Friday, March 21, 2008

Court Rejects Diminished Capacity Argument, Touches on Crack Guideline Changes

US v. Brewer: Brewer pleaded guilty to distributing crack. Prior to sentencing, it was established that Brewer suffered from serious mental deficits, with a tested IQ as low as 59. At sentencing, he argued for a downward departure under USSG 5K2.13 for diminished capacity. The court rejected that invitation, because based on a review of Brewer's evidence that he was "impulsive and a follower" and therefore posed a danger to society. The court then imposed a sentence of 70 months in prison. It's unclear from decision if Brewer also asked for a Booker variance on similar grounds.

Brewer appealed his sentence, which the Fourth Circuit affirmed. First, the court reasserted its holding that it cannot review a district court's decision not to depart except on the ground that the court was incorrect in its ability to depart. As there was no question that the district court knew it could depart and chose not to do so, the Fourth left that decision intact. Second, the Fourth Circuit held that Brewer's sentence was not unreasonable, given that it was at the bottom of the advisory Guideline range. The court took the opportunity, in the course of its reasonableness review, to address the recent change to the crack Guideline, holding that it would not remand the case for the district court to consider the amended Guidelines, leaving that to a future proceeding under 18 USC 3582(c)(2).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Aggravated ID Theft Requires Use of Specific Person's Information

US v. Mitchell: Mitchell undertook a scheme in which he bought merchandise with a fake ID using counterfeit checks and later returned the items for cash refunds. The name on the checks and the fake ID was "Marcus Jackson" who had a specific listed address. Mitchell was charged with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded guilty to the fraud charge, but had a bench trial on the identity theft, testifying that he didn't know anyone named "Marcus Jackson" and got the name out of a phone book. Although police did identify two Marcus Jacksons in the state, neither address matched the one on the ID and checks. Mitchell argued that to secure a conviction for aggravated identity theft, the Government had to prove the use of another specific person's identity, while the Government argued that it was sufficient that someone with the same name was located as a potential victim. The court convicted Mitchell.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed. The court held that the plain meaning of 18 USC 1028A requires the use of a means of identification that "may be used to identify a specific individual." Ordinarily, a name standing alone would not be sufficient to meet that requirement. While a couple of other bits of information on the fake ID matched one of the real Marcus Jacksons, they were so vague as to not show that Mitchell was presenting himself as a real Marcus Jackson. Because only the name in this case could be traced to a specific person, the Government failed to meet its burden of proof. Mitchell's conviction was reversed and his case remanded for resentencing.

Acquittal on Substantive Drug Charges Doesn't Bar Further Prosecution for Drug Conspiracy

US v. Yearwood: Yearwood was originally charged with conspiracy to distribute crack and distribution/aiding and abetting the distribution of crack. At his first trial, he was acquitted on the distribution charge and the jury hung on the conspiracy charge. At a second trial on the conspiracy charge, Yearwood argued that Double Jeopardy precluded the second prosecution, arguing that in acquitting him on the distribution charge the first jury resolved an issue of ultimate fact needed to find him guilty on the conspiracy charged. The district court rejected that argument and Yearwood was convicted

The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding no Double Jeopardy violation occurred. First, the court determined that distribution and conspiracy have distinct elements and thus are not the same offense. It rejected Yearwood's attempt to link the "knowingly associate" element of aiding and abetting with the conspiracy element of "knowingly and voluntarily" becoming part of the conspiracy. Second, the court concluded that the collateral estoppel element of Double Jeopardy was not violated, as the conspiracy charge did not require the relitigation of factual issues resolved in the first trial. In doing so, it followed cases from the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits. The court also turned away Yearwood's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction.