Prosecutors and Bullying

The title of this post comes from the new essay, “Threats and Bullying by Prosecutors” by Bennett L. Gershman, a law professor at Pace University. The essay, available for free right here, is definitely worth a full read at only 19 pages, but below I will take a moment to highlight some of the sections and ways Professor Gershman deconstructs the ways prosecutors bully and threaten defendants. It starts out this way:

[Prosecutors] have been described as “virtuous,” “prudent,” “ethical,” “good,” “unique,” and “gamesmen.” But there is one persona that seems to have eluded characterization and commentary: the prosecutor as a bully. In fact, one of the most prominent features of U.S. prosecutors is their ability to threaten, intimidate, and embarrass anyone – defendants, witnesses, lawyers – without any accountability or apology. This is the conduct of a bully.

On Intimidating Grand Jury Witnesses

A state senator’s chief of staff is called in to testify against his boss. He doesn’t want to testify, but is granted immunity and told his refusal to testify can be punished with contempt, and lying is perjury. The witness says he can’t remember a meeting between his boss and a wealthy real estate developer…

The prosecutor, in an extremely agitated tone of voice exclaims: “You know you are lying. Don’t insult this grand jury. You’ll be in jail in a heartbeat unless you tell the truth. You’ll be finished. You will never work again.”
Are the prosecutor’s threats a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial power? Do these threats enhance or degrade the prosecutor’s ethical duty to serve justice?

More Highlights

Gershman goes on to highlight prosecutorial conduct in coercing guilty pleas, attacking defense experts, bullying defense witnesses (and even their own prosecution witnesses), compelling waiver of civil rights claims, retaliation, demagoguery, shaming, and coercing corporate cooperation.

Look for future posts highlighting more sections of this important essay. Any first-time offender will learn quickly how true this information is. He or she will feel bullied and coerced by the prosecuting attorney and wonder how this is part of the legal system they’ve been taught to trust. A fantastic guide for all first time offenders can be found at the first-time-offender website, which hosts the ultimate resource for anybody facing their first charge.

Good Advise for those Entering Federal Prison

In an article posted Thursday by former Missouri state senator Jeff Smith, a set of tips for entering federal prison were laid out.

The article was written to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojavich on his impending report to federal prison. These tips are seem very remedial to those that have been inside federal prison, they don’t really need saying. However, for those who have never experienced it themselves, the tips are spot-on.

Below are excerpts from the original article from the Chicago Tribune.

After spending a year in federal prison on an obstruction of justice charge stemming from a 2004 congressional campaign violation, I have a few tips for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as he heads for prison.

1. As your grandma probably taught you, God gave you two ears, two eyes and one mouth — use them in proportion.

• When you get to prison, listen, watch and learn. You’ll have a hundred questions on your first day and in one month you will know the answer to 90 of them without having to ask and risk looking stupid.

• Don’t ever ask anybody about their crime. If they want to tell you what they did, fine. But you won’t know if they’re telling the truth. And if you ask and strike a nerve with someone, the result may not be pretty.

• Don’t talk about how you got railroaded. So did everyone else.

• Don’t ask anything about anyone’s family; it will be a sore subject with many, especially those who have not seen or heard from their children or ex-wives in years.

• Don’t ever talk about how much time you have. Someone else has more.

2. Embrace your background, but don’t try to be a politician.

• The prison guards and administration will probably resent your presence, as it will mean added scrutiny on prison operations. Your charm will not work on them, so don’t try it. Instead, be as deferential as possible and try to blend in.

• You will have a nickname. It will probably be “Governor.” Accept that, but do so with deep humility.

• As a politician you were known for your gregariousness. But prison isn’t the Loop; not everyone wants to shake your hand. In fact, because of a collective obsession with hygiene and a fear of illness, no one in prison shakes hands — they bump fists. That doesn’t mean you should stroll down the compound fist-bumping dudes on your first day. As a hoops announcer might advise a star player in a big game, don’t press too hard; let the game come to you.

