Federal Supervised Release is not Punishment

The Seventh Circuit on Federal Supervised Release

A few years ago, the Seventh Circuit published an order clearly showing their views on the imposition and purpose of federal supervised release. That circuit is back at it again with an opinion regarding three separate cases, challenging their supervised release conditions.1  Thanks to the Federal Criminal Appeals Blog for the head’s-up on this one.

There are some key points made by this ruling that anybody interested in the nuts-and-bolts of federal supervised release should be aware of. If you are on supervised release, or interested in the subject at all, the entire opinion is a must read.

The Purpose of Supervised Release

To start off with, the Circuit posted a history and usage overview of supervised release. The most interesting part of this section of the order is below:

“The purposes of supervised release have been variously described as rehabilitation, deterrence, training and treatment, protection of the public, and reduction of recidivism.”2(Citations omitted and footnoted)

The real meat of this point is clarified a little later.

“Supervised release was not intended to be imposed for the purposes of punishment or incapacitation, “since those purposes will have been served to the extent necessary by the term of imprisonment.”3…see also 18 U.S.C. § 3583(c) (directing a court contemplating the imposition of supervised release to consider most sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), except the need for the sentence to provide just punishment for the offense). The Supreme Court has described supervised release as “the decompression stage” between prison and full release.”4 (Citations omitted and footnoted))

What this says is simple. The goals of supervised release are not to further punish the defendant, since that is what incarceration is for. The factors courts must consider when contemplating a term of federal supervised release all almost the same as the one’s they consider when imposing prison time. The only difference is that court’s cannot consider the need for supervised release to provide just punishment for the offense.

The Meaning Behind the Purpose

Let us look at this from the perspective of one who wishes to gain early release from federal supervised release. If, 1) the purpose of supervised release is not to inflict more punishment for the underlying crime; and 2) the “decompression state” between prison and full release is accomplished, then there is no reason to keep a defendant on supervision any longer.

The trick is proving that this decompression stage is over. From lots of prior 7th Circuit decisions, we have these factors that mark this decompression and satisfy that requirement. From the first quoted section, these five purposes of supervision are:

  1. Rehabilitation: have you completed all treatment and aftercare?
  2. Deterrence: are you effectively deterred from committing future federal crimes?
  3. Training and Treatment: do you have enough treatment and education to stay clean from crime and to keep stable employment? Stability of home and job is a key indicator to judges that you pose a low risk to commit new crimes. Sometimes it just matters how busy you are. Job? Kids? Wife/Husband? All these keep a person busy, and no idle time means no time to devote to criminal behavior. “Idle hands are the Devils’ playground” and all…
  4. Protection of the public: Again, this lends to treatment, stability, and reduced risk of committing new crimes.
  5. Reduction of recidivism: At this point it gets redundant, but explicit. What is your quantifiable risk to commit new crimes. If you have zero criminal history, this part is easy!

That’s All For Now

So far, we’ve only viewed about 6 pages of this 68-page opinion. However, this is plenty to digest for now. If you’re looking to get early release from federal probation or federal supervised release, consider the purpose of supervision and ask yourself if you’re finished with its intended goals. If so, you could be a prime candidate!

  1. U.S. vs. Kappes, U.S. vs. Crisp, and U.S. vs. Jurgens; Nos. 14-1223, 14-2135, & 14-2482 respectively and decided April 8, 2015. []
  2. United States v. Johnson, 529 U.S. 53, 59-60 (2000); United States v. Siegel, 753 F.3d 705, 708 (7th Cir. 2014); United States v. Evans, 727 F.3d 730, 733 (7th Cir. 2013) []
  3. S. Rep. No.98-225, at 125; see also Johnson, 529 U.S. 59 (“Supervised release fulfills rehabilitative ends, distinct from those served by incarceration.”) []
  4. Johnson v. United States, 529 U.S. 694, 709 (2000). []

AG Holder Remarks on Criminal Justice Reform

While United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced six months ago that he would be leaving his office, he is still serving and waiting for his replacement to be confirmed and take control of the US Department of Justice. In the meantime, he has not let up on his belief that criminal justice reform is a very pressing issue forAttn. General Holder Testifies At Senate Judiciary Hearing On Justice Dept Oversight the DOJ.

In a speech to the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, a long speech, there was a section that should be posted loud, clear, far, and wide. It speaks to the heart of what true criminal justice reform means and some of the reasons why it is necessary. The section is posted below:

“We must reject the notion that old practices are unchangeable, that the policies that have governed our institutions for decades cannot be altered and that the way things have always been done is the way they must always be done. When the entire U.S. population has increased by a third since 1980, but the federal prison population has grown by almost 800 percent, it is time – long past time – to look critically at the way we employ incarceration. When the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population but incarcerates almost a quarter of its prisoners, it is time – long past time – to reexamine our approach to criminal justice. And when estimates show that a staggering 1 in 28 American children has a parent behind bars and that the ratio for African-American children is 1 in 9, it is time – long past time – to take decisive action in order to end a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration that traps too many individuals, degrades too many families and devastates too many communities.

