Friday, October 21, 2011

Continuing offense predating Guidelines harshening + continuing offense following Guidelines harshening + U.S.S.G. § 3D1.2 grouping + one book rule...

...equals no ex post facto prohibition on applying harsher Guidelines.

The Third Circuit decided United States v. Siddons, Case No. 10-1350, on October 3, 2011. Mr. Siddons raised four issues on appeal: (1) the district court’s denial of his request to withdraw his guilty plea; (2) the district court’s applying U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(16)(A) (2008) to increase his offense level by four; (3) the district court’s applying an obstruction of justice enhancement to increase his offense level by two; and (4) the district court’s varying above the Guidelines. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court on all four, and discussed only the second in significant detail. This post follows the Court's lead.

The text of § 2B1.1(b)(16)(A) (2008) was added to the Guidelines in 2003 (and currently resides at § 2B1.1(b)(17)(A)). It enhances a defendant’s offense level by four where the offense involved a violation of securities law and the defendant was, among other things, an investment advisor. Mr. Siddons had been an investment advisor when conduct relevant to his offense – but not the offense conduct itself –started, in 2002, but was no longer one by the time the Guideline went into effect in November, 2003. He argued that the district court erred in two ways when it applied the enhancement: First, by applying the Guideline when his offense conduct didn’t meet the prerequisites, and second, by applying the Guideline when doing so violated the ex post facto clause.

The Third Circuit rejected the first argument out of hand. It held that because his 2002 behavior as an investment advisor was relevant conduct to his offense pursuant to § 1B1.3, it was part of the calculation of his offense level under § 2B1.1. It then rejected the second after a more in-depth discussion of the combined effects of offense grouping under § 3D1.2, the “one book” rule, and the continuing nature of Mr. Siddons’s offenses:

We agree with those Courts of Appeals that have found no ex post facto violation when a court groups continuing, related conduct and applies the Guidelines Manual in effect during the latest-concluded conduct. This is so because the grouping provisions, combined with the one-book rule, place a defendant on notice that a court will sentence him or her under the Guidelines Manual in effect during the commission of his or her last offense in a series of continuous, related offenses . . . . Due to the grouping rules at § 3D1.2(d) and the one-book rule at § 1B1.11, Siddons was on constructive notice that the November 1, 2003 enhancement could apply to his entire scheme, should he continue the conduct after the date of enactment. As the Eighth Circuit aptly stated, “it was not the amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines that disadvantaged [Siddons], it was his election to continue his criminal activity [after the effective date of the enhancements]."

The Third Circuit's position thus is consistent with the views of the Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits. So far, only the Ninth has taken a contrary view.

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