Sunday, November 22, 2009

PA Simple Assault = crime of violence under knowing/intentional part of statute

In US v. James Henry Johnson, No. 08-3693 (3d Cir. 11/18/09), the Circuit examined whether simple assault under Pennsylvania statute is a crime of violence for purposes of USSG § 4B1.2(a)(2). The Court, while stating that it was not actually ruling on the issue, expressly doubted that a simple assault committed recklessly could be a crime of violence in light of US v. Begay, 128 S. Ct. 1581 (2008). But the Court did rule that simple assault committed knowingly or intentionally does qualify as a crime of violence. It remanded for a resentencing hearing at which the district court is to determine whether Johnson’s prior conviction for simple assault was for the part of the statute charging knowing and intentional conduct, as opposed to reckless conduct.

Johnson was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. At sentencing, the Court enhanced the guidelines range by counting Johnson’s prior simple assault conviction as a "crime of violence" under USSG § 4B1.2(a)(2). The Third Circuit in US v. Dorsey, 174 F.3d 331 (3d Cir. 1999), had ruled the simple assault does qualify as a crime of violence, even though the offense can be committed recklessly.

On appeal, the Circuit, in a lengthy footnote, explained that under Begay, only "purposeful, violent and aggressive" conduct can count as a crime of violence. This "suggest[s] that a crime committed recklessly is not a crime of violence," as nearly every other Circuit has already held. The government on appeal conceded the issue, explaining that the Department of Justice position now is that "reckless conduct, standing alone, is not the type of purposeful conduct that can constitute a crime of violence." Thus, the government conceded that Dorsey is no longer good law in light of Begay.

Normally such a concession would make the Court’s resolution of the issue easier. But here, for reasons that are not made clear in the opinion, the Court took the government’s concession as a reason not to resolve the issue. Instead, the Court ruled that knowing or intentional simple assault would qualify as a crime of violence, and it remanded to the district court to determine under the "categorical approach" whether Johnson’s conviction was under this part of the statute. If not, then in light of the DOJ’s concession, the prior conviction as reckless simple assault cannot count as a crime of violence. The Court made clear that this categorical determination is not a factual one but instead solely a question of what part of the statute Johnson actually pled guilty to: "[W]hat matters is the mens rea to which Johnson actually pleaded guilty," and not the facts in the Presentence Report suggesting the conduct was intentional.

Most likely, the Court’s reason for not expressly resolving the recklessness issue is because the same issue is currently pending in two other cases before the Court, and this panel wanted to leave the issue for resolution in one of those cases.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

For Purposes of Double Jeopardy, General Conspiracy Statute Creates Single Offense that May Be Committed in Two Ways

In United States v. Rigas, No. 08-3218 (3d Cir., 10/21/2009) , the defendants, members of the Rigas family, were charged with participating in a fraudulent scheme effectuated through their ownership of Adelphia Communications. The defendants were indicted, inter alia, for conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371 in two separate jurisdictions for the conduct underlying this fraudulent scheme. Specifically, in 2002, the Southern District of New York indicted the defendants for conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, namely securities fraud, based upon their misuse of corporate funds for personal expenses. In 2005, the Middle District of Pennsylvania charged the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States via income tax evasion, based upon their failure to pay income tax on monies they illegally obtained from Adelphia. The defendants argued that the Pennsylvania indictment violated their rights under the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. Relying upon Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), the Third Circuit joined the majority of circuits to rule that 18 U.S.C. § 371 proscribes one offense which may be committed two ways. (Judge Rendell in dissent, however, relied upon Blockburger to find that § 371 creates two separate offenses.) The court also reiterated that the Clause prohibits the government from splitting a single conspiracy into several prosecutions. Citing United States v. Liotard, 817 F.2d 1074 (3d Cir.1987) and United States v. Kemp, 500 F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2007), the court ultimately remanded the case to allow the lower court to determine whether the defendants entered into two separate agreements or only one.