That means more state legislatures must end felon disenfranchisement – and so many other barriers to reentry – for individuals who have served their sentences and rejoined their communities, and invest in alternatives to incarceration like drug courts – something I’d like to see in the next five years in every federal district in America. It means Congress must act to restrict and refine those crimes to which mandatory minimums apply and extend the Fair Sentencing Act so that no one is serving a sentence based on a disparity in punishment between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses that Congress, the President and the Attorney General have all declared unjust. And it means gatherings like this one must continue to bring together leaders and advocates, academics and public servants, from all backgrounds and circumstances, to renew our commitment to this vital cause.”

The full text of Holder’s speech can be found at the DOJ’s website, and is definitely worth the time it takes to read in full.

Tsarnaev Verdict – Guilty Counts Explained

Boston Bomber Guilty on all Counts

April 8, 2015 – The trial of Boston Bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been closely watched by the nation, and around the world. Although the trial itself is well outside the purview of what we do here, federal criminal law is all we focus on (in general).

Bomber Tsarnaev convicted

Boston Bomber

By now, most interested Americans know that a jury returned a verdict of “guilty” today on all 30 counts against Tsarnaev.1 What is uncommon, and clumsily explained by the main media outlets reporting on it, are the specifics of the charges, and what penalties each carry.

Tsarnaev caused the deaths of four innocent people: Krystle Marie Campbell,2 Officer Sean Collier,3 Lingzi Lu,4 and Martin Richard. (Richard’s family page regarding information on him and the rest of the Richard family can be found on Tumblr here)) The sections below are an exhaustive list of the charges against the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, short details directly from the federal indictment against him, and the penalties that coincide with them.

A quick note: Under the penalties below, when “any term of years” of prison time is allowed by law, the United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual. is used to calculate those years. “Any term of years” doesn’t mean the judge can give as little or as much as he wants with limitless discretion.5

Charges Against Tsarnaev

 

Count 1: Conspiracy to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction Resulting in Death

A violation of 18 USC §2332a(a)(2)

Paragraph 11 of the federal indictment6 starts the detailed description of the acts that constitute a conspiracy between Dzhokhar and his brother, Tamerlan. This conspiracy resulted in the death of four people, a run from law enforcement, and a shootout that ended in his capture. Here’s a short quote from the indictment document.

[They] “knowingly conspired…to use a weapon of mass destruction, namely, a destructive device as defined by [18 USC §921] without lawful authority, against a person and property in the United States…”

Penalties: A defendant convicted of a violation of this statute “shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, and if death results, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Count 2: Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332a(a)(2) and 18 USC §2

Paragraph 41 of the indictment against Tsarnaev cites this statute as his role in aiding his now-deceased brother to carry out the bombing. 18 USC §2 is a general statute that details the acts that constitute aiding and abetting any crime under federal criminal law.

“…DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV and Tamerlan Tsarnaev produced explosive bombs from pressure cookers, low explosive powder, ball bearings, nails, adhesives, electronic components, and other materials, then Tamerlan Tsarnaev, aided and abetted by DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV, placed and detonated one such bomb…in the vicinity of 671 Boylston Street in Boston Massachusetts, which resulted in a premature end to the Boston Marathon and damage to Marathon Sports and other property.”

Penalties: Aiding and Abetting for Count 1 carries the same penalties. A prison term up to life, and eligibility for the death penalty.

Count 3: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

Violations of 18 USC §924 (penalties in (j)); 18 USC §2

Paragraph 44 begins the description of how Tsarnaev used a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The “firearm” here is the bomb he used, not a gun. The result of death for this count is the murder of Krystle Marie Campbell.

Penalties: Any person who is convicted of using a firearm during a crime of violence and causes death can “be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.”

Count 4: Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

Identical to count 2, except charged separately for the murders of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard. Penalties are the same as count 3, namely, prison time or death.

Count 5: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

Identical to count 4, except for the use of the second bomb, which caused the murders of Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu. Penalties are prison time or death.

Count 6: Conspiracy to Bomb a Place of Public Use Resulting in Death

A violation of 18 USC §2332f(a)(1)

Paragraph 57 of the indictment changes the scope and angle of the charges. The title of this section of §2332f is “Bombings of places of public use, government facilities, public transportation systems and infrastructure facilities.” The resulting death in this charge refers to all four murder victims.

