Saturday, February 23, 2019

Case o' The Week: Waver in Disfavor - Depue, Waiver and Forfeiture of Appellate Claims


  An en banc court of the Ninth has found that a defendant forfeited his challenge to a guideline sentence.
  Hooray!


United States v. Depue, 912 F.3d 1227(9th Cir. Jan. 14, 2019) (en banc),
decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Berzon, joined by CJ Thomas, and Judges Fletcher, Paez, Berzon, M. Smith, Ikuta, Christen, Nguyen, Watford, Hurwitz, and Friedland. 
  Federal Defender Amicus effort by AFD’s Vince Brunkow and Michael Marks, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.  

Facts: Depue, who represented himself, was convicted of mortgage fraud after a jury trial. Id. at 1230. The government recommended a whopping OL 39, based on its loss theories. Id. at 1231. The PSR parroted this calculation: pro se defendant Depue didn’t object. Id. 
  Depue was sentenced to over twenty-one years. 
  He appealed, arguing that the loss calculations were erroneous. Id. A three-judge panel held Depue waived his objections to the alleged Guideline errors. Id. at 1231-32. 
  The case went en banc.

Issue(s): “We are asked to explain when a defendant is entitled to plain error review of challenges to his sentence that he failed to raise in the district court. Our cases have consistently held that a defendant waives his rights and precludes plain error review only when there is evidence that he knew of his rights at the time and nonetheless relinquished them. Twenty-one years ago, we explained this point in an en banc opinion. United States v. Perez, 116 F.3d 840 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).” Id. at 1229.

Held: We reaffirm today this distinction between waiver and forfeiture.” Id. 
  “Confining our en banc consideration to Depue’s challenge to the Guidelines calculations, we hold that Depue’s failure to object to the Guidelines calculations at sentencing constitutes forfeiture subject to plain error review, but that there was no plain error.” Id. at 1230 (emphasis added).

Of Note: The Ninth reviewed Depue’s claims for plain error. The threshold issue for Olano “error” is whether the claim was “intentionally relinquished or abandoned.” Id. at 1232. As Judge Berzon explains, “forfeited claims are reviewed for plain error, while waiver precludes appellate review altogether.” Id. (emphasis added).  
  What makes for a “waiver?” Evidence that the defendant knew what they were giving up – a mere failure to object isn’t enough. 
  Judge Berzon writes that “The relevant question is whether Depue knew the substantive legal rules underlying the particular challenges to the Guidelines calculation he raises on appeal, and knew that the district court’s calculation violated those rules.” Id. at 1233-34. The en banc court holds that Depue didn’t know what he was giving up, so he didn’t waive. This distinction “between waiver and forfeiture is particularly important in the sentencing context.” Id. at 1234. A critically important holding, particularly for the extraordinarily complex Guideline (and Taylor analysis) sentencing process – it gives us a shot at plain error review, and getting a botched sentence fixed, on direct appeal. 
  This is a thoughtful opinion, buttressed by policy considerations, and is just flat-out fair: no surprise that all eleven e.b. votes signed onto the outcome.

How to Use: The defense in Depue won an (important) battle, but Depue himself lost the war. The Ninth held that, if there were legal or factual errors in the guideline calcs, they didn’t rise to level of plain error. 
  The take-away? Forfeiture and plain error review is better than waiver and getting kicked out of the Ninth -- but a nice record heavily peppered with clear objections is better than both.
                                               
For Further Reading: The national defense community generally, and NorCal specifically, has suffered a tremendous loss with the untimely death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
   The only elected public defender in California, Jeff was a tireless and fearless advocate for his own clients, for resources for his office and for indigent defense, and for reform of the criminal justice system.

  
Our deepest condolences to his family, and to our PD brothers and sisters: we’ve all lost a good friend and great leader. See SF Chronicle Article here.



Image of “Ralph Wiggum” waver from https://tenor.com/search/waving-gifs



Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender, N.D. Cal. Website at www.ndcalfpd.org

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Thursday, February 28, 2019 6:20:00 PM  

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