3. Get in the best shape of your life.

• Unlike most people, you are coming to prison in great shape. But you can always be in better shape. Set personal goals — maybe you want to run a marathon in prison; maybe you want to bench press 300 pounds. Working out every day will help pass the time, keep your endorphins pumping and keep you in a better frame of mind.

• Use your knowledge of running to help others lose weight. Inmates can control almost nothing, and since their body is one of the few things they can change, most work assiduously to improve themselves. Going running with others and helping them get in shape may be an effective way to build alliances.

• Play sports, but if your taste runs to contact sports such as basketball, be careful. Some people who have it out for you may exploit the opportunity to try to hurt you on the athletic field and not get in trouble for it.

4. Correspond with anyone who writes you.

5. Forgive your enemies.

6. Don’t complain about how bad your prison job is, and don’t brag about how good it is.

• Try to get a job working in the rec center or as a warehouse clerk, two of the most pleasant jobs in prison. But if you don’t get one, don’t complain about it. Just as is the case in any other environment, no one likes complainers. But in prison, people really don’t like them, because it’s a given that everyone is miserable.

7. Learn something new.

• Read all the books you wanted to read, but never had time. Then read all the ones you should have read, but didn’t want to.

• When the novelty wears off and the people who approach you are doing more than rubbernecking, don’t discount the possibility of making lifelong friends. You will meet some of the most fascinating people you have ever met, from all walks of life. Listen to their stories, and learn from them.

8. Use your unique knowledge and skills to help other inmates.

• Use your legal background to help prisoners who are bringing appeals pro se (representing themselves), but do so quietly so that you aren’t swamped with requests.

9. Don’t snitch, under any circumstances.

• The only people in prison who have it harder than child molesters are snitches. You need to learn how to see things (weapons, illegal drugs, people making hooch, pornography, etc) without seeing them; that is, learn to look away before anyone has seen you see the contraband.

• Stay away from snitches, and in general, watch the company you keep: in prison, you are your car (car = the people you “ride” with).

• If you committed other crimes for which you were not prosecuted, or are plotting any, don’t discuss them. As I’m sure you are now aware, you never know who’s listening.

• Don’t be seen talking to the Cos (correctional officers). Just like you could be cordial to Republicans but not be best friends with them without arousing suspicion among Democrats, you cannot be “friends” with the guards. Sure, there may be gangs and racial/ethnic division among prisoners. But there are really only two teams: inmates versus the prison. When guards try to get you to regale them with stories, resist the impulse to be on stage again. Do not forget this rule.

10. Don’t break prison rules.

• This may seem contradictory. The last rule suggested that you should tolerate prison rule-breaking — and you should. But try not to violate rules yourself.

• Don’t gamble. If you lose, you’ll be in debt and you do not want to be compromised like that. If you win, someone is likely to be very angry and may figure out a way to get his money back — a way that might leave you unrecognizable.

• Don’t “hold” anything someone asks you to hold, even if it looks innocuous; it’s probably got contraband inside of it.

• If you need a hustle to survive (i.e., stealing and selling food from the kitchen, washing and ironing others’ clothes), try not to encroach on someone else’s hustle. Presumably, others will need the stamps (money) more than you. Competition can be fierce.

11. Don’t look for trouble.

• Don’t change the TV channel, especially if women’s track is on, or “Ice Loves Coco.” There is an inscrutable yet stringent seniority-based regime when it comes to TV watching, and your celebrity does not entitle you to alter it in any way.

• Don’t stare.

• There is generally no reason to make eye contact with people unless they say your name.

12 Don’t eat the Snickers.

• You’ll go through orientation. You will be shown a mandatory sexual assault prevention video featuring a guy warning you not to eat the Snickers bar that may be waiting for you on your bed in your cell. (The actor ate the one left under his pillow, unwittingly signaling the predator who left it for him that he was ready and willing.) All the guys watching the video will laugh. But take the video’s message to heart: Don’t accept sweets from anyone.

Good luck, Governor. One day at a time.

