of a disadvantage. Since any statements he may make discussing his motivation or showing remorse could probably be used as admissions in a potential new trial, he did not admit wrongdoing or demonstrate remorse, factors viewed favorably by most sentencing judges. Although I strongly doubt that Judge Rakoff will "punish" Gupta for going to trial, as some judges do, the judge will be unable to consider any understandable and perhaps sympathetic motivation or any remorse, if either exists, as a mitigating circumstance.
As often happens, both sides have made extreme sentencing requests. The government asks for a sentence of 97 to 121 months, what it claims is the appropriate sentencing guidelines range. The defense is seeking probation with community service in Rwanda, supported by a request from a Rwandan governmental official, or alternatively New York. At first blush, the request for community service in Rwanda struck me as either a "Hail Mary" hope, an accommodation to a client or family who are unwilling to accept reality, or a deliberately lowball request in the expectation of a middle ground sentence. On further consideration, however, I believe that a sentence of, say, two years performing "community service" in Rwanda while living in spartan conditions (a modest one-room apartment, cooking his own meals, not having servants, etc.), might not be inappropriate. Rather than wasting Gupta's enormous talents and intellect in prison, such a sentence would enable him to provide considerable benefit to society. Indeed, such a sentence would probably be much more onerous for Gupta than confinement in a federal minimum security camp. To be sure, there is a serious question whether such community service could be suitably monitored.
Of course, Judge Rakoff, however independent, fearless and innovative as he is, will not sentence Gupta in a vacuum. He will no doubt consider sentences that he and other judges have meted out to lesser-known defendants in other insider trading cases and how his sentence will appear to the public in terms of deterrence and equal justice. Gupta should not buy his plane ticket yet.
Rajat Gupta is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Jed Rakoff on Wednesday. The Rajat Gupta Sentencing Memo filed last week by his attorneys is an outstanding work of its kind, and the Government's Sentencing Memo in U.S. v. Gupta is also quite good.
Gupta's Guidelines Range, according to the Government and the Probation Office, is 97-121 months. Gupta's attorneys, led by Gary Naftalis, put Gupta's Guidelines Range at 41-51 months. The different calculations appear to be based entirely on different views of the gain and/or loss realized and/or caused by Gupta. Key issues are whether Judge Rakoff should include the acquitted conduct in the loss calculations (which he is allowed but not required to do) and whether the gain should be confined to Gupta and his co-conspirators, as opposed to other investors. Gupta's attorneys are arguing for probation, with a condition of rigorous community service in New York or Rwanda.
My guess is that, however he gets there, Judge Rakoff will impose a prison sentence of 3 to 6 years. The judge is a well-known critic of the Guidelines and Gupta has apparently led a life of extraordinary kindness and good works. On the other hand, Gupta is an enormously wealthy member of the financial elite to whom much has been given. He stands convicted of insider trading, which everybody on Wall Street knows is illegal. This was not a case in which ambiguous admitted conduct did or did not violate the outer edges of the insider trading laws. This was a case in which Gupta either tipped clearly confidential, proprietary inside information or he didn't. The jury has ruled that he did, at least with respect to four of the six charged counts. Judge Rakoff must and will accept that verdict. I believe that Judge Rakoff will see it as his judicial duty to send, through Gupta's sentence, a message of general deterrence.