Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sitting on the bench in a high profile case is not easy on any lawyer or the judge for that matter. Everyone is scrutinizing your motions, your rulings, and even what you may be wearing. Co-blogger Solomon Wisenberg noted here how the judge has the ability to move the Clemens trial along. This may be true - but I am not sure that he should.
Giving time for each attorney to state their objections, restate their objections, preserve the record, and yes, restate them even again, is important for everyone. Judge Walton is noted for giving defendants a fair trial - albeit he is also known for being tough if one is convicted. This is all the more reason to make sure that everything is properly on the record, should the defense be unsuccessful at trial.
I am firmly convinced that when prosecutors or defense counsel deliberately clog up a case with needless motions and objections, the jury may eventually catch on. And when prosecutors deliberately attempt to break the stride of the defense counsel or weaken the presentation with objections and distracting arguments, don't always assume it will benefit the prosecution. And keep in mind, that if there is a conviction the appellate court gets to read the entire record and they will have the opportunity to see the motions being made, the arguments supporting the motions, and they will have the opportunity to discern whether one side was deliberately wasting time with worthless motions.
So making sure everything is on the record, and that all arguments are heard is not such a bad thing.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Judge Walton says that the jury is bored at the Clemens trial, and of course he blames the lawyers. Maybe he should look in the mirror. The proceedings would have moved much faster had the Court put a stop to the government's pettifogging objections to cross-examination questions that allegedly strayed beyond the scope of direct.
The judge has also, according to the latest press reports, characterized Rusty Hardin's lengthy cross-examination of Brian McNamee as confusing.
I stopped in on the trial yesterday morning during Hardin's cross-examination of McNamee. Although there was no smoking gun moment, it was an accomplished cross that ably exposed McNamee's shifty, evasive personality. Near the end, Hardin asked a perfectly acceptable question, the point of which was to stress that McNamee would have been valuable to Clemens as a private trainer irrespective of McNamee's ability to provide illegal drugs. The prosecution objected. Rather than simply ruling on the objection, Walton engaged in an unnecessarily lengthy exchange with the attorneys on the finer points of evidentiary law. You would have thought they were discussing the Ex Post Facto Clause or the Magna Carta.
The trial judge has great discretion to move a case along--even a big case. This doesn't mean that the Court should prevent either side from putting on its evidence or vigorously questioning witnesses. The Clemens case would benefit from quicker bench rulings on objections, particularly objections that only serve to break the other side's pace and stride. The government objections that I witnessed on Wednesday did not merit the lengthy treatment they were given by the Court.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Some years ago, I represented a landlord who was indicted and convicted for offering a bounty to a thug if he beat up the leader of the tenants' committee, which was opposing a rent increase. This behavior does not seem all that much different from what the National Football League has alleged New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma did. Vilma, four other players, and his coach Sean Payton and others, have been disciplined by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for allegedly conspiring to offer rewards to teammates to maim opposing players, particularly star quarterbacks.
News about this alleged conspiracy has been widely publicized, but I have yet to read of any current or impending federal or state criminal or legislative inquiry. While certain violence in football is accepted, deliberate maiming goes beyond any acceptable norms. Nonetheless, it would not surprise me that neither federal nor state prosecutors, especially in the New Orleans area, where Vilma and his alleged player co-conspirators played, view such an investigation as crowd-pleasing. Realistically, it is quite possible that a New Orleans jury would nullify and acquit Vilma even if there were convincing evidence against him.
In virtually every other area of business activity where there is a tenable allegation that a person had conspired to maim a competitor or opponent, there would be a serious prosecutorial investigation. In sports, what is ordinarily considered criminality, at least physical criminality, is often given a bye.
One might think that Congress has a legitimate reason and special responsibility to investigate alleged orchestrated maiming in professional football, a national sport/business. The National Football League, as it is now, exists due to Congressional largess. Congress has given the NFL a special exemption to antitrust rules which allows it to function as a lucrative monopoly with an all-powerful commissioner. Professional football (which to my wife's chagrin I watch virtually every fall Sunday), if fairly and properly played, is a dangerous game, as reflected by the frequent injuries and limited career span of its players, and the reported unusual rates of early brain damage, suicides and deaths among its retirees. When improperly played -- played with a purpose of injuring others -- it is even more brutal.
