Thursday, March 18, 2021
Today, March 18, 2021, is the 68th birthday of the Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. Although Gideon marks the recognition of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as a fundamental right applicable in state cases, it reinforces the Court's prior decision in Johnson v. Zerbst, holding the right to counsel in federal cases. More importantly, the progeny of cases coming from Gideon has allowed court's to use the holding to include the importance of expenses of experts (e.g. Ake v. Oklahoma) as part of that fundamental right. Many of these cases play an important role in white collar cases, especially ones that require experts such as forensic accountants.
In the context of white collar crime, many believe that these cases are handled by private counsel and the role of the public defender is minimal. That may not have been the case, and more importantly it is likely not to be the case as many of the fraud cases on the horizon will be COVID fraud related matters. Whether it be the improper acceptance of money, or the improper use of money, public defenders are likely to be handling some of these cases. So, on Gideon Day it is important to note the key role that public defenders play in white collar cases.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
In 2020, the Fraud Section of the DOJ created the Special Matters Unit (SMU). The naming of this unit was somewhat interesting in that in the early years of white collar crime, larger law firms used the term "special matters" for their section handling white collar criminal activity. Initially, many large firms did not handle any criminal matters and preferred to refer these cases to outside law firms. Gradually, the business of handling white collar criminal matters became too profitable to send elsewhere, and the firms created sections called "special matters" to handle these cases. Today, more firms in an effort to attract this business now openly advertise their white collar and government investigations sections. So, to see in late 2020 the DOJ Fraud Division creating a new unit and calling it "special matters" was fascinating.
But there is a big difference between the defense and government side of "special matters." The government unit was created to deal with:
"issues related to privilege and legal ethics, including evidence collection and processing, pre-and post-indictment litigation, and advising and assisting Fraud Section prosecutors on related matters. The SMU: (1) conducts filter reviews to ensure that prosecutors are not exposed to potentially privileged material, (2) litigates privilege-related issues in connection with Fraud Section cases, and (3) provides training and guidance to Fraud Section prosecutors." (see here)
It appears that this unit was created in response to the 4th Circuit decision, U.S. v. Under Seal, 942 F.3d 159 (4th Cir. 2019), that found the government's use of a taint or filter team improper.
It certainly can be argued that the better process is to appoint a "special master" as was done in Michael Cohen's case. But the question is whether taint teams should continue to be allowed. With continual discovery violations being noticed, this is a time to re-evaluate whether outsiders may be a better way to proceed when issues of attorney-client privilege arise resulting especially from government searches of law offices.
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Perhaps one of the most difficult issues to explain to students is that acquitted conduct may be used by a court in sentencing someone convicted of a crime. And it should be difficult to explain this, as it goes against the grain of fundamental constitutional rights at the core of our democracy. It is therefore good to see that US Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley have "introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021." " This legislation would end the unjust practice of judges increasing sentences based on conduct for which a defendant has been acquitted by a jury." (see here). Due process demands that this be passed. As noted in Senator Durbin's press release, Justice Scalia in a dissent to a petition for certiorari wrote, "not only did no jury convict these defendants of the offense the sentencing judge thought them guilty of, but a jury acquitted them of that offense." Justices Ginsburg and Thomas had joined in this dissent. This is a strong bipartisan issue that needs correction. (proposed bill here).
See also Cara Salvatore, Law360, Sens. Revive Push to Ban Sentencing for Acquitted Conduct
Monday, March 1, 2021
Sylvie Corbet, Phil. Inquirer, France's Sarkozy Convicted of Corruption, Sentenced to Jail ("A Paris court found French former President . . . guilty of corruption and influence peddling").
CNN (Story by Reuters), South African corruption inquiry wants Zuma jailed for two years after no-show
Business Standard (AP), Israeli court delays Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial until April