Monday, August 06, 2007

Court Affirms Life Sentence for Witness Tampering Conviction

US v. Ruhbayan: Ruhbayan's case deals with sentences imposed following convictions for perjury, subornation, conspiracy and witness tampering. Ruhbayan was previously charged with drug conspiracy and using a firearm in connection with that offense. At that trial, Ruhbayan's girlfriend, Goodman, testified on his behalf in a generally exculpatory way. The jury believed her and he was acquitted of the most serious offenses (he was convicted on some misdemeanors). Sometime after that proceeding, Goodman was charged with firearm charges based on what she said in her testimony at Ruhbayan's trial. She cracked and admitted that she lied at Ruhbayan's trial at his behest. As a result, Ruhbayan was then indicted and ultimately convicted of perjury, subornation of perjury, conspiracy and witness tampering.

At sentencing, the district court found that the witness tampering offense related to an underlying charge that carried a life sentence (the original 924(c) count) and accordingly sentenced Ruhbayan to life in prison on that count, along with concurrent 60-month terms on the other charges. On appeal in 2005, the court upheld Ruhbayan's convictions, but remanded for resentencing in light of Booker. At resentencing, the district court imposed the same sentences.

On appeal, Ruhbayan first argued that the enhancement of his maximum sentence on the jury tampering count from 10 years to life violated the Sixth Amendment because it relied on a fact - that the tampering occurred in a criminal prosecution - not charged in the indictment. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that the indictment and subsequent jury instructions were sufficient to trigger the enhancement and not run afoul of the Sixth Amendment. Next, Ruhbayan argued that the district court improperly calculated his advisory Guideline range due to (1) improper calculation of drug amounts for the underlying conspiracy offense, (2) an improper upward departure due to an understated criminal history, and (3) an improper upward departure for the offense level based on the Guidelines' failure to properly address his conduct. The court rejected all those arguments. Finally, the court held that Ruhbayan's sentence, having been within the range available under the Guidelines, was reasonable.

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