Of course, just as an indictment might not be popular with local fans, a Congressional investigation into football brutality would probably not be favorably received by the voters back home, who like their contact sports (at least professional sports) such as football and hockey to be rough. Congress appears to be more interested in whether baseball players engage in taking illegal drugs, which, if it harms anyone, hurts only themselves or perhaps also competing players who perform at a comparative disadvantage without such presumed aids. Such an investigation also continues to feed the anti-drug attitude Congress has fostered and to justify the harsh drug laws Congress has enacted. Of course, Congress might also be gunshy in view of the embarrassment that the baseball steroid investigation and resulting Roger Clemens trial became.
This is not to say that I presume Vilma is guilty. I have not seen or heard any concrete evidence that he in fact did orchestrate a bounty program. The NFL investigation was conducted in secret and with only a sparse controlled public report by the NFL of its findings. Vilma's attorney, in a letter roughly equivalent to a motion for discovery in a criminal case, has asked for 17 points of information. The NFL's response is essentially that its special counsel, Mary Jo White, a respected and liked, and generally prosecution-minded, former United States Attorney, has reviewed the secret evidence and has found it sufficient. The NFL also claims that it had shared some of the evidence with the alleged offenders and the NFL Players Association. The association, while supporting the players' right to arbitration, presumably represents both Vilma and the alleged offenders, and is barely a substitute for a single-minded advocate on Vilma's behalf.
Thus, Vilma, subject to possible reversal by arbitration or court action, will be punished with a suspension of one year (a significant time in a football player's limited career span), and the loss of millions of dollars without even rudimentary due process. And, unlike many persons suspended or fired from jobs, Vilma is practically unable to ply his trade anywhere else besides the monopolistic NFL.
I do not know enough about the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which apparently allows the Commissioner to be both prosecutor and judge, or about labor law to know whether Vilma has been treated properly. I do, however, have a visceral feeling that he deserves more rights than a secret investigation and a conclusory decree by a commissioner with dictatorial power.
Monday, May 7, 2012
I'd say you had a pretty good week if you got a key government witness to agree there is a 50-50 chance he misheard or misunderstood a purportedly damning admission by your client. That's what happened last week (week one) in the Roger Clemens re-trial, through Mike Attanasio's cross of Andy Pettitte. This morning, team Clemens filed Defendant's Motion to Strike Portions of the Trial Testimony of Government Witness Andy Pettitte. The Motion is an excellent piece of work. The argument?
1. The threshold for establishing admissibility of a preliminary fact question under Federal Rule of Evidence 104 is preponderance of the evidence. Fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.
2. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, relevant evidence "means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.
3. Even if relevant, the testimony's probative value is substantially outweighed, under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, by the "danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury." This is particularly true in light of the Government's statement to the jury, during its opening, that Clemens told Pettitte "he had used human growth hormone and that it helped him with recovery." The real-life fifty-fifty version on the stand didn't cut it.
4. Judge Walton specifically warned the parties before trial about making promises they couldn't keep in opening statements. He said that if it occurred here he would "not hesitate to tell this jury that they must totally disregard any such statements of that nature. I'll specifically identify what those statements were and tell them there was no evidence to that effect, and therefore, they cannot consider that in deciding this case." Judge Walton should make good on his promise, because fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.
Team Clemens also noted that the government could have revisited the conversation during re-direct, but deliberately skirted the issue.
My prediction is that this motion will be granted in some form. It certainly doesn't mean that Clemens is out of the woods. Ted Stevens' outstanding trial team won several motions during trial and Judge Sullivan gave Stevens some very scathing anti-government jury instructions--to no avail. (Of course, in the Stevens case, the government was deliberately hiding important exculpatory material.) But such an instruction will undoubtedly greatly benefit Clemens. It will essentially knock-out a key portion of the government's case.
Kudos to the defense team for an outstanding cross and an excellent motion. One of the nice things about this trial is that co-counsel Attanasio is finally getting some of the national media attention he has long deserved.
Friday, May 4, 2012
Nobody messes with Judge Reggie Walton. Here is a great post from Mike Scarcella of BLT (Blog of Legal Times) on recent bench conferences in the Roger Clemens case. Defense attorney Mike Attanasio incited Walton's wrath this week when he ignored Walton's ruling and tried to go "beyond the scope of direct" during the cross-examination of Andy Pettitte.
According to Scarcella, Attansio was questioning Pettitte about a specific Clemens pitching performance that took place in 1999. Attansio wanted to delve into whether "Clemens was so depressed and beaten up then that he would start taking drugs to perform better." Prosecutor Steve Durham objected that this went beyond the scope of direct. Walton sustained the objection.