Penalties: A defendant convicted of a violation of this statute “shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, and if death results, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Count 7: Bombing of a Place of Public Use Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332f(a)(1) from count 6, with 18 USC §2 added

A short section of the indictment charging Tsarnaev of aiding his brother in the furtherance of the conspiracy to bomb a public place. Penalties for this charge again include the death penalty.

Counts 8 & 13: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924 and 18 USC §2

This is a 924 charge specifically for the death of Kristal Marie Campbell for bombs number 1 and 2.

Count 9: Bombing of a Place of Public Use Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332f(a)(1) from count 6, with 18 USC §2 added

This is a 2332f charge specifically for the deaths of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard, using bomb #2.

Counts 10 & 15: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924 and 18 USC §2

This is a 924 charge specifically for the deaths of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard, using bomb #2.

Counts 11 & 12: Conspiracy to Maliciously Destroy Property Resulting in Personal Injury or Death

A Violation of 18 USC §844(i) and (n)

From paragraph 81 of the indictment:

“The Grand Jury…charges that the offense resulted in personal injury to at least one person; specifically it resulted in personal injury to many persons who were participating in, viewing, and passing by the Boston Marathon.”

“The Grand Jury further charges that the offense…resulted in the deaths of Krystle Marie Campbell, Officer Sean Collier, Lingzi Lu, and Martin Richard”

Penalties under subsection (i):

“…if death results to any person, including any public safety officer performing duties as a direct or proximate result of conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall also be subject to imprisonment for any term of years, or to the death penalty or to life imprisonment”

Count 14: Malicious Destruction of Property Resulting in Personal Injury and Death; Aiding and Abetting

In Violation of 18 USC §844(i) and 18 USC §2

Similar to counts 11 & 12, but for the actions, not the conspiracy to commit those actions. Penalties remain the same, as above.

Counts 16 -18: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Resulting in Death; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924 and 18 USC §2

This is a 924 charge specifically for the death of Officer Sean Collier for a Ruger P95 9mm semiautomatic handgun. Two of these charges latch to the conspiracy to create and place the two bombs, and 17 is specifically for the possession and use of the Ruger.

Penalties remain prison time or death.

Count 19: Carjacking Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2119(2) and 18 USC §2

From paragraph 117 of the indictment, Tsarnaev:

“…with the intent to cause death and serious bodily harm, knowingly took and attempted to take from the person and presence of D.M., by force and violence, and by intimidation, a motor vehicle that had been transported, shipped, and received in interstate and foreign commerce, that is, a 2013 Mercedes ML350 bearing Massachusetts license plate 137N71 and VIN 4JGDA5HB1DA193885.”

This charge specified the theft of victim “D.M.” who remains anonymous in the indictment, and the injury caused to Officer Richard Donohue.

Penalties for this charge include prison time, calculated by the sentencing guidelines, but a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Count 20: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924(c) and 18 USC §2

This count specifies Tsarnaev’s carrying and brandishing of his Ruger handgun during the carjacking from Count 19, that resulted in the injury to Officer Richard Donohue.

Penalties for this count carry a minimum sentence of 7 years in federal prison.

Count 21: Interference with Comerce by Threats and Violence; Aiding and Abbetting

A violation of 18 USC §1951 and 18 USC §2

From paragraph 123 of the indictment, Tsarnaev,

“…committed a robbery that in some way and degree obstructed, delayed, and affected commerce, to wit, DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV unlawfully took and obtained personal property consisting of eight hundred dollars from the person and in the presence of D.M., against his will, by means of actual and threatened force, violence and fear of injury, immediate and future, to his person and property, by forcing D.M. to provide his Bank of America Automatic Teller Machine (“ATM”) debit card and personal identification number (“PIN”) to DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV, who then and there used the ATM card and PIN to obtain eight hundred dollars from the Bank of America branch located at 39 Main Street in Watertown, Massachusetts.”

This charge carries no minimum prison sentence, but a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Count 22: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924(c) and 18 USC §2

This charge was levied from the actions detailed in count 21, while Tsarnaev was in possession and brandishing his Ruger.

As in Count 20, the minimum penalty for this charge is 7 year in prison.

Count 23: Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332a(a)(2) and 18 USC §2

This details the construction of another bomb and its use against pursuing law enforcement…

“against law enforcement officers in the vicinity of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue in Watertown, Massachusetts, resulting in damage to property used in an activity that affects interstate and foreign commerce and in the closure of businesses, as the Governor of Massachusetts and other public officials asked residents in Watertown, Boston, and elsewhere in Massachusetts to assist law enforcement by remaining indoors while the officers attempted to apprehend DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV.”

Penalties for this charge, again, include a prison term (up to and including life) and the death penalty,

Count 24: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924(c) and 18 USC §2

Tsarnaev used his third bomb while brandishing both it and the Ruger while law enforcement was in pursuit.

