Sunday, October 07, 2018

Case o' The Week: Shades of Gray - United States v. Gray and Rule 32 rights at Form 12 sentencings

   Probation may see black and white, but there are many shades of Gray.
  United States v. Gray, 2018 WL 4763175 (9th Cir. Oct. 3, 2018), decision available here.

Players: Per curiam decision with Judges Leavy, Hawkins and Tallman. 
   Nice win for AFPDs David A. Merchant II and Josyln Hunt, District of Montana.

Facts: Ashley Gray was charged with violations of supervised release. Id. at *1. Gray was arrested and the district judge then referred the case to the magistrate judge “for hearing, finding of facts, and recommendation.” Id. 
  At the revocation hearing before the magistrate judge, Gray admitted to all but one of the allegations. Id. The guideline range was 4-10 months: Defense counsel asked for three months of custody; the government, five. Id. 
  The magistrate judge recommended five months. Id. 
  The MJ advised Gray she had the right to appear before the district judge, but would have to file a written objection within two weeks to do so. Id. Gray didn’t file any written objections to the magistrate judge’s findings and recommendation. Id. at *2. 
  The Honorable District Judge Lowell then relied on a Probation Officer’s (confidential) sentencing recommendation of 20 months. Id. The district judge considered Gray's monitored jail phone calls that – according to Probation -- revealed a “lack of remorse.” Id. Without a hearing, the district court imposed Probation's recommended custodial sentence of twenty months. Id. 
   The district court’s twenty-month custodial sentence was “four times the length of the sentence recommended by the magistrate judge and the government.” Id. at *3 (emphasis in original).

Issue(s): “Gray contends that the district court violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32 by failing to disclose to her factual evidence on which it relied at sentencing.” Id. at *2.

Held:The government concedes that the district court erred, and we agree.” Id. 
  “Rule 32 ‘require[s] the disclosure of all relevant factual information to the defendant,’ including ‘factual information underlying a probation officer’s confidential sentencing recommendation.’ . . . . In its order sentencing Gray, the district court relied on the probation’s officer confidential sentencing recommendation, which included factual information that had not been disclosed to Gray and to which she had no opportunity to respond before sentence was imposed. Accordingly, we must vacate and remand for resentencing.Id.

Of Note: For many in the Ninth, this Montana procedure seems foreign: a District Judge delegated sentencing of a supervised release violation to a Magistrate Judge? Here, Gray consented and agreed to proceed before the MJ. Doesn’t matter, explains the Ninth. “In conducting proceedings based on an order of reference by a district court, a magistrate judge does “not possess the authority to impose sentence; only the district court possesse[s] that authority.” Rodriguez, 23 F.3d at 921. Thus, even if the defendant is given an opportunity to appear and speak before the magistrate judge, the district court must provide the defendant an additional opportunity before the actual sentence is imposed.” Id. at *3.  

How to Use: There’s an interesting waiver holding buried in Gray. Gray didn’t object to the Magistrate Judge’s findings and recommendation: why didn’t she lose her right to complain about the D.J.’s later sentence? 
  The Ninth held that Gray's general lack of objection to the MJ's recommendation wasn’t an “explicit waiver of her right to be present and allocute.” Id. at *3. Gray teaches that waiver of Rule 32 rights isn’t a casual thing: invoke it when the government hides behind a waiver argument in sentencing and allocution claims.
For Further Reading: In Gray, the defense, the M.J., and the AUSA were just months apart in their sentencing recommendations – and all were in or near the guideline range. Probation, by contrast, urged a custodial term four times the government’s recommendation and double the high-end of the guidelines. 
  Does the largely-unfettered discretion of Probation to initiate violation proceedings, or to recommend sentences, increase sentencing disparity? 
  For an interesting piece wrestling with that question, see Probation and Parole Officers and Discretionary Decision-Making: Responses to Technical and Criminal Violations, available here.

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

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