Attanasio then asked Pettitte whether he had ever seen Clemens "broken and beaten" after a game. This ticked Walton off: “I’m getting sick and tired of making rulings and counsel not listening to my rulings." Walton reminded Attanasio "that the defense does not have a right to build its case during the government’s pitch to jurors."
That's preposterous of course. Every good defense attorney tries to make his case during cross-examination, and Attanasio was allowed to ask other questions that technically went beyond the scope of direct. For example, Attanasio elicited Pettitte's key testimony that Clemens had never appeared to be pitching on steroids. I haven't read the transcripts yet, but it is unclear to me how far out of the strike zone the additional questioning strayed.
As any experienced litigator knows, courts are all over the map on the scope of cross-examination. Most federal judges allow a relatively expansive cross for reasons of judicial economy. Why make the defense call a witness to the stand in its own case, when you can save time by questioning the witness on cross? But a federal judge's ruling on whether to allow narrow or open-ended cross is virtually unassailable on appeal.
Attanasio did what most good defense attorneys would do in this situation. He ignored (sub silentio) a dubious ruling from Judge Walton and attempted to make the same point through a slightly altered question. That will work with many judges who aren't paying close attention, but it didn't phase Judge Walton.
Judge Walton has many fine qualities. He is intelligent, fair, and couragoeus. But he tends toward rigidity.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Two weeks ago Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York dismissed the indictment in one of the sillier prosecutions brought in that court in recent years. See article here and opinion here - Download Opinion. Julian P. Heicklen, an 80 year-old retired professor, was charged with jury tampering (18 U.S.C. 1503) for distributing at the courthouse steps pamphlets of the Fully Informed Jury Association ("FIJA") that advocated jury nullification.
The pamphlet stated, in part: "You may choose to vote to acquit, even when the evidence proves that the defendant 'did it,' if your conscience so dictates." It also suggested that jurors may choose to be less than candid when asked questions during jury selection about their ability to follow the law as instructed by the judge. It is "your moral choice," the pamphlet stated, whether to "give answers that are likely to get you excused from serving, or say whatever it takes to be selected, so you can do your part to see that justice is served."
Jury nullification, as commonly understood, goes only one way. It allows jurors to ignore their oaths and acquit a defendant even if they are convinced that her guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The potential effect of Heicklen's pamphleteering -- if it were to have any, which I question -- would be acquittals (or hung juries) in cases that otherwise would have resulted in jury verdicts of guilty.
The prosecutors in the Southern District were understandably upset. Heicklen was in a sense treading on their turf -- both the courthouse and the law. The prosecutors reacted aggressively, investigating by using an undercover agent and indicting based on an apparently unclear statute and in a bedrock area of First Amendment protection. In court, a prosecutor called Heicklen's advocacy "a significant and important threat to our judicial system."
Rather than the crucial decision to prosecute being made by independent, disinterested prosecutors, as it should always be, here it was made and carried out by the very prosecutors who were in a practical sense themselves the aggrieved parties or "victims." It was their cases -- their convictions -- that Heicklen arguably put in jeopardy by suggesting that jurors might still acquit even if they believed the defendant had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Southern District prosecutors were too conflicted and too involved to be allowed to make the decision whether to prosecute Heicklen (and they were too conflicted and too involved to make a reasoned, dispassionate and intelligent decision). The conflict here was not the potential or hypothetical conflict that prosecutors often argue should disqualify defense counsel, but an actual one. If the prosecutors felt Heicklen should have been prosecuted, they should have referred the ultimate decision to the Department of Justice in Washington. (While I do not know definitively that the Southern District prosecutors did not, if they had, I would have expected that the case would have been prosecuted by Central DOJ lawyers.)
There is an obvious imbalance in the criminal justice system. One litigant, the prosecutor, may charge the opposing litigant with perjury, the litigant's lawyer with obstruction and the litigant's advocate with jury tampering. The other litigant, the defendant (and his counsel), can only howl about agents who lie and prosecutors who secure convictions and jail sentences by concealing evidence. The power of one litigant to protect his case (or cases) by charging one seeking to undermine it (or them) is a drastic one that should be used with care and extreme caution. Here, prosecutorial discretion went awry.
