Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Watch the “R” Word, Prosecutors!

Two months ago, I posted here about the Seventh Circuit’s sharp rebuke of a prosecutor in United States v. Farinella, in which the defendant was charged with selling mislabeled bottles of salad dressing.  The court’s concerns focused, in part, on the prosecutor’s repeated suggestions to the jury that the salad dressing was spoiled, despite the absence of any evidence to that effect. The court, per Judge Posner, rightly took the prosecutor to task for attempting to inflame the jury’s emotions through evocative, but misleading, characterizations of the evidence.  We can and should expect prosecutors to act with integrity and restraint in carrying on their critically important public functions, rather than playing the adversarial system for all it’s worth.  In my experience, the vast majority of prosecutors appreciate — apologies to Vince Lombardi — that winning is not the only thing.  But, when prosecutors do occasionally cross the line, as in Farinella, I am happy to see the courts call them out.

I was reminded of Farinella when reading the court’s decision last week in United States v. Mannava (No. 07-3748), in which the court, again per Judge Posner, overturned the defendant’s child enticement conviction based, again, on the prosecutor’s repeated use of misleading and inflammatory language in front of the jury. 

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Permission to Skip to the Chase

In United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court held that the mandatory federal sentencing guidelines violated a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. As a remedy, the Court excised the statutory provision, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(b), requiring the district court to impose a sentence within the guideline range, thereby rendering the guidelines effectively advisory. Under Booker‘s advisory guideline regime, district courts must still calculate and consider the guidelines, but are free to impose a reasonable sentence above or below the range based on the other sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

So, sentencing is now a two-step process. (In some circuits, it’s three steps, but let that pass.) The court must first calculate the guideline range, just as it did before Booker, and then at step two determine an appropriate sentence in light of all the statutory factors.

But guideline calculations can be quite complex. The Guidelines Manual approaches 600 pages, and studies have shown that, depending on who is doing the calculating, the same set of facts can produce divergent guideline ranges. (See Professor O’Hear’s article, “The Myth of Uniformity,” 17 Fed. Sent. Rep. 249, for more on this.) Must the court, post-Booker, still resolve all disputed guideline issues, even though it has settled on an appropriate sentence under the statutory factors? Last week, in United States v. Sanner, the Seventh Circuit addressed this question.

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Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Doing the Interrogation Two-Step

As all law students (and viewers of crime dramas) know, an incriminating statement generally cannot be used against a defendant if the defendant was not given the basic Miranda warnings before the statement was elicited by police.  But what if the defendant gives a second, warned statement after a first, unwarned statement?  In Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985), the Supreme Court seemed to give a green light to the use of such statements.  More recently, though, the Court ruled that a second statement was not admissible in Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), in which police officers deliberately employed a two-step interrogation technique in order to minimize the effectiveness of the Miranda warnings. 

The trouble is that no single opinion drew a majority in Seibert.  A plurality opinion adopted a multifactor test for two-step interrogations, in which the reviewing court would determine whether a “reasonable person in the suspect’s shoes” would have understood that it was possible to refuse further questioning after the Miranda warnings were given.  Meanwhile, Justice Kennedy, providing the crucial fifth vote for the Court’s holding, wrote separately and advocated a different test that focused on whether the police were deliberately circumventing Miranda.  The Seibert split has caused continuing confusion in the lower courts.  (As Jon Deitrich observed in a post earlier today, Justice Scalia recently saved the Supreme Court from a similarly divided result in Arizona v. Gant.)

The Seventh Circuit had an opportunity to choose between the plurality and Kennedy approaches in its opinion last week in United States v. Heron (No. 07-3726). 

Continue ReadingSeventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Doing the Interrogation Two-Step