Thursday, January 15, 2015

United States v. Dibe, No. 13-50515 (Gilman (6th Cir.) joined by Graber and Callahan)

--- The Ninth Circuit held that ineffective assistance of counsel is not a valid basis under 18 U.S.C. ยง 3553(a) for imposing a lower sentence.

The defendant was the U.S. representative of a Nigerian internet fraud scheme, and was charged in federal court in Los Angeles with 15 counts of wire fraud. The government offered him a plea deal that included a stipulated sentence at Guidelines offense level 27, but the defendant didn't accept the deal until after the deadline. As a result, he pleaded guilty to all the counts in the indictment without a plea agreement, and the sentencing judge computed his Guidelines range based on offense level 34. Ultimately the sentence imposed was 120 months, 31 months below the bottom of the Guidelines range.

On appeal, the defendant argued that ineffective assistance of counsel in connection with plea negotiations should have led the sentencing judge to impose an even lower sentence. The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Ineffective assistance of counsel isn't one of the statutory purposes of sentencing, because it isn't connected to the history and characteristics of the defendant or the nature and circumstances of the offense. At best it affects the integrity of the judicial proceedings, but even that isn't one of the statutory sentencing factors. Finally, the remedy for ineffective assistance isn't to impose a lower sentence; instead, it's to allow the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea or perhaps to direct the government to extend the same favorable plea offer a second time.

The court also upheld the below-Guidelines, 120-month sentence as substantively reasonable in this case.

The decision is here:


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