The 2016 Guidelines Manual Amendments

Today, the 2016 amendments to the United States Sentencing Commission’s Guidelines Manual go live. The topics of this year’s adjustments are:

  1. Compassionate Release from Prison;
  2. Animal Fighting;
  3. Child Pornography Circuit Conflicts;
  4. Immigration; and,
  5. Conditions of Probation and Supervised Release.

Obviously, here we’ll be focusing on the Conditions of Probation and Supervised release, with some later posts dealing with the changes in sentence structures for Animal Fighting, Immigration cases, and possibly Porn. To see the full press release on the amendments that go live today, click here.

Conditions of Federal Probation/Supervised Release

The section of the amendments list regarding the standard, mandatory, and special conditions of supervised release gets started this way:

Reason for Amendment:
This amendment is a result of the Commission’s multi-year review of sentencing practices relating to federal probation and supervised release. The amendment makes several changes to the guidelines and policy statements related to conditions of probation, §5B1.3 (Conditions of Probation), and supervised release, §5D1.3 (Conditions of Supervised Release).

When imposing a sentence of probation or a sentence of imprisonment that includes a period of supervised release, the court is required to impose certain conditions of supervision listed by statute. 18 U.S.C. §§ 3563(a) and 3583(d). Congress has also empowered courts to impose additional conditions of probation and supervised release that are reasonably related to statutory sentencing factors contained in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), so long as those conditions “involve only such deprivations of liberty or property as are reasonably necessary for the purposes indicated in 3553(a)(2).” 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d). Additional conditions of supervised release must also be consistent with any pertinent policy statements issued by the Commission. See 18 U.S.C. §3583(d)(3).

The Commission is directed by its organic statute to promulgate policy statements on the appropriate use of the conditions of probation and supervised release, see 28 U.S.C. § 994(a)(2)(B), and has implemented this directive in §§5B1.3 and 5D1.3. The provisions follow a parallel structure, first setting forth those conditions of supervision that are required by statute in their respective subsections (a) and (b), and then providing guidance on discretionary conditions, which are categorized as “standard” conditions, “special” conditions, and “additional” special conditions, in subsections (c), (d), and (e), respectively.

There is a deeper discussion of cases which have challenged certain restrictions that are placed on federal defendants on supervised release, which is very interesting, but too long to post here.

In essence, here are the changes that this amendment made.

