In United States v. Cotton, the US Supreme Court confirmed that District Court’s jurisdictional authority is that which gives it the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a case.
New York, NY (PRWEB) March 28, 2013
In his latest look at key cases that have developed, shaped and defined United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG), Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi has focused on United States v. Cotton 122 S.Ct.1781.
In United States v. Cotton, the US Supreme Court held that erroneous omission of a fact from a Federal indictment, when that fact serves to enhance a statutory minimum sentence per United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG), does not, in and of itself, compel an appellate court to vacate the District Court’s sentence – provided that the omission did not substantially undermine “fairness, integrity of the public reputation of judicial proceedings.”
The case centered around five defendants charged in 1997 with conspiring to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, cocaine and cocaine base. If found guilty, the defendants would be subject to maximum terms of life in prison per United States Sentencing Guidelines, given that they had exceeded the minimum threshold amounts (50kg cocaine; 50 grams cocaine base).
A year after the original five defendants were charged, six more defendants were charged via a superseding indictment. However, the new indictment referred to a “detectable amount” of cocaine, which meant that if found guilty, the defendants would be subject to a maximum prison term of 20 years per United States Sentencing Guidelines.
During the trial, the judge instructed the members of the jury to find any of the defendants guilty if they believed that the prosecution was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any had conspired to distribute, or possessed with intent to distribute, a controlled substance -- regardless of the amount. Ultimately, all of the defendants were convicted, and sentenced by the District Court to a maximum of life in prison.
The defendants appealed on the basis that, since the quantity of drugs involved had not been sent to the jury, it should not have been a sentencing factor. The defendants cited Apprendi v. New Jersey 530 US 466 (which was handed down while the appeal was being considered), in which the US Supreme Court held that any fact that could give rise to the District Court enhancing a sentence beyond the statutory minimum -- save for the existence of a previous conviction -- must be presented to and tested by a jury. The defendant’s appeal was successful, and the District Court sentence was overturned.
The US Government, in turn, appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ultimately held that the original District Court sentence should stand. In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that the evidence at trial clearly showed that the defendants exceeded the minimum 50 grams of cocaine base. It also noted that an indictment containing an error or omission does not remove a court’s jurisdiction (in this case, the District Court), unless such an error or omission undermined the “fairness, integrity of the public reputation of judicial proceedings.”
“In United States v. Cotton, the US Supreme Court confirmed that District Court’s jurisdictional authority is that which gives it the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a case, and is not limited to technical defects in how a case is tried by either the prosecution or the defense, or handled by a judge,” commented Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi. “It also clarified that defendants who believe that their substantive rights have been breached due to an error in an indictment are obligated to remedy that at the District Court level, and not through the Court of Appeals. And most importantly, it confirmed that failure to include within the indictment a fact that enhances the statutory maximum sentence does not, in itself, justify an appellate court vacating the enhanced sentence – even if that fact isn’t presented to a jury as per Apprendi v. New Jersey 530 US 466.”
Mr. Preziosi’s full analysis of United States v. Cotton is available on his firm’s website at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com/trial-court-may-enhance-federal-sentence-even-where-enhancement-omitted-from-indictment/
For more information or media inquiries, email newyorkappellatelawyer(at)gmail(dot)com or phone (212) 300-3845.
About the Appellate Law Office of Stephen N. Preziosi, P.C.
Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi handles criminal appeals in all U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and in New York State Appellate Courts (including Appellate Divisions and the New York Court of Appeals). Whether a case is under the Penal Law in New York State Courts or under Federal Law in the U.S. District Courts, Mr. Preziosi has extensive experience with all types of appellate matters in both the New York State Courts and the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal. Mr. Preziosi has pursued appellate cases in the Appellate Divisions, the Appellate Terms and the highest court in the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals. He has also taken on cases in the various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, and successfully identified legal issues, designed and written briefs and conducted oral argument. The firm’s practice is concentrated in the area of appeals in criminal matters in both State and Federal Courts, and Mr. Preziosi recently launched a United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) awareness campaign to help the general public learn more about this critically important and influential aspect of criminal law.
Learn more at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com.