Saturday, March 3, 2012

2012 ABA White Collar Crime Conference- Back to Basics - Sentencing

The opening session of the ABA Annual White Collar Crime program was a back to basics sentencing program. This program was moderated by Jodi L. Avergun (Cadwalader) who did a wonderful job walking the panel participants through the basics of white collar sentencing. She noted that many feel the sentences in white collar cases have no relation to the actual crime charged and in this regard she noted that Congress, this year, directed the Commission to review some of the white collar crime sentences.

Eric A. Tirschwell (Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel LLP) provided a historical background on the development of the sentencing guidelines, from mandatory to advisory guidelines, with a specific focus on the fraud guidelines. He covered key cases like Booker, Gall, Kimbrough, and Rita and also the 3553 factors that play a focal part of the sentencing framework. Moving specifically to white collar cases, he explained the basics of the fraud table found in 2B1.1 of the guidelines and talked about several recent white collar cases like two of my favorites, Parris and Adelson. Tischwell noted that it is important to calculate the guidelines range as low as possible, argue for a variance, and maybe for a departure as well, explain why the sentence is "sufficient but not greater than necessary" (SBNGN) to satisfy sentencing purposes.

For anyone who has never heard a presentation by Hon. Beryl A. Howell, (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) it’s a must do. She always comes with incredible statistics and information. This time was no different. Hon. Howell looked at what the Sentencing Commission is doing and what are the trends that we are seeing. She focused on three areas: 1) what is actually happening with white collar crime defendants around the country 2) why statistics are important 3) what is coming next.

She started by doing something that most folks providing statistics on white collar crime fail to do – she defined what would be included within this term. Then she presented some fascinating statistics. Of particular note is that white collar sentences are going up (average in 2007 was18 months; pre-2011 shows 24 months). This is not surprising since the average guideline minimum has also increased (average in 2007 was 23 months; pre-2011 shows 31 months). Yes, the number of white collar cases being sentenced within the guidelines has decreased (68.2% in 2007 and pre-2011 it’s 47.7%), but it is also important to note that the government sponsored below guidelines range has increased (13.7 in 2007 and pre-2011 it’s 22.9%). Judges sentencing above the guidelines went up slightly (2.2% in 2007 and pre-2011 it’s 2.4%) Some statistics on the plea to trial numbers were also provided by Hon. Howell. The preliminary 2011 cases showed that 93.5 % of the cases had a plea and 6.5 % went to trial. The average sentence for pleas in white collar cases was 21 months and those that went to trial had an average sentence of 62 months. But it should be noted that the average guideline minimum for plea cases was 29 months and it was 111 months for the cases that went to trial.

Andrew C. Lourie (Kobre & Kim) offered tips for sentencing. He stressed the importance of putting important points in on sentencing memo.

Edward C. Nucci (U.S. Attorneys' Office, Southern District of Florida) presented the prosecution perspective (of course not speaking on behalf of the government). He stressed the importance of post-Booker variances. He noted how a prosecutor can want to work out as much as possible prior to the actual hearing.

Karen A. Popp (Sidley Austin), the final speaker spoke about chapter eight of the guidelines -organizations. She stressed the importance of having an effective compliance program, and not just a paper program.

This was an incredible opening to the white collar crime conference. More blog posts will follow.

(esp)(blogging from Miami, Florida)

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