Punishment for this charge is another 7 years, minimum.

Count 25: Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332a(a)(2) and 18 USC §2

“DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV and Tamerlan Tsarnaev used an explosive device constructed from a section of pipe, low explosive powder, and other materials (“pipe Bomb #1″) against law enforcement officers in the vicinity of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue in Watertown, Massachusetts, resulting in damage to property used in an activity that affects interstate and foreign commerce and in the closure of businesses…”

This bomb was a pipe bomb used against law enforcement, not a pressure cooker bomb, like in earlier (single-digit) counts. Different bomb, different location. Same penalties.

Count 26: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924(c) and 18 USC §2

This count was charged because of the possession and brandishing, and this time for discharging, of the Ruger and bomb #1 in count 25.

Because the firearm(s) was/were possessed, brandished, and discharged, the minimum penalty for this charge is 10 years in prison with no maximum.

Count 27: Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332a(a)(2) and 18 USC §2

“DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV and Tamerlan Tsarnaev used an explosive device constructed from a section of pipe, low explosive powder, and other materials (“pipe Bomb #2″) against law enforcement officers in the vicinity of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue in Watertown, Massachusetts, resulting in damage to property used in an activity that affects interstate and foreign commerce and in the closure of businesses…”

This is a second pipe bomb, but the same base charge as count 25. Same penalties.

Count 28: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924(c) and 18 USC §2

This count was charged because of the possession and brandishing, and this time for discharging, of the Ruger and pipe bomb #2 in count 27.

Because the firearm(s) was/were possessed, brandished, and discharged, the minimum penalty for this charge is 10 years in prison with no maximum.

Count 29: Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §2332a(a)(2) and 18 USC §2

“DZHOKHAR A. TSARNAEV and Tamerlan Tsarnaev used an explosive device constructed from a section of pipe, low explosive powder, and other materials (“pipe Bomb #3″) against law enforcement officers in the vicinity of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue in Watertown, Massachusetts, resulting in damage to property used in an activity that affects interstate and foreign commerce and in the closure of businesses…”

This is a third pipe bomb, but the same base charge as count 25 and 27. Same penalties.

Count 30: Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Aiding and Abetting

A violation of 18 USC §924(c) and 18 USC §2

This count was charged because of the possession and brandishing, and this time for discharging, of the Ruger and pipe bomb #3 in count 29.

Because the firearm(s) was/were possessed, brandished, and discharged, the minimum penalty for this charge is 10 years in prison with no maximum.

  1. this will open the door to an entirely new type of trial. A jury decision on imposing the federal death penalty []
  2. view her tribute facebook page here []
  3. view his tribute facebook page here []
  4. view her tribute facebook page here []
  5. Federal judges are subject to a standard called “reasonableness” []
  6. docket document #58 []

How to File – Writing The Motion

Previously, in this post, the filing procedures were discussed in detail to ensure any pro se  filers for early termination of federal supervision stay on the correct side of policy and procedure.

In this post, we’ll delve into the actual meat of the motion document. From answering questions like, “Why is a Motion important?” to discussing statutory factors in general, this post will be a road map for any and all comers who want off of their federal supervision early.

Why Is Motion Format Important?

Many federal probationers want to get off supervision (supervised release or probation) early. Inside prison walls, inmates are full of information about getting free before a probation sentence’s natural expiration. Most of this information is mis-informed. Do you have to do half of your time first? Sometimes, but not always. Can you file for yourself? Yes, if you know what you’re doing.

That is why you’re reading this tutorial, right?

Writing a letter to the judge can work. Sometimes. However, a simple letter to your sentencing judge leaves the door open to being ignored. A judge can ignore a letter. A just cannot legally ignore an official motion. Even if that motion is filed by the defendant, pro se.

So, for starters, doing it right means filing a real motion. Formatting, case number inclusion, and statutory citations included.

Getting Started – Heading and Title

Public Access to Court Electronic Records

Public Access to Court Electronic Records

Start with the basics. The top of the document needs to contain the court of record. If you were sentenced in the district court for the Central District of Ohio, then address it as such. Next is the party list: United States of America v. You. Then your case number. Find any filing from your attorney back during pretrial for an example of what this looks like and your case number.

Mouse-over for a pro tip! 

Now comes your document title, normally: Motion for Early Termination of Defendant’s Supervised Release Term, or something similar.

The First Paragraph(s)

After the administrative formalities are handled, your first paragraphs are still pretty standard. Start by telling the judge who you are, what you want, the law that allows him to give you what you want, and what you don’t want. Paraphrased, this goes like this:

“COMES NOW [your name in all caps], in pro se before this Court to respectfully petition for early release from federal supervised release as allowed by Title 18 of the United States Code §3583(e)(1). No hearing is sought in this matter per federal rules of criminal procedure 32.1(c)(2)(B).”

