Friday, March 23, 2018

News and notes, Ultra Spring Break edition

It's Ultra time in downtown Miami, which means the lawyers will be fleeing around lunchtime today. And then it's spring break next week.

Scott Rothstein is writing his own motions. Paula McMahon has the interesting story here:

Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein is imprisoned and disbarred from practicing as an attorney but it hasn’t stopped him from flexing his jailhouse lawyer muscles – on his own behalf.

Rothstein, 55, personally filed court documents on Thursday in his bid to try to force the feds to reduce his 50-year prison sentence.

Rothstein, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme, first had to obtain permission from Senior U.S. District Judge James Cohn to file his own court pleadings.

The judge consented and Rothstein, who is being held in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ secretive witness protection program for inmates, typed up a 13-page legal argument and submitted it Thursday.

In other news, Colbert asked RGB whether a hotdog is a sandwich. This is pretty funny.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

New Ft. Lauderdale federal courthouse is in the works

From the Sun-Sentinel:
A new federal courthouse for Fort Lauderdale is included in a massive $1.3 trillion federal spending agreement that has bipartisan support and is expected to be approved in the next few days.

News that the $190 million downtown project was part of the package reached the city Wednesday from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who phoned the city’s current and former mayors with the good news.
The 39-year-old current courthouse at Broward Boulevard and Northeast Third Avenue has had a leaking roof and mold problems, doesn’t have sufficient office space and wasn’t designed for current federal security requirements. The courthouse has been No. 3 on the priority list for new courthouses since 2016.

The General Services Administration is conducting a feasibility study for the new courthouse that should be completed by June. It will then be up to the GSA to pick a site for the new courthouse.

In other news, the 11th Circuit held today that possession of a round of ammunition is not sufficient to conduct a search for a firearm. The suppression motion should have been granted. The case is United States v. Johnson. The court framed the issue this way:

This appeal requires us to consider whether the pat down of a burglary suspect and the identification of a round of ammunition in the suspect’s pocket constitutionally allowed the officer to retrieve the round and another item from the suspect’s pocket.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Newest 11th Circuit Judge Lisa Branch sworn in

Here are the cool pictures posted by Judge Stephen Dillard, who did the swearing in:

Imagine how prosecutors would react if your client gave this story

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Federal Prosecutors take note

This blog often criticizes prosecutors and judges, but it's also important to highlight the good stuff going on as well.  Here's Philadelphia's new District Attorney trying to make change.  From Slate:
On Tuesday, [Larry] Krasner issued a memo to his staff making official a wave of new policies he had announced his attorneys last month. The memo starts: “These policies are an effort to end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing.”
“These policies are an effort to end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing,” Larry Krasner said in an announcement on Tuesday.
The most significant and groundbreaking reform is how he has instructed assistant district attorneys to wield their most powerful tool: plea offers. Over 90 percent of criminal cases nationwide are decided in plea bargains, a system which has been broken beyond repair by mandatory minimum sentences and standardized prosecutorial excess. In an about-face from how these transactions typically work, Krasner’s 300 lawyers are to start many plea offers at the low end of sentencing guidelines. For most nonviolent and nonsexual crimes, or economic crimes below a $50,000 threshold, Krasner’s lawyers are now to offer defendants sentences below the bottom end of the state’s guidelines. So, for example, if a person with no prior convictions is accused of breaking into a store at night and emptying the cash register, he would normally face up to 14 months in jail. Under Krasner’s paradigm, he’ll be offered probation. If prosecutors want to use their discretion to deviate from these guidelines, say if a person has a particularly troubling rap sheet, Krasner must personally sign off.
“It’s the mirror of a lot of offices saying, ‘If you don’t ask for the max you’ve got to get my permission,’ ” says David Rudovsky, a prominent Philadelphia civil rights attorney. For longtime career prosecutors, this will take some getting used to. “You want to be sure your assistants are actually doing it,” Rudovsky says.
Krasner’s lawyers are also now to decline charges for marijuana possession, no matter the weight, effectively decriminalizing possession of the drug in the city for all nonfederal cases. Sex workers will not be charged with prostitution unless they have more than two priors, in which case they’ll be diverted to a specialized court. Retail theft under $500 is no longer a misdemeanor in the eyes of Philly prosecutors, but a summary offense—the lowest possible criminal charge. And when ADAs give probation charges they are to opt for the lower end of the possible spectrum. “Criminological studies show that most violations of probation occur within the first 12 months,” the memo reads, “Assuming that a defendant is violation free for 12 months, any remaining probation is simply excess baggage requiring unnecessary expenditure of funds for supervision.” When a person does break the rules of probation, minor infractions such as missing a PO meeting are not to be punished with jail time or probation revocation, and more serious infractions are to be disciplined with no more than two years in jail.
In a move that may have less impact on the lives of defendants, but is very on-brand for Kranser, prosecutors must now calculate the amount of money a sentence would cost before recommending it to a judge, and argue why the cost is justified. He estimates that it costs $115 a day, or $42,000 a year, to incarcerate one person. So, if a prosecutor seeks a three-year sentence, she must state, on the record, that it would cost taxpayers $126,000 and explain why she thinks this cost is justified. Krasner reminds his attorneys that the cost of one year of unnecessary incarceration “is in the range of the cost of one year’s salary for a beginning teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, Assistant District Attorney, or addiction counselor.”
 Unfortunately, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump are doing the exact opposite.  Sessions is pushing for more min/mans.  And Trump is now calling for the death penalty in drug prosecutions.  Here's Krasner's memo.  It's worth a read.