Judge Wood's decision was calm, deliberate, and thorough, considering statutory construction, legislative history, judicial rulings and constitutional implications, and not, at least directly, criticizing the prosecution. Granting the defendant's pre-trial motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b) on the grounds that the facts did not state an offense, she ruled that the statute was limited to advocacy relating to a specific case, not a general philosophy, as here. Although Judge Wood ultimately relied on a plain language analysis and did not explicitly rule on the First Amendment issue, she indicated that Heicklen's conduct was constitutionally protected free speech.
The case represents governmental overreaching in a sensitive free speech area. Perhaps if the decision whether to prosecute were made at Central DOJ, it would have been different, and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a highly respected and effective office, would have been spared an embarrassing defeat (and Mr. Heicklen spared a prosecution, although I suspect he rather enjoyed it).
The ultimate result may be that FIJA now has a license (in the form of a district court decision) to distribute literature suggesting nullification on the steps of federal courthouses, or nearby, throughout the nation. (Judge Wood did recognize that reasonable restrictions on such distribution under other laws may apply.)
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Here are ten basic observations regarding criminal discovery. They send a loud message that the proposed Senator Lisa Mukowski (Alaska) (along with Senators Inouye, Hutchinson, Begich and Akaka) "Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act" legislation is needed to codify the holding in Brady and add teeth to making certain that defendants receive a fair trial.
Ten Basic Premises:
- Most prosecutors play by the rules.
- One of the rules is you have to give up Brady material.
- Brady is going to be 50 years old in 2013.
- The ethics rules require prosecutors to give up exculpatory material.
- Some prosecutors have no clue what Brady material really is.
- In some cases prosecutors can’t tell if something is favorable to the defense because they don’t know what the defense will be presenting.
- Discovery in national security cases, terrorism, and cases where someone will get hurt needs to be treated differently.
- The chances of prosecutors being caught if they fail to give up Brady material is slim.
- If Brady material is not given or given late, most courts will find it to be harmless error.
- The chances of a prosecutor being disciplined for not giving up exculpatory material is slim.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
I expect that any day now one of my non-white-collar criminal clients will come to my office and ask me to incorporate him to protect him from future criminal liability. Of course, incorporation does not immunize an individual from criminal liability. Nor, generally, does it protect small corporations from prosecution.
However, it appears that just as massive corporations are "too big to fail," they are too big to prosecute. In the wake of the government's destruction of Arthur Andersen because of an ill-conceived, aggressive and ultimately unsuccessful indictment which caused the loss of thousands of jobs, DOJ has been highly reluctant to aggressively prosecute major corporations.
Although there are occasionally indictments of major corporations, most often these are disposed of by "deferred prosecutions," which are essentially delayed dismissals with financial penalties in numbers that are large in absolute terms but meager in comparison to the profits and assets of the corporation. To be sure, even when prosecuted to conviction, corporations do not go to jail and thus there may be little practical difference between a conviction of a corporation and a deferred prosecution. However, to the extent a goal of the criminal justice system is to achieve apparent fairness and equality, there is a genuine, if symbolic, reason for the prosecution of the large and powerful, whether they be individuals or corporations.
According to a thorough account in the New York Times this past Saturday, April 21, see here, Wal-Mart in Mexico, where the company has, according to the Times, one-fifth of its stores, engaged in a systemic countrywide scheme in which it spent millions of dollars to bribe hundreds of Mexican officials to gain favorable and expedited treatment and a competitive advantage. According to the Times, this conspiracy was not, as is often the case in corporate wrongdoing, the act of a rogue individual or group. Rather, it was orchestrated from the very top of the Wal-Mart Mexican hierarchy. Additionally, again according to the Times, when reports of this corruption reached Wal-Mart's U.S. headquarters, top executives took great pains to cover up the wrongdoing.
The alleged conspiracy, if the Times report is accurate, appears to be the kind of corporate crime, therefore, that deserves aggressive prosecution (not just an indictment and a deferred prosecution), especially if the government wants the Federal Corrupt Practices Act ("FCPA") to be taken seriously. Of course, there may be statute of limitations or other fact-finding or evidentiary problems involved in putting together a case involving facts from 2005, the year, according to the article, the bribe payments were made. It is far easier to write an article reporting corruption than to prove it under the rules of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, DOJ does with respect to this matter.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Circuit Judge Pryor not only voted to deny a rehearing en banc in the Ali Shaygan case seeking Hyde Amendment fees, but he went out of his way to explain his reasoning of why he was not supporting the factfinder district court judge. (see here). His opinion, one that seems likely to be headed for a higher review, looks at why he thinks a Hyde Amendment award was improper in this case. His decision spends several pages explaining what he believes was the evidence against the defendant, who by the way was acquitted after a trial by jury. He notes how defense counsel ( who he does not mention by name - it's David Oscar Markus) is "an elite defense attorney, and Shaygan's superb counsel took advantage of the opportunity to focus the attention of the jury on the alleged misconduct by the government in the collateral investigation."