Those law and procedure citations are real, not filler. Copy that paragraph ver batim if you wish, it’ll work just fine as long as you insert your real name and don’t call yourself [your name in all caps].

Your next paragraph is a brief history of your case. Give a summary of the case so far, including sentencing district, sentencing date, sentence details, and supervision length. End it with the date your probation/supervision began.

The Arguments (the MEAT of the Motion)

After all the admin stuff is handled, start your arguments. Use policy factors including Sentencing Guidelines policy, and how those policies have changes for your crime (or crime category) since you were initially sentenced. If they’re reduced (and most of them are), argue that your sentence would have been shorter if you were sentenced today.

Find some studies that show how low risk you are to commit new crimes. Use statutory law from Title 18 §3553(a), the sentencing factors used to justify your original sentence, to argue that they no longer apply. Google some cases from your Circuit Court that specifically addresses circuit precedent on requests for early termination of supervision. Be creative.

Finally, show some progress. Court’s like nothing more that to feel like you’re fixed, and that it was the Court that fixed you. Did you complete drug treatment? Mention that. Have you had 3 jobs for the last 2 years and never missed a day? Mention that. Do you have a family that supports your new law-abiding life? Hammer on that.

Make the case, and do it well.

What We Do

Here at PCR Consultants, we know how to do it all. We do the heavy lifting so you don’t have to become an expert in all the things you just read about. If you choose to file a request to federal court yourself, you now have the tools to do it. That is, assuming, that you crafted a legally sound, well argued, correctly formatted motion that won’t get dismissed for a technical fault (like applying before the one-year point)

Our service is simple. We put together all the paperwork like any other document preparation service, except we don’t do Wills or Divorces. We do Federal Probation and Supervised Release. Get in contact today to find out how we can help.

 

Criminal Defense Booms When Everything’s a Crime

Criminal Defense – A System of Perpetuation

Criminal defense is a lucrative business. Lawyers spend years in a prosecutor or public defender’s office working long hours for low pay (and huge case-loads) just to get the experience in the trenches of criminal trials to finally switch to private practice. That’s where the real money is.

Many people realize that the American system of criminal justice is badly broken, and the criminal defense industry along with it. Ever wonder why defense attorneys don’t

Criminal Defense boom

“I can get you a plea for only 3 years in prison!”spend big bucks for lobbyists to change the laws that ensnare so many of their clients? Because that would mean fewer paying clients.

Did you know that Correctional Officer’s unions pay top dollar for lobbyists to get harsh punishment laws passed like California’s now-infamous “Three Strikes” law. Laws like this mean more jobs and more union dues.

Criminal defense is lucrative, so less criminal defendants means less money. On the other side of sentencing, less inmates means few correctional officer jobs.  The system is designed to have a continual flow of criminal defendants and inmates to feed it.

Is Everything a Crime Now?

As sarcastic as the titles of this section may seem, America is really becoming a society that is ciminalizing everything. There was a book published a few years ago titled, “Three Felonies a Day” by Harvey Silverglate, and recently we’ve been following @CrimADay on Twitter.

We’ve all seen the online galleries detailing whacky laws in different states. But what about real laws that carry real prison time, and are enforced? Here are a few:

  • 16 U.S.C. §§45e, 60 & 62 make it a federal crime to carry around a dead bird in Yosemite National Park.
  • 40 U.S.C. §§5014(d), 5109(b) & 2 U.S.C. §1963 make it a federal crime to use the US Capitol Grounds as a playground and injure the grass.
  • 18 U.S.C. §1701 makes it a federal crime to slow down a mailman.

In an article entitled The Crimes of the Century, Matt Kaiser details a recent case that shows that these aren’t just whacky laws that don’t get enforced.

As an example, let us consider a recent case from the Western District of Pennsylvania.

According to a recent press release from that office, a woman was indicted for theft of United States Mail. (Because it seems awfully mean to make her more Google-able, I’m not going to use her name here.)

Apparently, she looted a greeting card that was being sent to someone in Cranberry Township.

The article goes on to describe the prosecution of this crime, that resulted in the theft of two crisp $20 bills. Maximum penalty? 5 years and up to a $250k fine. Over $40. How much has the government already spent prosecuting this case? How much has she paid her attorney for her criminal defense? Who knows…

The Bigger Picture

When everything can be made criminal, two things happen. First, prosecutors can prosecute anybody and begin to do so selectively. This means that prosecutors could target political enemies, and with absolute power comes absolute corruption (eventually). Another effect from the fallout of this is the booming criminal defense industry, feeding lawyers to strive for more clients. That leads to the second point.