  1. Court Established Payment Schedules: If the Court imposes a mandatory payment schedule for a Special Assessment, Fine, or Restitution Judgment, then that schedule is law. All this amendment really did is change the placement of Court-imposed payment schedules from the “mandatory” section to the “standard” conditions section.
  2. Sex Offenders: Ambiguity was removed from the mandatory condition of a convicted federal sex offender’s requirement to register as a sex offender in their specific state.
  3. Reporting to the Probation Officer: This, too, is simply there to relieve some ambiguity. If a defendant is released to be supervised outside  the jurisdiction of the convicting court, then they are to report to the probation officer of the local Court, then to whomever they’re directed to report to after that.
  4. Leaving the Jurisdiction: This is a good one. Standard Condition #1 is normally worded like this: “the defendant shall not leave the judicial district without the permission of the court or probation officer;” Simple, right? Sometimes, not so much. In States like California, the borders of the districts are weird. In New York, taking the subway from Manhattan to The Bronx or Queens means leaving the Southern District and traveling to the Eastern District. Fall asleep on a train? VIOLATION!
    Anyway, this amendment adds the word “knowingly” to the condition to absolve the subway sleepers and the California hikers from violating a condition of their probation if they didn’t INTEND to violate it. Problem solved.
  5. Answering Truthfully: This one has actually come up more than once with clients. Standard Condition #3 on most Judgment Orders states, “the defendant shall answer truthfully all inquiries by the probation officer and follow the instructions of the probation officer;” But what if the probation officer asks a question that an honest answer could be incriminating? Does the 5th Amendment right to remain silent protect a defendant? Yes, yes it does. It always has. However, many probation officers don’t know this. A defendant on federal probation CAN refuse to answer a question on 5th Amendment protection grounds without violating their probation, and now the guidelines acknowledge this and specify it. It also prevents a probation officer from claiming a defendant “didn’t follow directions” because of an invocation of the 5th Amendment protection against self incrimination.
  6. Residence and Employment: This section changes two things. First, for full-time employment, the Commission added that full-time employment means at least 30-hours a week. This is still able to be waived for education, disability, and other reasons at the discretion of the probation officer.Second, a change of employment or residence used to require a defendant to give 10-days notice to their probation officer prior to the change. But what happens in the event a supervised defendant gets fired? Laid off? Their house burns down??? There is now added language to require the notification of 10 days, or within 72 hours of becoming aware of the change.
  7. Visits by Probation Officer: Not much change here. The commission re-asserts that a probation officer may need to visit probationers at work or at home, sometimes without notification to ensure compliance. “The revision provides plain language notice to defendants and guidance to probation officers.”
  8. Association with Criminals: This is a big one, and is a big step backward. The condition that defendants refrain from “association” with persons who they know to be engaged in criminal activity or have been convicted of a felony. That word “association” gives some leeway. Conduct at work will often put a defendant into contact with co-workers who are known to be former felons. This amendment seems to comport with, but restrict the Soltero case below.“[C]onsistent with the fundamental presumption that “prohibited criminal acts require an element of mens rea,” Vega, 545 F.3d at 750, non-association conditions prohibit only knowing contact with persons that the supervisee knows to be felons. See id.; United States v. Soltero, 510 F.3d at 867 n. 9. We further limited the meaning of nonassociation conditions by emphasizing that “ ‘incidental contacts’ ․ do not constitute ‘association’․” Soltero, 510 F.3d at 866-67 (quoting Arciniega v. Freeman, 404 U.S. 4, 4-5 (1971) (per curiam)” U.S. v. King 09-50665 (9th Circuit 2010).
    Now the association clause changes “association” with “communicating or interacting”, but also adds the word “knowingly” into the condition to make it have a specific requirement that a defendant intended to communicate with the criminal or former felon. That way, if the pizza delivery guy is also a drug dealer, but he just delivered a pizza once to a defendant, that exchange wouldn’t violate the Association with Criminals Clause. However, when it comes to professional relationships, the coverage of “association” would seem to be gone.
  9. Arrested or Questioned by a Law Enforcement Officer: This amendment only changes which section the provision goes under and makes no changes to it.
  10. Firearms and Dangerous Weapons: This amendment, or the part that matters, defines what a “dangerous weapon” is. Some clients have complained that their probation officer has ordered them to get rid of a compound hunting bow or a cross-bow because it was considered a dangerous weapon. This amendment defines a dangerous weapon as “anything that was designed, or was modified for, the specific purpose of causing bodily injury or death to another person such as nunchakus (sic) or tasers.” Rest easy. Those compound bows and cross bows don’t seem to fall under this category, as they were designed for animal hunting, not people hunting.
  11. Acting as an Informant: Nothing new here, just a change in language to improve clarity.
  12. Duty to Notify of Risks Posed by the Defendant: This third-party risk notification requirement is usually a hurdle for most defendants in their quest for employment. Many probation officers mandate that defendants tell their employer about their criminal history. This can, and usually does, limit a defendant’s ability to obtain employment. This can spill out in other areas like e-commerce for self-employed defendants and is really sticky. The amendment gives the probation officer more authority when making a determination about this notification requirement, which sucks. This tends to manifest itself in ways that are very detrimental to a supervised defendant.
  13. Supporting Dependents: The change to this condition is minimal, but fixes some vagueness. Basically this will only be applied to the judgement orders of defendants who have dependents that need support. Right now, it’s applied to everybody and is enforced if it is needed to be.
  14. Alcohol; Controlled Substances; Frequenting Places Where Controlled Substances are Sold: Here’s some good news. These conditions have been deleted so that the “excessive use of alcohol” prohibition is now gone and will be replaced with a full prohibition if it is deemed need in specific cases. Controlled substances are already covered in mandatory conditions, and frequenting places where drugs are sold is covered in the “non-association” clause discussed above.
  15. Material Change in Economic Circumstances: In basic terms, this condition requires defendants to notify their probation officer if they get fired/laid-off from their job, or if they come into a lot of money like an inheritance. Since this only matters if the defendant has a fine or restitution outstanding, the Commission has clarified that this condition is not necessary for cases where no fines or restitution judgments exist.

