Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Ayers, an experienced Kentucky criminal-defense attorney, was indicted in 2008 on five counts of failing to file state tax returns. Ayers represented himself throughout the 21 months between his indictment and trial, but never formally elected to do so. He never waived his right to counsel on the record, filed a notice of appearance, or moved to be allowed to proceed pro se. The court allegedly failed to inform him at his arraignment that he had a right to counsel and never subsequently sought to determine whether Ayers’s self-representation was a voluntary, intelligent, and knowing waiver of his right to counsel. When Ayers asked for a continuance a day before trial was scheduled to begin so that he could hire an attorney with whom he attested he was already in negotiations, the court denied his request and forced him to proceed pro se. Ayers was convicted. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of habeas relief. The Kentucky Supreme Court acted contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent when it held that trial courts need not “obtain a waiver of counsel” before allowing “experienced criminal trial attorneys” to represent themselves. Applying de novo review, the court concluded that Ayers did not validly waive his right to counsel. View "Ayers v. Hall" on Justia Law

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On the facts of the case, the constitutional speedy trial clock began to run from the date of the original indictment rather than from the date of an additional charge first brought in a superseding indictment.A federal grand jury indicted Defendant on twelve counts of wire fraud. Approximately six years later, the government filed a superseding indictment containing the same twelve wire-fraud counts as the original indictment and adding a new count for bank fraud. The district court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss the original indictment and the added bank-fraud count on Sixth Amendment speedy trial grounds. The government appealed, arguing that, with respect to the bank-fraud charge, the district court should have measured the period of delay from the filing of the superseding indictment, not from the filing of the initial indictment. The First Circuit disagreed, holding that the bringing of an additional charge does not reset the Sixth Amendment speedy trial clock to the date of the superseding indictment where the additional charge and the charge for which the defendant was previously accused are based on the same act or transaction, or common scheme or plan, and where the government could have, with diligence, brought the additional charge at the time of the prior accusation. View "United States v. Handa" on Justia Law

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Martin, Kentucky Mayor Thomasine Robinson, sought reelection. Her challenger, Howell, won by three votes. Husband James confronted and threatened to kill Howell; he was convicted in state court of terroristic threatening and menacing. Thomasine was charged with bribery, coercion, and intimidation. Testimony indicated that: Thomasine gave a woman $20 to vote for her and coerced voters to vote for her by absentee ballot; that her son Steven attempted to intimidate a voter; that James paid $10 for a vote; and that James gave an individual money with which to purchase votes. The jury returned a guilty verdict on conspiracy and vote-buying (52 U.S.C. 10307(c)) charges, but the court granted James acquittal on the conspiracy charge. Thomasine was convicted of vote-buying and conspiracy to violate civil rights (18 U.S.C. 241); Steven was found guilty of conspiracy and two counts of vote-buying, but acquitted of a third count. The court assessed a leadership enhancement to James for directing another to purchase votes and an obstruction of justice enhancement for behaving menacingly during a trial recess and sentenced him to an above-guidelines 40 months in prison. Steven was sentenced to 21 months and three years of supervised release, with a condition requiring him to abstain from the consumption of alcohol. Thomasine was sentenced to 33 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. View "United States v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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In 2007 fraudulent checks in the amount of $181,577 were cashed against the accounts of seven Citizens Bank customers in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Fraud investigator Swoyer discovered that Tolliver’s employee number was the only one used to access all of the accounts; only Tolliver and one assistant manager worked on all of the days on which the accounts were accessed.. Swoyer, Postal Inspector Busch, and a Secret Service agent interviewed Tolliver. At trial, Swoyer testified that he reviewed Tolliver’s entire logbook with her and that Tolliver told him that she had not given her password to anyone and that she always logged off her computer when she walked away from a terminal. Seven of Tolliver’s former co-workers testified they never knew Tolliver’s password or saw it written down. A jury convicted Tolliver of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a), and unauthorized use of a computer, 18 U.S.C. 1030. The court imposed a below-Guidelines sentence of 30 months’ imprisonment and restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed. Tolliver, represented by newly appointed counsel, filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, claiming that her trial counsel was ineffective by failure to investigate. The district court granted her motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. The Third Circuit vacated. View "United States v. Tolliver" on Justia Law