Second, the class system evolves from this. Lawyers and workers inside the criminal justice system, and civilians. Have you ever noticed how many politicians are also lawyers? Those that benefit from the laws are making them!

 

More Sentence Commutations By Obama This Week

Sentence Commutations for Drug Offenders

Obama: Don't be Stingy with Sentence Commutations

Obama is stingy with sentence commutations

Its a sad fact that Obama has pardoned and commuted less sentences in his presidency than any other president in modern American history. In a positive recent action, Obama issued 22 sentence commutations to federal inmates serving time for drug-related crimes.

These 22 sentence commutations nearly double the number of these actions that he took in the first three-quarters of his presidency. In an article from The Atlantic, snarkily titled, “Obama Offers Commutations to 22 of 209,155 Federal Prisoners,” David A. Graham delves into the good and bad news surrounding these commutations.

Here’s How that article gets going:

For opponents of the War on Drugs—a group that seems to be growing—and those who think the U.S. incarcerates too many people, Tuesday brought some good news and bad news.

The Good News: President Obama has announced that he’s issuing commutations to 22 individuals. They all share convictions for drug offenses; eight would have died in prison if not for clemency.

The Bad News: As The Huffington Post notes, that more than doubles the number of commutations and pardons Obama has issued through the first three-quarters of his presidency. As my colleague Matt Ford noted in December, Obama has been stingy with his mercy, even by the standard of recent presidents, who have used their power more infrequently (though George W. Bush issued only 11 commutations over two terms). Ron Fournier also wrote an excellent analysis of Obama’s pardons in 2013.

Commutations versus Pardons

Sometimes these two words get used interchangeably, and their meanings get lost, so lets clarify. A presidential pardon comes to ex-cons who are out of prison and want their crimes wiped off their criminal record. Pardons usually come at the end of a president’s term to wealthy donors who have no other criminal history besides the one federal conviction to which the pardon is being requested. Translation: pardons are for free men who want to get rid of their criminal record.

Commutations are a different animal. Sentence commutations don’t take away the underlying conviction, it only erases the remaining sentence so an inmate can go free immediately. The 22 people who received sentence commutations on Tuesday would have already been free had they been sentenced under current sentencing guidelines, so these commutations aren’t controversial at all.

A Step in the Right Direction

Obama is to be applauded for his actions, while still encouraged to do more. As the title of the Atlantic article points out, over 200k inmates are still incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons. Considering America has about 5% of the world’s total population, but 25% of the world’s prison population, Obama could do much more to leverage his pardon and commutation power to affect a lot of change.

Sentence Commutations are a good start, though.

Convicted ex-Sen. Vince Fumo wants to end federal supervised release

The title of this post comes from this PennLive article about Vince Fumo. The original article from Philly.com details the corruption charges that landed Fumo in trouble, his prison sentence, and ensuing federal supervised release.

He is now seeking early release from his federal supervised release by motioning the court through his attorney. He is not a client, but represents, in a small way, what we try to accomplish every day here at PCR Consultants.

Here is how the Philly.com article gets started:

CONVICTED FORMER state Sen. Vince Fumo is seeking an early end to his three-year term of supervised release under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Probation Office.

In a motion filed yesterday, Fumo’s lawyer, Dennis Cogan, asked U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter to terminate Fumo’s three-year supervised release after more than 13 months.

“His punishments have been considerable and he has suffered much,” Cogan wrote. “He is now almost 72 years of age. His health is not good and his financial losses have been considerable.”

Fumo was convicted by a federal jury in March 2009 of 137 corruption counts.

Buckwalter had originally sentenced him to 55 months in prison and restitution of $2.3 million to the state Senate, Citizens Alliance and the Independence Seaport Museum. The feds appealed.

Fumo was ultimately sentenced to a prison term of 61 months, three years of supervised release and nearly $4 million in fines, restitution and special assessments, which he has paid in full, Cogan wrote.

Fumo served about four years in prison before being released to home confinement in August 2013 at his Spring Garden mansion on Green Street near 22nd. He received nearly eight months of credit for good behavior.

 

Federal Probation Violation Escalates Quickly

It Stated With A Federal Probation Violation

White City, AL – A high-speed chase ended on Thursday, March 26th with the arrest of David Reynolds of Hanceville, Alabama. This, from a story posted by The Cullman Times before the weekend. Here’s how the story begins:

“A high-speed chase ended in a crash south of Hanceville and the capture of a man wanted for a federal parole violation.

Multiple local law enforcement agencies were involved in the chase after a Cullman Narcotics Enforcement Team member spotted David Jerry Reynolds, 34, driving on U.S. 31 South around 3 p.m. The officer attempted to stop Reynolds, who was driving a blue S-10 pickup, but the suspected continued south into Hanceville and eventually wrecked in the White City community, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry said.”