That wraps up this year’s U.S.S.C. Guidelines Manual amendments for supervised release and probation terms. Some important changes, but nothing earth-shattering this year.

Get Started

Getting Started is Easy

To get started on your way to ending federal probation early, simply give us a call at:

(480) 382-9287

Since this process is more involved than just filling in the blanks of a form, a personal consultation is necessary to get going.

Our simple process is broken up into three easy steps.

  1. An in-depth interview;
  2. Document Preparation;
  3. Approval and Submission.

Each step is detailed below.

The Interview

There are about two dozen laws, policies, and guidelines that judges consider when making decisions to terminate federal probation early. We interview each client to make sure we know the answers that will address all of these factors. Then we make sure all factors outside factors are considered including restitution and treatment.

All these questions inform us on the necessary pieces needed to do the most top-notch work out there in federal probation termination requests. Each interview takes about 30 minutes.

Document Preparation

After the interview we take 2-3 business days to craft, edit, and finalize a first draft of your custom documents. Once they’re considered ready for review, we will send our client this draft for their approval.

Approval and Submission

Once a client has had time to review their documents and supply feedback, we will make any/all necessary changes to satisfy our clients. Once a final draft is approved, all necessary administrative documents, along with detailed instructions for what to do with them, are sent to the client.

Each client is at their own liberty to submit the documents “as-is” or change them before filing. Since we only craft these as documents for clients, we can’t legally intend for them to be filed in federal court. If a client chooses to do so (and most do!), they sign each document and filing them with their federal courthouse using the easy to follow instructions supplied with their final product.




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.

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.

 

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.

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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.

 

How Often Does Your Federal Probation Officer Visit?

How often your federal probation officer visits is an important question for all persons under the supervision of the United States Probation Office (USPO). This small piece of information is very helpful when considering a request for early release from federal probation (or federal supervised release).1

Levels of Supervision

Each federal district has a large amount of discretion over local USPO policy. For this reason, the treatment of probationers and supervisees can vary widely. However, because of the policy set forth in Monograph 109 (available here), much of how those under federal supervision are treated remains similar everywhere.

Generally, when an inmate of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is released from custody, that inmate goes to a halfway house. Once their time in the halfway house is finished, a term of supervised release begins. Initially the level of supervision on the outset is the highest it will be for the supervisee. This includes residential visits from the PO to approve housing, and a visit or two to the supervisee’s job site to verify employment.

Monthly in-person visits from a PO are common in the first months of supervision. After a year or so (maybe even sooner) those visits become more infrequent. This signifies a change in “Supervision Intensity” or some such phrase as used by the local USPO. A supervisee will rarely hear of the internal policy or paperwork involved in the levels of supervision, but the intensity by which the supervision occurs can be easily observed.

Different districts have different names and levels of supervision, but this observation is important! Read on to find out why…

Why You Should Care

There are a lot of reasons to want to get off of federal supervision as fast as possible, and those will be covered in a later post. How often you see your probation officer is discussed above and illuminates information that is important to this cause. Why, you ask?

This descending intensity of supervision is an indicator that the USPO is less interested in a supervisee. Less interest means they believe that there is less of a threat to society posed by the supervisee. That means the USPO is much less likely to stand in the way of a bid to get off of supervision early. If the USPO isn’t standing in the way, the judge is much more likely to grant the request.

This is a great thing! Paying attention to the amount of attention you are getting from your federal probation officer makes you better informed for your request for early termination. Early termination is freedom, and freedom is priceless!

  1. There is little difference between federal supervised release and federal probation. In short, if a federal defendant is sentenced to prison, they will enter a term of supervised release upon completion of that sentence. Conversely, if the defendant was sentenced to no prison time, they will be considered on probation. The supervising officers are the same for both and there is almost no difference, legally, between the two. []