Although these tips may not be most applicable with higher security prisons (the writer was a very low security level), the advice still resonates and can be applied with reasonable liberalness.

Update: Fricosu, The 10th Circuit, and the 5th Amendment

U.S. v. Fricosu

2/23/12 – As we previously discussed in this post, the government wants to force the defendant in the above-titled case to turn over an unencrypted hard drive that may or may not have incriminating evidence in it. The district judge granted the governments motion to force the defendant to supply the hard drive. This decision was appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who refused to rule.

Note: Demanding an actual password violates the 5th Amendment protections. The presiding judge in Colorado side-stepped this issue by not requiring Fricosu to give up her password but, instead, requiring her to produce the decrypted hard drive by using her password.

Because the appeals court chose to let the case run its course in the lower court before allowing the issue here to be raised on appeal, the ruling stands and Fricosu has until Monday to turn over the unencrypted version (read: a copy) of her laptop hard drive.

The Future

This case has frightening implications on the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The process will get rocky. Fricosu can refuse to produce the hard drive1 and face contempt charges,2, or she can comply and face conviction if the incriminating material that the prosecution believes is on the hard drive is actually there.

If she complies and is convicted3, only then can she appeal her conviction to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the order to produce the hard drive that directly led to her conviction.

Updates will be posted as they come in!

  1. If she is able to. Her defense attorney says she may not have the capabilities to even comply with the order []
  2. Under rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure []
  3. Where that conviction is predicated primarily upon the evidence from the unencrypted hard drive []

Federal Pretrial Primer 3: Getting the Prison you Want

This is the third and final installment of PCR Consultants’ primer on the federal pretrial phase of incarceration. The institution where one eventually does time is equally as important as how much time he or she will spend inside.

Your Next Destination

Are some Institutions Better than Others?

The short answer is: yes. Once it becomes clear that a prison sentence is unavoidable, the next question is always about where a defendant will do his or her time. This is not only an important question, it is the ONLY question that can make a meaningful difference to quality of life when doing time, and how soon an inmate can leave.

A lot of questions need to be answered, but this is where lawyers tend to fall very short. Lawyers can know a ton about criminal defense, but also know almost nothing about the inner workings of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP uses its own set of standards to determine what security level an inmate “requires”. A future inmate of the BOP might assume that he belongs in a camp because he has no prior criminal record at all, but this isn’t always true.

If a sentence is too long, security levels increase. If it is too short, the certain camp a defendant asked to go to may no be given to him because it offers programs that require a sentence be certain length to qualify for placement there. At this point a judge’s opinion is only advisory, and the future inmate is fully at the mercy of the BOP. However, there is good news.

A sentencing judge can make a recommendation to the BOP of where he or she wishes to be incarcerated. If (and this is a huge ‘if’) that judge makes a recommendation for placement which is within BOP regulations for security level and program needs, that recommendation is granted a large majority of the time. If not, a future BOP resident can be sent literally ANYWHERE in the country that has room for them. Avoiding this mistake can mean months of time taken away in a halfway house and even up to a year off an inmate’s sentence for participation in the BOP’s residential drug and alcohol program.

Because lawyers make their money in criminal defense, most don’t spend the time to make truly informed decisions on what to ask the judge to recommend. This mistake is costly, but the cost of it is only apparent after one is already behind bars and its months-too-late to correct the problem. Prison Consultants, good ones anyway, have first-hand knowledge of the BOP process of inmate designation and which institutions are better and worse, closest to home, and have the programs available for each client’s specific needs.

Thank you for reading this primer. There will be many more to come which detail life inside the BOP, what to expect from a halfway house, and what’s in store for a released convict with the US Probation Office.

Federal Pretrial Primer 2: Pleas, Sentencing and Designation

This is the second of three articles written by the prison consulting firm PCR Consultants which deals with the federal pretrial phase of an inmate’s federal prison experience. Here we’ll look at what you can expect, how you’re odds are for beating an indictment, and how you can help yourself before leaving for prison.