Reynolds was wanted for a federal probation violation for possessing a firearm. Having, holding, or owning a gun is a big no-no on federal supervised release (or probation).1 A probation violation for possessing a firearm means a quick trip back to prison.

It Escalated Quickly

That Escalted Quickly

Reynolds, wanted for a probation violation, leads police on a high speed chase.

An officer spots Reynolds and attempts to pull him over. Instead of complying, he speeds away and leads law enforcement on a high speed chase that ended Reynolds wrecking his truck. What started with a possible routine traffic-stop-turned-arrest, turned into a very dangerous situation.

Reynolds may have been facing a few years inside prison walls for his probation violation. That’s a federal court issue. Instead of just pulling over when an officer spotted him in his truck, he ran away. This is (most likely) going to add Alabama’s version of the following charges: reckless driving, reckless endangerment, speeding, resisting arrest, and possibly even attempted vehicular assault.

Learn From His Mistakes

If, in the process of living life, you become wanted for a federal probation violation, nothing you can do can make that problem go away. It is possible, however, to make things much, much worse. Reynolds may have been facing a few years in federal prison for his violation (if the government could prove that Reynolds did, in fact, possess a gun when he wasn’t supposed to). After this high speed chase with local law enforcement, though, he is facing many more years in state prison to add to the federal time he still has to do.

Lesson #1: Don’t try to run away from law enforcement. It almost never works, and always makes things worse.

Lesson #2: Running away from a federal probation violation doesn’t make it go away.

Lesson #3: Don’t be like this guy. If you’re in trouble, get an attorney and face it head on. It may just save years of your life that would otherwise be wasted behind bars.

  1. Every federal defendant gets whats called a judgment and commitment order. On that order, standard and special conditions of release are applied after the defendant gets out of prison. The very first conditions always include a ban on possessing firearms. []

Marijuana Legalization, Coram Nobis, and Federal Felonies

Legalized Pot

An interesting question arose for PCR Consultants the other day. With the growing trend the United States these days to legalize pot, what would happen if the federal government actually gave up the Weed branch of its War on Drugs.

Plenty of people believe that locking up citizens in the US for simple Marijuana possession, especially non-violent offenders, is a waste of taxpayer money. Federal felonies can lock up these offenders for decades, given a sufficiently long rap-sheets to justify large sentencing enhancements.

The landscape of Marijuana legalization has changed drastically over the last few years. In 2010, California nearly passed a ballot measure that would have decriminalized normal possession of consumable Cannabis. From SF Weekly writer Chris Roberts:

Buoyed by Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee’s cash and energy, Proposition 19 — which would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of pot for adults 21 and over, and allowed cultivation of small gardens — lost in November 2010. It garnered a historic 4.6 million votes, or 46.2 percent of ballots cast. Following the loss, Lee declared on election night that legalization was inevitable, and that legalization would return in 2012 “stronger than ever” with a new ballot measure.1

What would happen, then, if pot was legalized? Would non-violent federal felonies for Marijuana crimes be erased, and the offenders relieved of their weed-based criminal record?

Maybe, but then again maybe not.

United States v. Skilling

To explore this issue further, we look at Honest Services Fraud and CEO-turned-convict Jeffrey Skilling. What, you may be wondering, does a high-profile-former-Enron-CEO have to do with weed?

Skilling took his federal felony to the US Supreme Court, who decided that some of what Skilling did was not actually a crime. This was a groundbreaking restriction on the application of Honest Services Fraud, and enough to call into question plenty of felonies that stood upon a broader definition of this type of fraud. In effect, many inmates were incarcerated for what may not be a crime any longer.

One of Illinois’ incarcerated former governors2 seized upon the Skilling decision to try and spring him from federal prison. Crime in the Suites reports on this (unsuccessful) attempt:

The Supreme Court’s June decision in United States v. Skilling doesn’t give former Illinois Gov. George Ryan a “get out of jail free” card, a U.S. district judge has ruled.

Last August, Ryan filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, which allows a federal prisoner to challenge his conviction and try to have it set aside if it was imposed in violation of law. His lawyers pointed out that Skilling made a substantial change in federal fraud law, rejecting the concept of “honest services” fraud in cases other than “paradigmatic cases of bribes and kickbacks.”

Judge Pallmeyer, in a detailed 59-page opinion, turned aside all of Ryan’s arguments. The “conduct for which [Ryan] was convicted – steering contracts, leases, and other governmental benefits in exchange for private gain – was well-recognized before his conviction as conduct that falls into the ‘solid core’ of honest services fraud,” the judge wrote, noting that this conduct was exactly what the Supreme Court said in Skilling was the “proper target” of the “honest services” law.

