Wednesday, June 21, 2017

FBI agent's leaks to local media outlets did not violate defendant's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights

In United States v. Chaka Fattah, Jr., Docket No. 16-1265 (3d Cir. June 2, 2017), the Third Circuit considered whether a FBI agent's leaks to the press regarding the execution of sealed search warrants violated the defendant's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. While the Court criticized the agent's behavior, it ultimately found that no constitutional violations occurred.

With regard to the Sixth Amendment violation, Fattah claimed that the pretrial publicity about the search warrants caused his employer to terminate his employment. According to Fattah, the unrealized income from that employment was necessary for him to afford counsel of his choice, thereby violating his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Court found that applying such a far-reaching theory of causation would stretch the outer limits of the Sixth Amendment to breaking because: (1) the government lacked any desire or purpose to deliberately interfere with counsel, (2) any alleged loss of income would have been an unintended and incidental consequence of the agent's actions, and (3) there was no close nexus between the employer and the agent's actions with regard to the termination. However, even if the Court were to accept Fattah's theory, it would decline to remand for an evidentiary hearing because Fattah's claim to unrealized income was contradicted by his own undisputed statements and actions. Specifically, Fattah was already preparing to leave his employer on his own terms when he was fired and had taken concrete steps to end his employment. Furthermore, there was evidence indicating that the employer already knew about the search warrants directly from the government and, therefore, did not learn about them from the media reports. Finally, there was no evidence that the money at issue would have directly funded Fattah's choice of counsel rather than his myriad other debts.

The Court also rejected Fattah's Fifth Amendment outrageous government conduct claim, finding that the government's conduct was in no way intertwined with Fattah's. Instead, Fattah argued that because the FBI agent violated (or may have violated) certain laws, his conduct was so outrageous that it should bar Fattah's conviction. The Court flatly rejected this argument, stating that "[t]he remedy lies, not in freeing the equally culpable defendant, but in prosecuting the police," if such a violation occurred.

The Court also summarily rejected a number of additional claims regarding the sufficiency of the indictment, constructive amendment of the indictment, improper joinder of counts, and the particularity of the search warrants. Accordingly, it affirmed the district court's judgment on all counts.

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