The district court had granted Shaygan's Hyde Amendment motion and ordered payment of $601,795.88 for attorney fees and costs. The award was a response to a finding of prosecutorial conduct including discovery violations. Circuit Judge Pryor comes to the defense of the prosecutors saying that "[t]hese public servants deserve better." He ends his affirmation of the denial for a rehearing en banc stating that "[t]he prosecution of Shaygan, triggered by the death of his patient and supported by substantial evidence, was not wrong." Check out John Pacenti's article in the Daily Business Review, Eleventh Circuit releases new opinion on Shaygan case, criticizes dissent
The two person dissent to this denial of a rehearing en banc by Circuit Judges Martin and Barkett present a very different picture. They note that U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold's "comprehensive fifty-page Order awarding Hyde Amendment attorneys fees to Dr. Ali Shaygan was 'crowded with thorough findings of fact' detailing government misconduct that took place in his prosecution." They state:
"This Court's opinion also strips our federal judges of a rarely needed, but critical tool for deterring and punishing prosecutorial misconduct. And the prosecutorial misconduct that happened in Dr. Shaygan's case deserved punishment."
This dissent outlines the discovery that was not provided to the defense despite a court order. They state "[t]he government violated Dr. Shaygan's rights, and now, contrary to what Congress has provided, he is left alone to pay the costs he suffered at the hands of these rule breakers."
This case sets up a wonderful review of what should be the role of the Hyde Amendment, who should be the finder of facts when there are allegations of misconduct, what should be the standard of review, and how best to remedy claims of discovery violations. This case also needs to be considered as Congress decides whether to pass Brady legislation.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Last week, in a blog entitled "DOJ's Lafler/Frye Motion Goes Too Far," I expressed a strong objection to that prong of the DOJ application that requests that the defense lawyer submit an ex parte document signed by him and the defendant explaining defense counsel's reasoning for rejecting a plea. See here.
I, however, found "generally unobjectionable" the request that the defense lawyer report the plea offer and its rejection in open court. I have, upon reconsideration, changed my mind somewhat and come to the conclusion that plea offers and rejections should not be announced in front of the judge. Rather, any necessary record should be made in writing and not made public, if at all, until the case has been concluded. Such a procedure should amply satisfy DOJ's desire to avoid or minimize post-conviction attacks based on a failure to advise (but admittedly not a failure to give adequate advice).
I fear that if plea offers were to be publicly announced, it could affect the severity of some offers, put arguably inappropriate material before the court, and lead to occasional posturing by both prosecutors and defense lawyers. A prosecutor who is concerned about the legal sufficiency of her case might be hesitant to offer a seemingly lenient plea because she fears that a low plea offer might signal the weakness of her case to the judge, who in the event of a trial, will rule on sufficiency, and perhaps even be the trier of fact. Indeed, she might make an exceedingly harsh offer or no offer at all in the hope that the judge be led to believe she feels she has a strong case. Somewhat similarly, a defense lawyer's announced rejection of a lenient plea, especially if unaccompanied by commentary about the lack of merit of the prosecution, might convey to the triers of fact, the judge or in highly-publicized cases potential jurors, a message that the prosecution case is weak.
Additionally, a prosecutor's failure to offer what a judge believes is a reasonable plea offer or a defendant's rejection of such a plea might well have an adverse effect on a judge with an especial concern in processing cases quickly or keeping his workload in check.
For these and other reasons, most, perhaps all, federal courts prohibit a judge from engaging in plea discussions. (See Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(e)(1): "An attorney for the government and the defendant's attorneys . . . may discuss and reach a plea. The court must not participate in those discussions . . . .") Arguably, a judge's silent awareness of a plea offer and rejection may not be considered "participation," but that is a thin distinction.
Of course, in some jurisdictions, such as New York state courts, judicial involvement in plea bargaining is the norm.