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King pled guilty in Arkansas state court to 1,577 counts of forgery and theft of property for embezzling more than $700,000 from the school district where she worked. The court sentenced King to 80 years imprisonment, within the guidelines range. King had no criminal history and claims she accepted the plea because of threats that her husband and son would also be charged. Five months later, the court reduced King’s sentence to 20 years imprisonment, under Arkansas Code 16-90-111, which allows a trial court to “correct an illegal sentence at any time” or to “correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner within . . . ninety (90) days after the sentence is imposed.” The state appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which reinstated King’s 80-year sentence, finding the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the reduction because the 90-day period for doing so had expired. King sought federal habeas relief. Although the district court was clearly sympathetic, it found no grounds for habeas relief. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that King is not entitled to habeas relief based on her disagreement with the Arkansas Supreme Court’s interpretation of Arkansas law. View "King v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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King pled guilty in Arkansas state court to 1,577 counts of forgery and theft of property for embezzling more than $700,000 from the school district where she worked. The court sentenced King to 80 years imprisonment, within the guidelines range. King had no criminal history and claims she accepted the plea because of threats that her husband and son would also be charged. Five months later, the court reduced King’s sentence to 20 years imprisonment, under Arkansas Code 16-90-111, which allows a trial court to “correct an illegal sentence at any time” or to “correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner within . . . ninety (90) days after the sentence is imposed.” The state appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which reinstated King’s 80-year sentence, finding the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the reduction because the 90-day period for doing so had expired. King sought federal habeas relief. Although the district court was clearly sympathetic, it found no grounds for habeas relief. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that King is not entitled to habeas relief based on her disagreement with the Arkansas Supreme Court’s interpretation of Arkansas law. View "King v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted and sentenced for conspiracy to obstruct justice, accessory after the fact to mail fraud and securities law violations, altering documents to influence a federal investigation, and aiding and abetting false testimony at an SEC deposition. A panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err at sentencing by applying both the “Broker-Dealer” enhancement and the “Special Skill” enhancement under the Sentencing Guidelines; (2) the district court did not err in calculating loss and victim amounts, as required under the Sentencing Guidelines; (3) Defendant was competent to waive his right to a jury trial, and his waiver was knowing and intelligent; and (4) the district court did not plainly err in (a) excluding a non-lawyer’s testimony reciting facts and the legal conclusion that Defendant did not break the law; (b) determining that the district court was capable of understanding an expert’s opinion regarding Defendant’s professional and ethical duties as an attorney; and (c) admitting coconspirator nonhearsay testimony. View "United States v. Tamman" on Justia Law

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Waters, a former Michigan state legislator, became involved in a corruption probe involving her then-live-in companion, political consultant Riddle. With a negotiated plea agreement, Waters pleaded guilty to filing a fraudulent tax return (26 U.S.C. 7207). The district court sentenced her to a year’s probation on the misdemeanor charge. Eight days later, Waters moved pro se to withdraw her guilty plea. The district court denied that motion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and later affirmed Waters’s conviction and sentence. More than three years later, Waters petitioned for a writ of error coram nobis, claiming that her attorney was constitutionally ineffective in promising that her misdemeanor conviction could “easily” be expunged and in failing to represent her vigorously at sentencing because he had a conflict of interest arising from his simultaneous representation of Riddle. The district court denied the petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Waters did not establish an ongoing civil disability. At most she has alleged an injury to reputation, but this is not enough to warrant coram nobis. Although Waters claimed that her ability to travel outside the United States has been impaired, she did not show how this is the case. View "United States v. Waters" on Justia Law

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Defendant, an attorney, was charged with multiple counts of, inter alia, forgery of a document and uttering a forged instrument. The charges stemmed from allegations that Defendant, through his use of computers, orchestrated a sophisticated scheme to divert to himself funds that were intended to be used to pay off large home mortgage loans. Prior to trial, the Commonwealth filed a motion to compel Defendant to enter his password into encryption software he placed on various digital media storage devices that were in the custody of the Commonwealth. Following a hearing, a judge denied the Commonwealth’s motion to compel decryption but reported a question of law to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Court reversed the denial of the Commonwealth’s motion, concluding that Defendant could be compelled to provide his key to seized encrypted digital evidence provided that the compelled decryption would not communicate facts of a testimonial nature to the Commonwealth beyond what Defendant had already admitted to investigators. Remanded. View "Commonwealth v. Gelfgatt" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of theft by misapplication of property and securities fraud. Defendant appealed, contending that the court's jury instructions impermissibly shifted the burden of proof onto him to prove his innocence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the burden of proof was not improperly shifted onto Defendant to prove his innocence where (1) there was no obvious error in the instructions the trial court gave because, as a whole, the instructions correctly stated the law; and (2) the court correctly stated the State's burden of proof and Defendant's presumption of innocence several times during the jury selection, at the beginning of the trial, in its final instructions, and in its written instructions sent to the jury room. View "State v. Philbrook" on Justia Law