The first hard truth that needs to be dealt with is an impending conviction. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93.6% of all federal defendants plead guilty at some point before trial. All federal district court cases are prosecuted by the local U.S. Attorney, and some places, like the Northern District of Illinois (lead by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald) boast over a 97% conviction rate.

This creates an environment that encourages plea bargains because nobody wants to go up against those kinds of odds, but those odds are greatly bolstered by guilty pleas. Regardless of the chicken or egg argument, if you are indicted by the United States Attorney you most likely will end up with a Felony Conviction. This also probably means a stay, long or short, in federal prison.

Three events make up this federal pretrial time-line. First is the plea hearing, followed by trial and/or sentencing hearing (depending on the plea). The process ends with a simple letter from the federal Bureau of Prisons alerting the convicted of where they will be serving their sentence.

These events carry with them a possibility for better or worse outcomes, depending on how they are dealt with. A plea bargain is rather routine, but normally is negotiated very aggressively by the assigned Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case. Knowing if you are getting a good bargain or a bad one is difficult. This is probably the first time a defendant has been in this position before and hasn’t studied other cases like theirs to check if a similar case was given a better deal.

Realize that prosecutors are recognized by both their conviction rates AND the length of sentences they average. This is a negotiation like anything else and they want the most time in prison with the least amount of work they can get away with. However, this is a pitfall in and of itself because a wrong step can remove the plea bargain option altogether.

Next is the sentencing after plea or trial. Sentences can become much more strict if the defendant forces trial, and leniency in sentencing at that point is solely at the discretion of the presiding judge. On the other hand, sentencing after a cooperative plea hearing is automatically reduced just for cooperating with the U.S. Attorney, and different legal avenues can be used, depending on the situation, to abolish ugly things like “Mandatory Minimum” sentences. Does your attorney know how to use these avenues? Can your attorney effectively calculate your sentencing guidelines?

A prison consultant can work with you to be a second opinion, using real-world experiences backed by solid law, to make sure that you are getting the best possible sentence, and even garnering reductions in that sentence with their personal conduct while on pretrial status.

***Years of your life can be saved by knowing even the smallest details that your lawyer may not know***

Federal Pretrial Primer 1: What Prison Consultants Do

This is the first of three articles written for those who may be just entering the federal criminal justice system and the Bureau of Prisons. If you, or somebody you know, is dealing with a federal legal problem, you will undoubtedly encounter a cast of characters, names, and acronyms that are new and probably intimidating. We’ll make this information as understandable as possible while explaining why Prison Consultants can do for you.

The Cast of Characters

Who and what you’ll encounter

When the federal government first sets eyes on a person of interest where they believe a crime has been committed, an investigation will begin from one of many policing agencies (i.e. FBI, ICE, ATF, and many other abbreviated agencies). These agencies will be the first contact you will have with the system and their role tends to be very short. Generally you never see or know about the investigation, and your first indication of their interest in you will be when they make an arrest or formal indictment.

The second character in this sad play is your attorney. If you have a personal attorney, chances are they have tried very few federal criminal cases (federal criminal defense law can very different from state/local defense law) and will refer you to another defense attorney that knows their way around the halls of a federal courthouse. This is your first ally in a system that seems enormous and overpowering.

Third, if you are released on bond, will be a federal Pretrial Services Officer. This is basically a Probation Officer that is assigned to keep you out of any more trouble than you’ve already been accused of until your trial/sentencing hearing.

In very basic terms, these people will comprise the main contacts a new defendant will have when introduced into the world of federal justice. How you choose and interact with these people can make an huge impact on the eventual outcome of a case, and there is no single guidebook to describe exactly how to navigate your way through this confusing and frightening time.

This is why a fourth entity can be the most valuable ally anybody can have during this time: a Federal Prison Consultant.

Every person, and each case, is vastly different. Most people trust their attorney to do all of the thinking for them and pray that they made the correct choice in attorneys. The truth is that a good attorney can make the biggest difference on whether you serve prison time and/or how much time you spend there. The problem is: how do you know that your attorney is doing their job?

