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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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