We handle lots of federal criminal cases. Many of our cases end up with a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, a federal judge decides what kind of punishment to impose on our client. A case yesterday from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reminds us that sometimes our client can end up losing, even if it appears at first that we “win.” This case reminds us that attorneys handling federal sentencing hearings need to think through what might happen if they convince the judge they are right about some aspect of a sentencing hearing. Yesterday’s case is United States v. Slaton, and can be read here.
Mr. Slaton was a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in beautiful Birmingham, Alabama, where I was handling a federal sentencing hearing just yesterday. He lived about 30 miles away, so he needs to drive to and from work. Mr. Slaton hurt his back, and eventually received disability benefits, reporting constant pain and need for various therapies. Other evidence made it appear that he was faking his injuries, with evidence that he regularly went to the gym, remodeled homes, and drove long distances. He was indicted for a variety of charges, such as making false statements in order to obtain worker’s compensation benefits, wire fraud, and theft of government property. A jury convicted him of all counts.
The Judge who presided over the trial also conducted a sentencing hearing. As any reader of this Blog knows, this is the point in the process where a Probation Officer prepares a Presentence Investigation Report to begin the process of calculating the wickedly complex Federal Sentencing Guidelines. As we have discussed recently in another post, the concept of “loss” is exceedingly important in such cases. The sentencing judge felt that the “loss” was lower than what the prosecutors wanted, which led the Judge to calculate the potential Guideline “range” as suggesting 18-24 months custody. The Judge was obviously not all that impressed with the government’s case, and decided that Slaton did not need to go to jail, and thus take up even more tax dollars.