Monday, July 11, 2016

B-Girls convictions reversed with citations to the Bible, Vulcans and Pappy's Bourbon

Wow, big opinion today by the 11th Circuit, reversing the B-girls convictions.  The blog covered (and frequently criticized) the prosecution and lengthy trial, which involved bar girls getting guys drunk and running up tabs at bars. Welcome to Miami!

The 11th Circuit held that the court should have instructed the jury as follows: that they must acquit if they found that the defendants had tricked the victims into entering a transaction but nevertheless gave the victims exactly what they asked for and charged them exactly what they agreed to pay.

The panel was Ed Carnes, Martin and visiting district judge Amul Thapar (EDKY).

The appellate defense team included Howard Srebnick, Richard Klugh, Marcia Silvers, and John Bergendahl.

The opinion, written by Judge Thapar, is awesome and includes all sorts of fun references (to the Bible, Star Trek, Whiskey, Holmes and more).  Here's the intro:
The wire-fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1343 does not enact as federal law the Ninth Commandment given to Moses on Sinai.* For § 1343 forbids only schemes to defraud, not schemes to do other wicked things, e.g., schemes to lie, trick, or otherwise deceive. The difference, of course, is that deceiving does not always involve harming another person; defrauding does. That a defendant merely “induce[d] [the victim] to enter into [a] transaction” that he otherwise would have avoided is therefore “insufficient” to show wire fraud. See United States v. Starr, 816 F.2d 94, 98 (2d Cir. 1987).
Here, the defendants feared that the jury might convict them of wire fraud based on “fraudulent inducements” alone. Hence they asked the district court to give the jurors the following instruction: that they must acquit if they found that the defendants had tricked the victims into entering a transaction but nevertheless gave the victims exactly what they asked for and charged them exactly what they agreed to pay. The district court refused to give that instruction, and the jury ultimately convicted the defendants of wire fraud and other crimes, most of which were predicated on the wire-fraud convictions. The question presented in this appeal is whether the district court abused its discretion when it refused to give the requested instruction.

*See Exodus 20:16 (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”) (KJV).

Some other good stuff:
  • The question before us, however, is not whether the proposed instruction was “logically entailed” by the given instruction, but whether it was “substantially covered”; and those are meaningfully different concepts. After all, the average juror is not Mr. Spock. If he were, then a trial-court judge’s job would be much easier. He could instruct the jury in broad strokes—instructing only as to the bare elements of the crime, perhaps—and be confident that the jury would deduce all of the finer-grained implications that must logically follow. As it stands, however, the vast majority of American juries are composed exclusively of humans. And humans, unlike Vulcans, sometimes need a bit more guidance as to exactly what the court’s instructions logically entail.
  • Now imagine another, more common scenario: a young woman asks a rich businessman to buy her a drink at Bob’s Bar. The businessman buys the drink, and afterwards the young woman decides to leave. Did the man get what he bargained for? Yes. He received his drink, and he had the opportunity to buy a young woman a drink. Does it change things if the woman is Bob’s sister and he paid her to recruit customers? No; regardless of Bob’s relationship with the woman, the businessman got exactly what he bargained for. If, on the other hand, Bob promised to pour the man a glass of Pappy Van Winkle** but gave him a slug of Old Crow*** instead, well, that would be fraud. Why? Because the misrepresentation goes to the value of the bargain.  

    ** “Pappy’s,” as it is often called, is a particularly rare bourbon varietal: nearly impossible to find, and nearly impossible to afford when one finds it.

    ***Although Old Crow has a venerable pedigree—reportedly the go-to drink of Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Hunter Thompson, and Henry Clay—it is not Kentucky’s most-expensive liquor. Its “deluxe” version, “Old Crow Reserve,” retails for approximately $15 per bottle.

    Thus, a “scheme to defraud,” as that phrase is used in the wire-fraud statute, refers only to those schemes in which a defendant lies about the nature of the bargain itself. That lie can take two primary forms: the defendant might lie about the price (e.g., if he promises that a good costs $10 when it in fact costs $20) or he might lie about the characteristics of the good (e.g., if he promises that a gemstone is a diamond when it is in fact a cubic zirconium). In each case, the defendant has lied about the nature of the bargain and thus in both cases the defendant has committed wire fraud. But if a defendant lies about something else—e.g., if he says that he is the long-lost cousin of a prospective buyer—then he has not lied about the nature of the bargain, has not “schemed to defraud,” and cannot be convicted of wire fraud on the basis of that lie alone.
  • Similarly, in Hill, the court instructed the jury that the defendant was guilty of credit-application fraud only if he made false statements to the bank knowingly and willfully. The defendant asked the court to instruct the jury that he was not guilty if he believed the statements were true. United States v. Hill, 643 F.3d 807, 852–54 (11th Cir. 2011). Thus, to get from the given instruction to the requested one, the jury needed to infer only one thing: that a person cannot lie “knowingly and willfully” if he speaks what is in his view the truth. That inference, too, hardly requires Holmesian feats of deduction.****
  • ****Sherlock or Oliver Wendell: either Holmes will do here.
This is just some of the really fun stuff in the opinion.  Check it out.


Anonymous said...

What great writing

No Longer JAFI said...

Srebnick is on a roll.

Bob Becerra said...

What a great opinion--and a completely correct statement of the law pertaining to "schemes to defraud" under the federal mail and wire fraud statutes. For example, there are states (ex. New Jersey) that have statutes that criminalize "deception" or "deceptive practices". Federal mail and wire fraud statutes do not criminalize that behavior.

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to argue before Thapar when he was sitting on the 11th. The guy was fantastic.