Monday, April 9, 2012
BLT: The Blog of Legal Times reports that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington recently asked to review notes made by attorneys for DLA Piper, including George Mitchell, during interviews of persons such as Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski who are expected to be government witnesses in the trial of Roger Clemens. See here. Judge Reggie Walton had ordered that these notes, made by the lawyers in their investigation of drug use by baseball players, be produced to the defense over DLA Piper's objection. The government took no position on the defense application for production.
Now, claiming that the government "did not lift a finger" to secure the notes, Clemens' attorneys ask Judge Walton to deny the government access to the notes. Otherwise, the court will "reward the prosecution for taking a head-in-the-sand approach," they claim.
I cannot agree with Clemens' position. Discovery is not a one-way street either for the government or for the defense. Both parties should be equally entitled to the documents. Even objections to production of documents by third parties should not operate as a waiver to review the documents, if they are produced. Although the defense, unlike the government, has no obligation to produce material harmful to its case, when relevant documents are secured by court order from third parties, absent special circumstances such as privilege, they should be available to both sides. A contrary rule would conceal information from defendants much more than from prosecutors.
Friday, April 6, 2012
In the wake of the Schuelke/Shields report and the introduction of new discovery legislation, one has to wonder whether the Supreme Court will take a case that raises a Brady discovery issue. At their doorsteps is the case of James A. Brown, a case from the Enron days. As previously noted (here) Brown, is a former Merrill Lynch executive who "was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his testimony before the Enron grand jury about a transaction between Merrill and Enron in late 1999." There are important issues here like the appropriate standard of review for Brady cases. Should it be "clear error" or should it be de novo. (see here) The case also examines "materiality," a term that has created some confusion. What must a prosecutor provide to the defense counsel. And isn't it odd that the adversary in the process is making the determination for what the defense is entitled to receive. The case looks at summaries being provided to defense counsel. Bottom line - summaries are not the same as the real thing.
In the reply brief recently filed, they argue-
"Here, as in Stevens, many exculpatory statements appear only in raw notes of government interviews of key players. In Brown, the Enron Task Force actually yellow-highlighted these notes before trial – along with prior testimony and FBI 302s – indicating that the information met the requirements of Brady and was material, but suppressed them anyway. While continuing to deny that any evidence fell within Brady, new prosecutors recently disclosed 6,300 pages including much (but still not all) of the evidence suppressed by the Task Force." (Reply Brief - Download FILED REPLY ON CERT.)
The government's brief sees things differently - Download SG OPP32312.
This case is distributed for conference on April 20th.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Supreme Court decisions in new areas of criminal law often lead professors and practitioners to predict startling changes in the legal landscape. Regarding the Frye and Cooper decisions I discussed earlier this week, Widener Law Professor Wesley M. Oliver told the New York Times that these cases "constitute the single greatest revolution in the criminal justice system since Gideon v. Wainwright . . . ." See here. I do not agree.
While I do expect that there will be some formalistic change in plea offer procedures so that offers will routinely be made in writing or on the record, I do not expect that these decisions will ultimately provide great benefits to many defendants or great detriments to many prosecutors. Most courts had already recognized that ineffective assistance arises when a defense lawyer fails to communicate a plea offer or gives incompetent advice regarding whether to accept it. True, Frye/Cooper allows, but does not mandate, relief even after trial for such ineffective assistance. And, there probably will be an increased number of post-trial petitions concerning alleged failures of counsel to communicate favorable pleas or competently advise whether to accept them. However, few of these challenges are likely to be ultimately successful.
Indeed, the obstacles set forth by the Supreme Court for a defendant convicted after trial to succeed are substantial. The defendant must demonstrate that the plea offer that counsel failed to communicate was both a formal and favorable one or that counsel gave constitutionally inadequate advice concerning it, that the defendant would have accepted the offer if it had been presented properly, that the offer would not have been cancelled by the prosecutor prior to execution and that the offer would have been accepted by the judge. Then, even if the prosecutor is required to reoffer the plea proposal, the judge may in her discretion sentence the defendant according to the conditions in the deal, to the same sentence he received after trial, or somewhere in between. Thus, even if the Court finds that the defendant was unconstitutionally deprived of a fair opportunity to accept a proffered plea offer, the defendant may ultimately receive the very same sentence he received after trial -- essentially no relief at all.
Justice Scalia in his dissent in Cooper found it "extraordinary" that the remedy for an unconstitutional conviction "should ever be subject at all to the trial judge's discretion," and that a "remedy could ever include no remedy at all."
