Friday, January 31, 2014

Plain error review does not alter life sentence

US v. Shepperson:  Chinua Shepperson faced several capital-eligible charges including murder and racketeering activities.  After a two-week trial, a jury found him guilty on all counts.  Shepperson appealed, raising two claims of error: 1) the district court should have appointed him a second attorney, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. sect. 3005; and 2) the district court should have excluded a witness based on the government’s failure to disclose its witness list at least three days prior to trial, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. sect. 3432.

Unfortunately for Shepperson, both of his claims of error were subject to plain error review on appeal by the Fourth Circuit.  First, the panel held that Shepperson was obligated to request additional counsel at the time of trial.  Further, the district court was under no obligation to inform Shepperson prior to trial that he had the ability to request a second attorney, even if the district court was aware that Shepperson was not especially pleased with his attorney, or to appoint sua sponte another attorney for him.  According to statute, a defendant must request a second attorney under 18 U.S.C. sect. 3005.

The Fourth Circuit also rejected Shepperson’s second claim under plain error review.  Since the government proceeded against him without seeking the death penalty, 18 U.S.C. sect. 3432 was not applicable to his case. Shepperson received what the panel considered equivalent notice of the witnesses during trial, so no prejudice was suffered.

No comments: