Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lenient Sentences for Tax Protestors Vacated

US v. Baucom: Baucom and his codefendant ran a land surveying and computer consulting business. Between 1990 and 2002, they filed neither personal nor business related tax returns. Why? Because they're tax protestors. Their beliefs regarding the constitutionality of the tax system led to multiple pretrial delays as they unsuccessfully tried to find counsel willing to put forward those arguments. The district court eventually ran out of patience. Baucom and chum proceeded pro se and were convicted. At sentencing, they were granted credit for acceptance of responsibility and their failure to pay state income taxes were excluded from relevant conduct calculations. In addition, the district court imposed sentences below the advisory Guideline range on the theory that there was little deterrent impact for tax protestors when long sentences were imposed.

Both sides appealed. Baucom and colleague appealed their convictions, arguing that they were denied their Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Fourth Circuit made quick work of that argument, noting the lengths to which the district court went to ensure that they had time to find counsel and the offers to appoint counsel.

The Government appealed the sentences, both on Guideline calculation grounds and as to the reasonableness of the sentences imposed. On the Guideline issues, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court had erred in two ways. First, the district court improperly excluded the North Carolina taxes Baucom and his codefendant failed to pay during their scheme, noting that they were "part of the same course of conduct or common scheme or plan" as their failure to pay federal taxes. Second, the court concluded that the district court should not have awarded Baucom and codefendant credit for acceptance of responsibility, based on their obstructive behavior and factual arguments made during trial. Finally, the court, while not reaching the issue directly, rejected the district court's argument about deterrence, noting that the Guideline commentary specifically emphasizes deterrence in tax cases due to the low number of prosecutions.

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