United States v. Ovid, No. 09-CR-216 (JG), 2010 WL 3940724 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 1, 2010)
Judge Gleeson takes pen to paper again, but selects the fraud guidelines and the DOJ's June 28, 2010 letter to the Sentencing Commission as the target. In sum, Judge Gleeson sentenced a white-collar offender to 60 months imprisonment, notwithstanding an advisory Guidelines range of 210 to 262 months (there was, of course, a 60 month statutory cap). The whole decision is a "must read" for any defense lawyer. Indeed, Judge Gleeson has important things to say about sentencing disparity as well as the role that appellate courts should play in cabining same. But what's perhaps most interesting for defense lawyers is his "Preliminary Statement," which is quoted in full below:
In a letter dated June 28, 2010 to the Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, the Director of the Office of Policy and Legislation of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ” or the “Department”) decries the “evolution” of “two distinct and very different sentencing regimes.” Letter from Jonathan J. Wroblewski to the Hon. William K. Sessions III, at 2, 1 (June 28, 2010) (“DOJ Letter”). One “regime,” the letter contends, “includes the cases sentenced by federal judges who continue to impose sentences within the applicable guideline range for most offenders and most offenses.” Id. at 1. This is apparently the good regime. The “second regime,” by contrast, “has largely lost its moorings to the sentencing guidelines.” Id. at 2. This regime is a cause of concern for the Department. It consists of judges who sentence fraud offenders, especially in high-loss cases, “inconsistently and without regard to the federal sentencing guidelines.” Id. at 4. The Department concludes on this issue (the letter addresses various others as well) that “[t]he current sentencing outcomes in [fraud] cases are unacceptable, and the Commission should determine whether some reforms are needed.” Id . at 5. In short, the premise of the letter is that unless the sentences in fraud cases are “moored” to the advisory ranges provided by the United States Sentencing Guidelines, they produce “unwarranted sentencing disparities” that are “extremely problematic.” Id. at 2.
The DOJ Letter recommends, inter alia, a systemic analysis and synthesis by the Commission of the federal sentencing data it has collected, followed by a report that “explore[s] how to create a single sentencing regime that will earn the respect of the vast majority of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, Members of Congress, probation officers, and the public.” Id. at 3. It also suggests that “reforms might include amendments to the sentencing guideline for fraud offenses.” Id. at 5.
The Department is an important influence in the formulation of sentencing policy. Jonathan Wroblewski, the author of the letter, is a thoughtful and well-respected expert in the area. Finally, the Attorney General enjoys ex officio membership on the Sentencing Commission, and Mr. Wroblewski is the Attorney General's designee to that post. For all these reasons, the DOJ Letter to the Commission will carry great weight.
The sentencing of Isaac Ovid on July 30, 2010 illustrates well the fact that, here in the trenches where fraud sentences are actually imposed, there is a more nuanced reality than the DOJ Letter suggests. The letter describes two “dichotomous regimes” in fraud cases-one moored to the Guidelines, the other adrift in the vast regions beneath the low end of the advisory Guidelines ranges. Id. at 2. But Ovid's sentencing shows otherwise. Specifically, it shows how the fraud guideline, despite its excessive complexity, still does not account for many of the myriad factors that are properly considered in fashioning just sentences, and indeed no workable guideline could ever do so. This reality does not render the Guidelines irrelevant in fraud cases; they are in fact quite useful in all sentencings. But sentencing judges know that a full consideration of “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant,” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1), implicates offense and offender characteristics that are too numerous and varied, and occur in too many different combinations, to be captured, much less quantified, in the Commission's Guidelines Manual. A consideration of those and the other factors set forth in § 3553(a) produces sentences that are moored to fairness, and to the goals of sentencing set forth in § 3553(a)(2) but sometimes not so much to the advisory Guidelines range. Indeed, in some cases the fair sentence can drift quite far away from the advisory range, which is, after all, but one of eight factors the sentencing judge must consider.
Ovid's sentencing reveals that the Department knows this as well. Aggressive, experienced, successful white collar prosecutors understand that it does not undermine the Sentencing Guidelines at all, much less create some kind of rogue sentencing regime, when the consideration of factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3663(a) produces a sentence that happens to be substantially below the advisory range.
I support the Department's call for Sentencing Commission review of fraud sentences. But in determining whether reforms are needed, and especially in determining whether the existing guideline should be burdened with even more adjustments, the Commission should examine whether our system already provides an adequate solution for the claimed “unacceptable” outcomes the Department complains about. I suggest that it does, in the form of appellate review, and for all of the handwringing in the DOJ Letter about unacceptable sentences, the Department for the most part has not even tried to avail itself of that solution.