How, then, are you supposed to be secure in the defense your attorney is presenting on your behalf? Answer: A Prison Consultant is an entity that does not legally represent you, nor are they bound by the American BAR Association or its bylaws. A consultant can be a seasoned pair of eyes that will help you through this tough time and keep you from making common mistakes during this stage of the game.

Help Yourself at Sentencing

Whatever You’ve Done Can and Will be Used to Help at Sentencing

Sentencing is a difficult time for everybody surrounding a criminal trial. Victims and their families are never happy with a merciful prison term, while convicts always want less time than what they received. This gap will never close.

For those sitting with their lawyer at the defense table, anything that can be used to lessen a possible prison term is used on Sentencing Day. On March 2, 2011 the Supreme Court of the United States reversed a decision by the Eighth Circuit court and enabled more information to be used at sentencing in favor of the defendant.

In Pepper v. United States (No. 09-6822), the Supreme Court said that district courts may consider post-sentencing rehabilitation at a resentencing hearing. Upon hearing this case, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit decision claiming that post-sentencing rehabilitation was not allowed to be considered at a resentencing hearing. In simple terms: although some rehabilitation happened after the original sentencing date, it did not keep those actions from being used on a defendant’s behalf.

There is a more in-depth analysis of the Pepper case and its ramifications, check out the analysis portion at the bottom of this post.

What this Means to You

Everything a defendant does before and after being charged with a crime is looked at by the presiding court. Use this information to your advantage! Voluntarily entering treatment while on pretrial status (if bond is granted) can take years off of a potential sentence. Screwing up while on pretrial can add those same years onto a sentence, so stay diligent!

Analysis

 

After pleading guilty and receiving a sentence containing a very significant downward departure, the United States Attorney appealed, the sentence vacated, and was remanded back to the district court for resentencing. The sentence was again pronounced, appealed by the US Attorney, vacated, and remanded for resentencing. The Eighth Circuit court vacated the sentence of Mr. Pepper on three separate occasions because — despite sentencing guidelines being only advisory — determined that the sentence was reduced too much.

The fourth trip though the courts (referred to by the Supreme Court Slip Opinion as Pepper IV), the district court imposed a 65-month sentence. That sentence was affirmed on Pepper’s appeal by the Circuit Court, and then granted Certiorari

Common sense would dictate that, after the Booker and Gall decisions by the Supreme Court, a district judge’s discretion would exist above appeal so long as that decision was constitutional. However, the Eighth Circuit disagreed with the sentencing below, and held that using post-sentencing rehabilitation as grounds for downward departure at a resentencing was not proper.

This type of disregard for a judge using his own “Judgment” is the reason Gall was granted Certiorari after Booker in the first place. The Supreme Court felt it needed to, once again, make a judge’s judgment legal.

To drive this point home, the high court held the following:

“[C]onsistent with the principle that “the punishment should fit the offender and not merely the crime,” Williams v. New York, 337 U. S. 241, 247, this Court has observed a consistent and uniform policy “under which a sentencing judge could exercise a wide discretion in the sources and types of evidence used to assist him in determining the kind and extent of punishment to be imposed within limits fixed by law,” id., at 246, particularly “the fullest information possible concerning the defendant’s life and characteristics,” id., at 247. That principle is codified at 18 U. S. C. §3661, which provides that“[n]o limitation shall be placed on the information” a sentencing court may consider “concerning the [defendant’s] background, character, and conduct,” and at §3553(a), which specifies that sentencing courts must consider, among other things, a defendant’s “history and characteristics,” §3553(a)(1). . .”

So, if the law says that no limitation shall be placed on the information a sentencing court may use at sentencing, why did the Eighth Circuit ignore 18 U.S.C. §3661 on three separate occasions? It seems as though it simply did not like the lack of a stiff sentence for Pepper, regardless if that sentence was given under sound legal judgment. The Supreme Court disagreed, vacated in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.