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Judges question earlier Circuit holding

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A decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals about child pornography convictions turned into an examination of whether a standard adopted by the Circuit Court regarding allocution should remain the law of the Circuit.

In United States v. Dick L. Noel, No. 07-2468, the Circuit judges unanimously affirmed Dick Noel's convictions of producing and possessing child pornography. Despite the allowance of testimony from a police detective that images found on Noel's computer met the federal definition of child pornography - which was improper - the judges believed the outcome of the case would have been the same if it had been excluded.

The judges also found the District Court committed plain error during its sentencing, including Noel not being allowed allocution, but Judge Michael Kanne and Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook ruled that it didn't affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.

But the focus of the opinion turned to whether to revisit United States v. Luepke, 495 F.3d 443, 451 (7th Cir. 2007), which ruled that when conducting plain-error reviews that show a District judge didn't give a defendant the right to allocute, the court should presume prejudice when there's any possibility the defendant would have received a lesser sentence had he been heard. The issue arose because Noel challenged his sentence and argued he wasn't given the chance for meaningful allocution because the District judge didn't personally ask him if he'd like to speak and instead spoke directly to his attorney. The attorney read aloud a letter written by Noel that she thought may help with his sentencing in response to comments by the prosecutor.

The holding that a judge must address a defendant personally and offer him or her the opportunity to speak before sentencing was codified in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4)(A)(ii.) Chief Judge Easterbrook took issue in his concurring opinion that an appellate court must presume prejudice when there is any possibility that the defendant would have received a lesser sentence had he been given the chance to speak because the presumption is in the defendant's favor and the proposition of "any possibility" of prejudice suffices to establish plain error.

Luepke justified transferring the burden to the prosecutor because it's hard to show an adverse effect from a judge's failure to address the defendant personally, rather than addressing counsel in the defendant's presence, which conveys the same information but doesn't satisfy the rule, he wrote.

"That a violation did not affect anyone's behavior - which may explain why no one objected - ought not make reversal the norm. It is instead why a court of appeals should allow the judgment to stand," he wrote.

But in her dissent, Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote the appellate court can't deny the importance of the right to allocute and the steps the District Court must take to enforce it. She argued the presumption of prejudice allows the right to be enforced and provides a remedy when procedural rules may have rendered it effectively obsolete.

"The presumption we adopted in Luepke does not make the denial of allocution a structural error, nor does it advocate for automatic reversal. It recognizes that the right is more than an 'unenforced honor code' that judges may follow in their discretion," she wrote. "Unless the Supreme Court says otherwise, I see no reason to revisit Luepke."

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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