Justice Scalia suspects, so he says, that the "squeamishness" in fashioning a remedy and the "incoherence" of the remedy provided is attributable to the majority's inner recognition that in fact there is "no real constitutional violation." I suspect that it is a compromise to secure a five-vote majority.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
In companion cases decided two weeks ago, Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel applies to the plea bargaining process and that a defendant who rejected a favorable plea bargain based on incompetent advice from his attorney may be entitled to relief even though he was subsequently convicted at trial.
In Frye, the defense attorney failed to relay a plea offer from the prosecution. The uncommunicated offer expired and the defendant later accepted a plea deal that involved a substantially greater sentence than did the original offer. The Court held that "as a general rule" defense counsel is required to communicate to his client a "formal offer" that is favorable in that it may result in a lesser sentence, a conviction of a lesser crime or crimes, or both.
In Cooper (the name of the defendant), the attorney conveyed the plea offer but advised the client to reject it based on the attorney's constitutionally defective assessment of the strength of the case. The Court held that such advice in plea-bargaining discussions was ineffective assistance and was not rendered irrelevant by a later conviction at trial. Both decisions were by a 5-4 majority with the opinion written by Justice Kennedy.
Thus, in sum, the Supreme Court has held that in the plea bargaining process, the defense attorney must convey a favorable plea offer (Frye) and must not give ineffective advice relating to the decision to accept or reject it (Cooper). Either failure may result in relief even if the defendant were later convicted after trial and sentenced accordingly.
The Department of Justice, understandably and reasonably concerned in protecting convictions in pending cases headed for trial from later appellate and collateral attack on the grounds that a plea offer was not communicated or was rejected because of unsound advice, has responded, at least in one jurisdiction, with a motion to make a record of "plea negotiation activity." See here - Download Motion Pursuant to Lafler and Frye. This "pro-active" motion essentially contains two prongs.
First, the defense counsel should report the plea offer to the Court in the presence of the prosecutor, and the defendant should acknowledge having rejected it. That prong appears to me generally unobjectionable, although I see no reason why the prosecutor, the offeror, should not state the offer, rather than the defense counsel, the offeree.
Second, DOJ requests that the defense counsel's advice concerning whether to accept or reject the plea also be placed in the record. Recognizing that this advice may be privileged, as Frye states, DOJ asks that this be done in a "sealed ex parte document" signed by the defendant and defense counsel. That prong is highly objectionable, and DOJ should withdraw it. If not, defense counsel should challenge it and courts should reject it.
Information that is "privileged" as attorney-client confidences should not be disclosed to anyone, including the judge, unless absolutely necessary (as it might be in a challenge as to whether the communication is actually privileged). Such disclosure, for instance, might reveal the defense trial strategy so that the judge might be influenced in her trial rulings. It might reveal uncharged crimes about which the judge is unaware. It might suggest that the defendant's arguably unreasonable refusal to accept the attorney's strong advice to plead guilty reflects a lack of acceptance of responsibility that the judge might consider negatively at sentence. It might also reveal the attorney's candid view of the judge's ability, fairness and decency, a factor in many plea decisions.
To be sure, a failure to make a record of an attorney's advice whether to plead guilty might lead to an increased number of appeals or collateral proceedings based on alleged unsound advice, although, as pointed out in Cooper, past history does not support this conclusion. This standard argument, that the floodgates will be opened, however, applies equally to the failure to make a record as to the attorney's advice whether a defendant should testify, or should forego for tactical reasons a motion to suppress, or should call certain witnesses, or any number of issues in a criminal proceeding.
DOJ should reconsider its request that the attorney divulge, even ex parte, confidential plea bargaining discussions between lawyer and client beyond merely that the offer was communicated and not accepted. In the absence of a withdrawal of this request by DOJ, defense lawyers should not voluntarily comply (unless it is to their clients' advantage, and I can think of many instances where a defense lawyer would seize the opportunity to give his evaluation of the case to the judge ex parte), and courts should not enforce such an intrusive requirement.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
We don't need new legislation insuring that defendants receive the exculpatory information they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution, because the DOJ has learned its lesson from the Ted Stevens case and will NEVER let something like that happen again.