Coram Nobis

On the other hand, if what you did falls exactly under Skilling, you have a case. Nicholas Panarella was convicted of exactly the type of crime that the Skilling ruling said was no longer criminal. Matt Mangino reported on that case this way:

U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin ruled that Nicholas Panarella, Jr., convicted in a political corruption scheme, is entitled to a “writ of error coram nobis” to vacate his conviction based on an honest services wire fraud scheme, according to The Legal Intelligencer.

Judge McLaughlin ruled that Panarella’s conviction is no longer valid in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Skilling v. Untied States, which significantly narrowed the scope of the honest-services-fraud statute.

“Where a person is convicted and punished for conduct that is not a crime, such circumstances constitute the sort of fundamental error that may warrant coram nobis relief,” McLaughlin wrote.

McLaughlin said there was “no dispute that Panarella was charged solely with the undisclosed self-dealing theory that was invalidated by Skilling”, reported the Intelligencer. As a result, Panarella’s conviction “was predicated solely on conduct that is no longer a crime.”

What it all Means

In one case above, the underlying conduct of former Governor Ryan did not become lawful from the Skilling ruling. In the other, the Writ of Error Coram Nobis was used successfully when the underlying conduct of that person was declared “not illegal”.

So many federal felonies are out there for Marijuana that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article. If Marijuana is de-criminalized at the federal level, a great many federal prisoners could be eligible for having their convictions thrown out

  1. Marijuana Legalization Effort Fails in California, Thanks to Money and the Feds []
  2. and there are two: Ryan and Blagojevich []

How to File for Early Termination of Federal Probation

Federal Probation - Approval StampWe’ve made many posts on our blog about the factors that help or hurt when asking the courts to cut terms of federal probation short. This post specifically addresses how its done, and the most common questions we hear about the process.

Filing A Request for Early Termination of Federal Probation

When filing a motion in court, all parties involved in the case must get a copy of the document. In this case, the document is a motion asking the court to cut a term of probation or supervised release short. Criminal cases have only three parties:

  1. The Court;
  2. The Defendant; and,
  3. The Prosecutor’s office.

So, when a defendant is ready to file, two other parties need copies: the Court and the prosecutor. To file with the court, just address the envelope to the Clerk of the Court and try to find the Clerk’s room number online to get it there easier. For the prosecutor, a specific addressee is good, but sending your motion addressed only the Office of the United States Attorney will normally do the trick. (Locate your United States Attorney’s Office)

Side note: While its not required to submit a copy of the motion to the federal probation office, its a good idea to do so as a courtesy.

Mouse-over here for a pro tip!

 

Filing Fee

Here’s some good news for you. An open criminal case requires no fee to file motions. The government opened the case file, so any documents that come after the initial complaint don’t cost anything.

Envelopes and stamps, however, are another story. These are not provided free of charge by the court. Sorry.

Mouse-over for pro tip #2! 

Certificate of Service

When filing documents in a court case for small claims, county, and state courts, all parties involved must get a copy of the filing being put on the docket. Same goes for federal court. However, there is one big difference.

In a federal probation case, a Sheriff or service doesn’t have to be used to deliver the documents to all parties. There are many reasons for this, but they aren’t really important. The point here is that a defendant can mail all the copies out and not have to pay a service to legally do it for them. To make this work, and document called a “Certificate of Service” must accompany all documents that are intended to be filed.

When a motion to terminate a term of federal probation, the certificate of service goes with each envelope. One to the prosecutor, one to the clerk of the court. If you get in touch, we’ll even e-mail you an example of a Certificate of Service you can use.

Mouse-over for pro tip #3

 

The Motion

There are far too many issues to delve into when it comes to writing a motion like this here, and each motion and issue is personal. Fill-in-the-blank motions aren’t very effective because there are eight laws and nine policy factors that go into a single decision a judge makes about modifying a defendant’s sentence.

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly small nature of this request. Ending a term of federal probation before its natural expiration is, legally, a sentence reduction and judges take those seriously. You can read up on some of our posts regarding what judges look at in these types of motions here, here, and here. Look to the upper right to read all our blog posts regarding federal probation and supervised release, but those three are good to get started.

What We Do

Here at PCR Consultants, we know how to do it all. We do the heavy lifting so you don’t have to become an expert in all the things you just read about. If you choose to file a request to federal court yourself, you now have the tools to do it. That is, assuming, that you crafted a legally sound, well argued, correctly formatted motion that won’t get dismissed for a technical fault (like applying before the one-year point)

Our service is simple. We put together all the paperwork like any other document preparation service, except we don’t do Wills or Divorces. We do Federal Probation and Supervised Release. Get in contact to find out how we can help.