Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Confrontation Clause at sentencing hearings

US v. Powell: Powell was convicted of mail fraud, wire fraud and attempted destruction of evidence, following an investigation made on behalf of customers of his Internet-based electronics sales business. On appeal, Powell challenged the way the government gathered evidence against him for use at his sentencing hearing: the number of victims and amounts of monetary losses were not solely determined by trial testimony, but also through hearsay statements of other victims made to the investigating postal inspector. The government requested an enhanced sentence based on all of this evidence, not just the testimony of the eight victims who testified at trial. Powell argued that these investigatory methods violated his Confrontation Clause rights by relying on hearsay statements from individuals who did not testify.

The Fourth Circuit discussed the distinctions between trial evidence and sentencing evidence, especially with respect to hearsay, finding a long line of established cases in the Supreme Court, sister circuits and its own jurisprudence, indicating the confrontation right does not apply at sentencing. The Fourth Circuit found that Powell was not without some evidentiary protections, however, stating that due process requires a minimal level of reliability sufficient to support its "probable accuracy" as required by the Guidelines.

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