The defendants also challenged the Pennsylvania prosecution for the substantive counts of tax evasion on grounds of collateral estoppel. Specifically, the defendants argued that, since the New York jury found them not guilty of some of the wire and bank fraud counts, the jury must have believed that the monies obtained by the defendants from Adelphia were loans and not income. However, the court recognized that the New York jury acquitted the defendants on only a few of the enumerated transactions. Consequently, the government could prosecute the defendants in Pennsylvania for tax evasion in relation to the remaining transactions.

Indictment Alleging Honest Services Fraud Sufficient Where Charges Allege Intentional Violation of Clearly Defined Fiduciary Duty

The issue in United States v. McGeehan, Nos. 05-1954 & 05-2446 (3d Cir.,10/22/2009) , was whether the defendants, the President/CEO and Vice-President/COO of a publicly-funded, non-profit corporation, could be prosecuted for “honest services” fraud under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343 and 1346. The defendants ran the Ben Franklin Technology Center (hereinafter “BFTC”). The purpose of BFTC was to administer funds provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for other organizations in an effort to foster the development and commercialization of new technology. One of BFTC’s clients during the course of this fraudulent scheme was the U.S. Navy. The government indicted the defendants for defrauding BFTC of their honest services by misusing BFTC funds for personal expenditures and thwarting the efforts of subordinate employees to investigate their actions. The indictment also charged the defendants with depriving the U.S. Navy of the honest services of BFTC. In essence, the government sought to extend the honest services fraud theory to non-public officials. The court ultimately concluded that both public and private officials owe a fiduciary duty to the public. Specifically, the court determined that, as public officials owe a duty to protect the common good, private officials have a duty of protection as well, albeit a duty that is based primarily upon economic concerns. The court concluded that the defendants owed a fiduciary duty to BFTC by virtue of their status as corporate officers. The court ultimately ruled that this fiduciary duty could serve as the basis for the charge of honest services fraud under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343 and 1346, where the defendants were charged with executing a fraudulent scheme which breached this fiduciary duty and deprived BFTC of their honest services.

However, the court ruled that, while the indictment sufficiently alleged that the defendants committed honest services fraud against BFTC, the indictment did not sufficiently charge that the defendants committed honest services fraud against the U.S. Navy. Unlike BFTC, the defendants’ relationship with the Navy did not create a fiduciary duty. To the contrary, the relationship between the defendants and the Navy was merely contractual. The court ruled that the government must allege more than a breach of contractual obligations in order to charge a non-public official with honest services fraud.

Shoupe Departures Applicable to Criminal History Only, Not Offense Level

In United States v. Grier, No. 07-3507 (3d Cir., 10/26/2009) ,the defendant challenged the district court’s ruling that it did not have the authority to reduce his offense level as an overstatement of the seriousness of his offense, pursuant to § 4A1.3. Prior to 2003, the Third Circuit had interpreted U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3 to permit a downward departure from a defendant’s career offender status if the court found that the career offender designation over-represented his criminal history. In United States v. Shoupe, 35 F.3d 835 (3d Cir. 1994), the Third Circuit had ruled that, in the absence of a definition for the term "departing" as used in § 4A1.3, this section permitted a downward departure to both the criminal history category as well as the offense level. However, in 2003, the Sentencing Commission amended § 4A1.3 to provide a specific downward departure where the defendant’s criminal history category substantially over-represents the seriousness of his criminal history or his likelihood of recidivism. The 2003 amendments also provided a definition of the term "departure" as used in the amended version of § 4A1.3. Pursuant to the 2003 amendments, § 1B1.1 now provides a definition of the term "departure" that specifically addresses the downward departure provided in § 4A1.3. The definition provided in the current § 1B1.1 for the term "departure" as used in § 4A1.3 addresses only the assignment of the criminal history category. The court in Grier concluded that the 2003 amendments superseded Shoupe.

Also, the government had argued that Shoupe was no longer good law after United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) and United States v. Gunter, 462 F.3d 237 (3d Cir. 2006). The court, however, concluded that Shoupe was not impacted by Booker and Gunter because a consideration of Shoupe departures falls squarely within Step Two of the three-step process mandated by Booker, namely, formally ruling on any departure motions.

The District Court's indication of the sentence it would impose before the defendant allocuted was not reversible plain error.

              In United States v. Packer , 83 F.4th 193 (3d Cir. Sept. 26, 2023), , the ...