For example, in the high-profile insider trading case of U.S. v. Rajat Gupta, the DOJ recently argued that its prosecutors did NOT have to review 44 SEC interview memos for Brady material, even though the memos summarized interview sessions jointly conducted by SEC and DOJ attorneys. According to SDNY prosecutors, the overall DOJ and SEC investigations were not technically "joint" in nature, so SDNY AUSAs had no Brady obligations with respect to the SEC memos. The SEC attorneys were capable of conducting the Brady review on their own. Yeah, right. Just like the FBI and IRS Special Agents were capable of conducting the Brady review in U.S. v. Stevens. I completely forgot about the Brady training that SEC attorneys receive on a regular basis. DOJ's position is not only contrary to SDNY and Second Circuit case law--it also violates the letter and spirit of the Ogden Memo, promulgated after Stevens to prevent future Brady debacles. I guess SDNY didn't get the memo. (They're special you know.) Judge Jed Rakoff was having none of it. See his Gupta Brady Ruling, issued last week, for details. In truth, all of the SEC memos should be turned over in their entirety to the defense, just as all of the 302s and MOIs in Stevens should have been turned over.
It is clear that the DOJ has learned almost nothing from the Ted Stevens case. Suppression of exculpatory and/or potentially exculpatory evidence is largely not an issue at the line level. The typical AUSA knows Brady/Giglio when he sees it, and knows to disclose it. The problems tend to arise in high profile cases, particularly those captained out of DC. The sickness extends to very high levels at the DOJ. The Stevens prosecution clearly showed this. The Bill Allen-Bambi Tyree subornation of perjury allegation, reported in 2004 to a federal judge by DOJ prosecutors in a sealed pleading, was classic Giglio material. It should have instantly been recognized as such by the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Public Integrity Unit and they should have ordered it turned over immediately to the defense. It wasn't and they didn't.
The DOJ has run out of scandals and excuses. Enough already. At long last, have they no shame?
Monday, March 26, 2012
1. Compost flows downhill.
2. I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. I'd rather be a supervisor than a line assistant.
3. If I am an experienced prosecutor and supervisor and agree to take over and lead the prosecution team a few days prior to the Indictment, I need to lead that team and take responsibility for my actions and the team's actions.
4. If I am prosecuting a white collar case involving hundreds of FBI 302s and I don't hand them over to the defense before trial, I am virtually guaranteeing Brady error.
5. If I am prosecuting a white collar case involving hundreds of FBI 302s and I don't hand them over to the defense before trial AND I am going up against a United States Senator who is represented by a highly skilled law firm known for its tenacious tactics, I am a fool. I deserve what I get. But the people who work for me don't necessarily deserve what they get.
6. If I prosecute a sitting U.S. Senator in July, knowing that he is up for re-election in November and assuming that he will seek a speedy trial, I better have my discovery, especially my Brady discovery, ready to hand over on the day of the Indictment.
7. If my case has hundreds of 302s, it is likely that some of the agent's interview notes will contain material inconsistent with, or not referenced in, the 302s
8. If four prosecutors and one case agent interview the key prosecution witness three months before Indictment, and the interview goes poorly, AND no 302 is generated, people aren't going to think well of them. This is especially true if the FBI Special Agent later admits that no 302 was written because, "the debriefing...did not go well," and the prosecutors completely forget about the interview and the Brady information gleaned during it.
9. If I discover Brady information, it does not magically lose its character as Brady material because I decide to investigate further and develop contrary information.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Here is the Williams & Connolly Analysis of the Schuelke-Shields Report. It is an excellent dissection, by Brendan Sullivan and Robert Cary, of the rampant prosecutorial misconduct permeating the Ted Stevens case.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
(esp) (rev. 4-8-12)
If one thing is clear from theSchuelke Report, legislation is needed for discovery reform. Senate Bill 2197 does exactly that. Proposed by Senator Lisa Mukowski (Alaska) today, along with Senators Inouye, Hutchinson, Begich and Akaka, the bill titled "Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act" aims - "[t]o require the attorney for the Government to disclose favorable information to the defendant in criminal prosecutions brought by the United States, and for other purposes." The Brady Supreme Court standard has been around approximately 50 years. There also are professional responsibility rules that call for disclosure of Brady material. But what really needs to happen to avoid another Ted Stevens case fiasco is to have this codified in federal law.
One of the prosecutor responses to the Schuelke Report states - "Because PIN, and, in large part, the Criminal Division, inexplicably had no formal policies or procedures regarding most core investigative and prosecutorial functions ...." Another takes issue with whether there was a Brady violation. And several pointed fingers at others.
This bill needs to pass.
See Bill & Synopsis here on the NACDL website.