Monday, March 16, 2009

Court Reverses SORNA Convictions

US v. Hatcher: This case was a consolidated appeal of several cases where the defendants were convicted of violating the Sex Offender Registration and Treatment Act ("SORNA") by travelling interstate without properly updating their registrations as sex offenders. The defendants all shared the common traits that: (a) they were convicted in state courts of sex offenses in states that require registration; (b) they served their sentences and were released from prison before SORNA was enacted; (b) the travel which took place and became the basis for the charges against them took place after SORNA was enacted, but prior to July 27, 2006. That date is crucial, because that it when the Attorney General promulgated regulations under 42 USC 16913(d) setting forth how particular groups of sex offenders could comply with SORNA. All the defendants moved to dismiss their indictments on several grounds, all of which were denied.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed,2-1, but narrowly. The court avoided issues of congressional authority, ex post facto, and due process violations by concluding that the defendants weren't covered by the terms of SORNA due to the timing of the events in their cases. Section 16913(d) delegates to the Attorney General the authority to determine how SORNA will apply to those who cannot comply with its requirements going forward, i.e., before their release from prison. The court concluded that a plain reading of that delegation showed that until the Attorney General promulgated regulations, SORNA did not apply to people like the defendants who were already out of prison. There is a circuit split on this issue, with the Eighth and Tenth Circuits finding that the language is ambiguous and interpreting SORNA to apply in such cases. The Fourth joins the Eleventh Circuit in holding otherwise.

Judge Shedd dissented, arguing that the majority read language out of context and that the plain meaning of the statute required compliance from the date of SORNA's enactment.

Congrats to the FPD office in WDVa on the win.

Divided Court Affirms Stat Max Sentence for Robbery

US v. Heath: Heath pleaded guilty to interference with commerce by robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The facts underlying the conviction included the robbery of a convenience store and a burglary during which Heath stole 10 shotguns and rifles. Heath's advisory Guideline ranges were 100-125 months on the robbery and 100-120 months on the gun charge. The PSR laid out Heath's extensive criminal history, including prior convictions for stabbing someone in the chest and shooting a police officer. It also detailed his disciplinary problems during previous terms of imprisonment. The Government sought an upward departure due to the under representation of Heath's criminal history. The district court agreed and imposed a statutory maximum term of 240 months on the robbery charge, to be served concurrently with a 120-month sentence on the gun charge.

Heath appealed, arguing that his sentence was unreasonable. The Fourth Circuit, 2-1, disagreed and affirmed. The court found no procedural error in the district court's application of sentence. Emphasizing the deference which appellate courts much accord a district court's sentence in a post-Booker world, the court also concluded that the sentence was substantively reasonable. It probably didn't help that defense counsel admitted that heath "has the proverbial record as long as your arm and has acted violently, possessed weapons and, in common parlance, has been a bad actor all his life."

Judge Gregory dissented, arguing that the district court did not sufficiently explain why the statutory maximum sentence was needed in this case. It was another assertion of his "position that substantive reasonableness must encompass more than the rote recitation of 3553(a) factors that the Court has condoned in numerous post-Gall cases, and which it continues to condone today."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Alien Using Alias Not "Found" While In State Custody

US v. Uribe-Rios: Uribe-Rios was convicted of illegal reentry following deportation. After his reentry, he was arrested and convicted, under an alias, in North Carolina state court on drug charges in 2001. While serving his state sentencing, ICE lodged a detainer with NC authorities under the alias's name. Once released from state custody, Uribe-Rios admitted to ICE agents who he really was and was charged with illegal reentry. Uribe-Rios moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that (1) he was "found" for purposes of the illegal reentry statute when arrested by NC officials, therefore the statute of limitations had run; (2) venue in the WDNC was improper because when the ICE detainer was lodged he was in custody in a facility in the EDNC; and (3) the time between his state arrest and conviction amounted unwarranted pretrial delay. The motion was denied, Uribe-Rios pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 70 months in prison.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Uribe-Rios's conviction and sentence. The court rejected Uribe-Rios's argument about when he was "found," holding that being in state custody is not the same thing as being in federal custody, particularly when the person in custody is using an alias. The court also rejected the venue argument, noting that since Uribe-Rios wasn't "found" until turned over to ICE officials in the WDNC, venue was proper there. With regards to pretrial delay, the court concluded that Uribe-Rios was not prejudiced by not being able to serve his state and federal sentence concurrently, as no such right exists (it also seems to me that the proper time from which to measure "delay" would start with when he was "found" in 2006).