Month: September 2017

Changes to Pre-Trial Intervention Program Coming

John Roberts, Esq.
Arseneault & Fassett, LLP

New Jersey has adopted new Court Rules which affect the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) application and admission process for people charged with criminal offenses.

PTI is a diversionary program which allows eligible defendants charged with indictable offenses (commonly called “felonies”) to comply with supervision and rehabilitation prior to trial. Participants who successfully complete the program can have their criminal charges dismissed without a conviction. Supervision generally lasts between one and three years, and includes conditions such as reporting to a Probation officer, refraining from additional violations, seeking and maintaining employment, random drug testing, participating in substance abuse treatment, and paying restitution to any victims.

The new Rules creates several categories of PTI applications and set forth how each category will be considered, including:

  • Ineligible for PTI. PTI is not available to defendants who have previously participated in PTI or other diversionary programs, have been convicted of a first- or second- degree indictable offense, or have been sentenced to confinement for any level of indictable offense.
  • Ineligible for PTI without the Prosecutor’s consent. These include offenses that carry a presumption of incarceration or a mandatory minimum period of incarceration, as well as defendants who were previously convicted of a third-or fourth-degree offense without jail time. The prosecutor must review and consent to these applications before they can begin the standard review process with the criminal manager’s office.
  • Presumption against admission into PTI. Public officers or employees charged with an offense touching on their office and defendants charged with domestic violence offenses are presumed to be ineligible for PTI. However, the defendant’s attorney can submit to the criminal manager’s office with the application a written statement setting forth the “extraordinary and compelling circumstances” of a particular case to rebut the presumption.

A defense attorney’s advocacy is especially critical in the latter two categories. For applications which require the prosecutor’s consent, the prosecutor is not required to consider any facts favorable to the defendant which are not included in the application. Likewise, applications which are presumptively inadmissible must overcome a high bar to meet the “extraordinary and compelling” standard. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help assess a defendant’s application and advocate effectively for admission into PTI.

Furthermore, defendants whose PTI applications have been denied, either by the prosecutor or the criminal case manager’s office, can appeal the denials to the Court. However, very specific and exacting standards apply to such appeals. An experienced criminal defense attorney can best assess the likelihood of success and zealously advocate such appeals.

The new Rules were adopted by the New Jersey Supreme Court on September 15, 2017, and take effect on July 1, 2018.

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Third Circuit Opinion: United States v. Martin

John Roberts, Esq.
Arseneault & Fassett, LLP

In United States v. Martin, No. 16-4289 (3d Cir. Aug. 15, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a defendant who was determined to be a career offender was ineligible for a reduced sentence under a Sentencing Guidelines amendment. Martin pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement under Rule 11(c)(1)(C), to possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. The plea agreement stipulated an advisory guideline range of 70 to 87 months imprisonment and a sentence of 87 months. Prior to sentencing, the Pre-Sentence Report determined that Martin was a career offender based on his criminal record, and accordingly that his advisory guideline range was 188-235 months. The sentencing court agreed with the PSR report but also accepted the R. 11(c)(1)(C) plea and imposed a sentence of 87 months pursuant to the agreement.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission later promulgated Amendment 782 to the Sentencing Guidelines, which retroactively lowered the offense levels for many drug quantities, including Martin’s. Martin filed a motion for a new sentence under 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(2), which the District Court denied. Martin appealed to the Third Circuit, arguing that his guideline range was 70-87 months as per his plea agreement, which should have been lowered to 57-71 months under the Amendment. Martin’s appeal relied on Freeman v. United States, 564 U.S. 522 (2011), in which the Supreme Court held that a R. 11(c)(1)(C) plea was eligible for a sentence reduction under §3582 if the plea agreement “expressly uses a Guidelines sentencing range applicable to the charged offense.”

The Court distinguished Martin’s case from Freeman, which did not involve the question of career offender status. It cited cases from two other Circuits, United States v. Leonard, 844 F.3d 102 (2d Cir. 2016), and United States v. Pleasant, 704 F.3d 808 (9th Cir. 2013), both of which held that when a court accepts a R. 11(c)(1)(C) plea, it effectively grants a departure or variance from an otherwise applicable Guideline sentence. Those cases comport with Third Circuit cases finding that “applicable guideline ranges” prior to Guideline Amendments to be career offender ranges. Thus the Court held that the “applicable guideline range” in Martin’s case was the career offender range, 188-235 months. Because that range had not been lowered by an Amendment to the Guidelines, the Court ruled, Martin was ineligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to §3582(c)(2).

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Third Circuit Opinion: United States v. Ferriero

John Roberts, Esq.
Arseneault & Fassett, LLP

In United States v. Ferriero, No. 15-4064 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the convictions of a former county Democratic party chairman for violations of the Travel Act, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and wire fraud. The defendant had a contract with a vendor of emergency notification services to receive commissions for business that he was able to generate from municipalities. Defendant then introduced high-ranking officials from several towns to the vendor and encouraged them to do business while failing to disclose that he stood to gain financially.

Defendant argued on appeal that his conviction under the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. §1952, should be overturned because the Government failed to prove that by violating New Jersey’s bribery statute he agreed “to undermine the integrity of the towns’ processes in considering whether to purchase the [vendor’s] product,” relying on United States v. Dansker, 537 F.2d 40 (3d Cir. 1976). The Court disagreed, reasoning that Dansker applied that additional requirement to a previous version of the bribery statute which has since been repealed and replaced. The Court found that the current version of the statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:27-2, is more narrow than the previous one, and thus does not require the additional element. The Court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant’s violation of 2C:27-2 and his conviction under the Travel Act.

Likewise, the Court upheld the defendant’s conviction under RICO, 18 U.S.C. §1962(c). Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence of a “nexus” between the business of the “enterprise” (the party organization) and the pattern of racketeering (bribery). The Court concluded that a sufficient nexus did exist, because the party organization hosted networking events for vendors and municipal officials, and it was the defendant’s practice, if not his official duty, to advise municipal officials on hiring vendors. The Court held that a rational juror could conclude that the pattern of bribery was one means by which the defendant conducted party business.

Finally, the defendant appealed his conviction for wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. §1343. Ferriero argued that an email which his business partner sent in response to a municipal official’s inquiry about who owned the vendor was truthful as far as it went, and that omission of Ferriero’s financial interest did not qualify as a “false representation.” The Court disagreed, holding that in context the email withheld “critical qualifying information.” The Court held that “whether a representation is false or fraudulent is a contextual inquiry that a jury is particularly well-suited to assess,” given the jury’s first-hand access to witness testimony. In this case, a rational jury could find that the omission of critical information alone was sufficient to support a conviction. Thus the Court rejected Ferriero’s appeal and upheld his conviction in its entirety.

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