Monday, May 27, 2013

Case o' The Week: The Ninth Gets Petty -- Stanfill El, Petty Offenses, and Jury Trials

  All over the country, interns are beginning their summer of service at federal courts, Defender offices, and various federal agencies.
  An opportune time to revisit Federal Intern Rule #1: keep the fistfights off of federal jurisdiction, please. United States v. Stanfill El, 2013 WL 18000046 (9th Cir. Apr. 30, 2013), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Clifton, joined by Judges Tashima and Bea. Hard-fought appeal by D. Or. AFPD Thomas J. Hester.

Facts: Lawrence Stanfill El and Kyle Carmin were interns who worked next to each other at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Id. at *1. They fought, and Stanfill El punched Carmin several times. Id. Carmin was hospitalized. Id. Stanfill El was charged with federal assault under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(4). Id. This offense carries a six month maximum custodial term. Id. at *2. Stanfill El pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial: that demand was denied and he was tried before a judge. Id. at *1. Stanfill was found guilty, and the only “sentence” imposed was a restitution order for $3,468 .03 in medical bills. Id.

Issue(s): “The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the right to a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions. But there is a category of petty crimes or offenses which is not subject to the Sixth Amendment jury trial provision. To determine whether an offense is petty, courts look to the maximum penalty that could result from a conviction. Courts presume that an offense is petty when it carries a maximum term of imprisonment of six months or less . . . Stanfill El argues that the potential for an order of restitution in a substantial amount is enough to overcome that presumption.” Id. at *2 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Held:We have already rejected that argument. In Ballek, we held that an order requiring the defendant to pay monetary restitution did not qualify as additional punishment that would trigger the right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment, no matter how large the sum involved . . . . Stanfill El contends that Ballek is distinguishable because it involved a child support debt that had been previously adjudicated by a state court. Stanfill El's legal duty to pay restitution, he argues, hinged entirely on the fact-finder's determination of his guilt rather than a state-court adjudication. But the result we reached in Ballek did not depend upon the previous state-court judgment . . . . Accordingly, Stanfill El cannot rely on it to distinguish his case. Ballek controls, and the district court was correct when it relied on our holding in that case to reject Stanfill El’s Sixth Amendment argument.” Id. at *2 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Of Note: AFPD Hester raises an interesting argument in Stanfill El. If the victim Carmin had just for a common law assault, Stanfill El would have been entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment. Id. at *3. Why doesn’t the Sixth Amendment provide for a jury trial when the same amount of money (in the form of restitution) is at stake? Judge Clifton undertakes some Founding Fathers analysis to explain why the Seventh doesn’t help here. Id. at *4 “Criminal restitution is not some newfangled effort to get around the Seventh Amendment,” id. (quotation and citation omitted) )(though it probably feels that way to Stanfill El).

How to Use: Federal Defender offices who handle petty offense dockets are familiar with the delicate “jury trial” dance fought in Stanfill El. On the one hand, it iss the rare case where the defense wants to give up a jury. On the other, the lower punishments required to knock out the jury trial right are attractive. In Stanfill El, Judge Clifton describes the analysis required to determine whether a petty offense defendant has the right to a trial by jury. Id. at *1. The question involves more than just jail time: a large fine or a long period of probation can trigger the right as well. Id.
Hon. Richard Kopf
For Further Reading: How should judges free-up Federal Public Defender resources, in light of the furloughs required by sequestration? Dismiss all illegal reentry charges. So opines District Judge Richard Kopf in a remarkable blog entry, reported here. 
  If you’ve been feeling battered and bruised in these Sixth Amendment / Sequestration battles, read Judge Kopf’s frank comments and take heart: we’re not alone in this fight.

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



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does this square with US v Clavette 135F3d1308 (1998)?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 5:21:00 PM  

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