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.

Prosecutorial Misconduct Taken to A Whole New Level

Orange County, CA – Its no secret that many felons, defense attorney’s, and inmates believe that the office of the prosecutor fights unfairly and plays dirty. The reality is, there isn’t much oversight to keep prosecutors from doing so. Making matters worse, there is nearly no mechanism used to punish prosecutors who do.

Charge bargaining (plea extortion), trial penalties, and Brady violations are all common forms of prosecutorial misconduct. They are very easy to suspect, but often very hard to prove.

Hard to prove, that is, until a story like this comes out. A judge in Orange County has disqualified any prosecutors from the county District Attorney’s office from participating in a specific criminal case because of rampant corruption and civil rights violations against defendants. Shaun King over at the Daily Kos exhaustively goes over the allegations and the events leading up to the disqualification of prosecutors. His piece gets started this way:

Between San Diego and Los Angeles is Orange County, California. With more than 3 million residents, it’s larger than 21 states. If Orange County were a separate country, its economy would be the 45th largest in the world. Now known for Disneyland, the county may soon be known for having one of the most corrupt justice systems in the world. The width and depth and duration of the corruption truly boggles the mind. A case that should’ve been open and shut has blown the lid off some deep secrets.

On October 12, 2011, Orange County experienced the deadliest mass killing in its modern history. Scott Dekraai killed 8 people, including his ex-wife, in a Seal Beach beauty salon. He was arrested wearing full body armor just a few blocks away. Without a doubt, Dekraai was the perpetrator. A dozen surviving witnesses saw him. He admitted to the shooting early on. Yet, nearly four years later, the case against him has all but fallen apart.

It turns out that prosecutors and police officers committed an egregious violation of Dekraai’s rights—so much so that Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals shocked everyone and removed the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and all 250 prosecutors, from having anything more to do with the case.

The entire piece is worth a full read, and will make your blood boil.

Federal Pardon Application – Eligibility Requirements

What does it take to apply for a Federal Pardon?

As with all federal applications, the process seems very simple at first. The nuts and bolts of a federal pardon application, however, can get cumbersome, confusing, and downright daunting. This post is a first-step for anybody looking to apply for a federal pardon and clear their good name.

Only a few requirements exist to let a federal convict know they’re eligible to apply, and they are all found in § 28 C.F.R. 1.1 Here’s your easy checklist:

  1. You must have a federal crime you want pardoned;
  2. You must NOT be currently incarcerated;
  3. In fact, you must be free from confinement for at least 5 years;
  4. If incarceration wasn’t a part of your sentence, you have to have been sentenced to probation at least 5 years ago;
  5. You have been released from probation or supervised release, and are fully ‘free’ from the federal criminal justice system;
  6. BONUS: don’t have any more criminal convictions (local, state, or federal) since your federal conviction.

 What Does it REALLY Take??

So now that the preliminary requirements are out of the way, the real question becomes: what sets my application apart? There is no single answer to this question, but we’ll set out a few things that could really help you stand out, then add in some nuggets that we do that give it an extra push. Remember, an application like this should be treated more like a resume or college entrance application than a bland court motion or driver’s license application. Make it pop!

As anybody could imagine, there are hundreds of federal pardon applications submitted to the President every year. Whats worse, Obama has the worst pardon record of any modern president. However, with his presidency coming to a close, and more clemency/pardon grants this last 12 months than his previous 5 years, things are looking up.

Now seems to be the time to apply and get in line for his last days of office, where most past presidents have made the most pardons.

Staying Out of Trouble Isn’t Enough

While being crime/conviction free for at least five years is a good start, you’ll be one amongst many. The process for applying for a pardon is short, but designing your life and activities (think volunteerism and philanthropy) around the idea of applying for a pardon could take time.

If you don’t have any selfless acts to put on your application, it can seem a bit anemic. Volunteer to serve food at your local homeless shelter, or donate blankets. It doesn’t take much to become a part of something like this. Think of your local VFW, who are always looking for volunteers for some function or another.

Restitution order in your case? Make sure its paid off. Fines? Make sure they’re paid too unless you intend to apply for a pardon of just the financial sanction.

Find Three People to Vouch for you

Any group of people are just fine to write letters vouching for your character, but it takes more than that to make an impression. People who know you personally, and are in a position of power (privately or in government) are optimum choices for Character Reference Letters. You need three of these, as the title of this section states.

Try finding two close, personal relationships that would be more than willing to write a letter attesting to your spotless integrity. Then save the last letter for a big name. Contact your U.S. Congressman, your U.S. Senators, state governor, lieutenant governor, mayor, state legislators, or the head of your state democratic/republican parties (whichever way you lean)

Applicants to the military service academies are required to get letters like this to go there. Or at least they used to be required. Anyway, requests for letters like this are not uncommon at a congressperson’s office, and their staff will tell you just what you need to do to make the request, and maybe even get it. How would your pardon application look with a Senator’s name pushing it?

Be Creative

Your life, outside the criminal justice system, is uniquely yours. Crafting the application’s pages to make you as sympathetic and ‘human’ as possible goes a long way. Defense lawyers spend most of their energy at sentencing hearings ‘humanizing’ their client so the presiding judge remembers that the years behind bars he is about to pronounce actually affect a real, live person.

Your pardon application works in the same way. Make your self a real, live person to the first faceless bureaucrat who sees your application and you will be ahead of the game.

Put the Power of PCR Behind your Pardon Application!

Contact PCR Consultants for a free consultation on federal pardons.


p. (480) 382-9287

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 []

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.

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 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. []