Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maker of Fake Money Not Necessarily a "Leader" of Operation

US v. Cameron: Cameron was caught trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a store in Dunbar. Police who responded secured a second fake $20 and an admission from Cameron that he intended to pass it. Searches of Cameron's grandmother's home and his sister's home follow, uncovering various implements and equipment that could be used for making counterfeit bills. In particular, officers seized a computer from his sister's house that had, on the hard drive, a single image of a counterfeit $20 bill. Cameron went to trial and was convicted of producing and uttering counterfeit currency.

At sentencing, his offense level was enhanced under USSG 3B1.1(a) for being an "organizer or leader" of the counterfeiting operation. However, at sentencing, the Government's sole witness actually testified that she barely knew Cameron, didn't know much of his role in the operation, that he did not recruit her, nor did he get a cut of the scheme's proceeds. Nonetheless, the district court overruled Cameron's objection and imposed the enhancement. Cameron was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

On appeal, Cameron challenged both his production conviction and the application of the leadership enhancement. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction, concluding that there was sufficient evidence collected from the two searches (there was no testimony from inside the operation at trial) to allow a jury to conclude that the Government met its burden of proof.

However, the Fourth Circuit vacated the sentence because of the application of the leadership enhancement. Reiterating both earlier precedent and Guideline commentary that the enhancement only applies to the supervision of other people, not property. It rejected the Government's argument that because Cameron made the bills he must have exercised some leadership role in the operation. The court also noted that the Guidelines provide a separate enhancement in counterfeiting cases for the person who actually makes the fake bills.

Congrats to the SDWV defender office on the win!

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