Monday, February 26, 2007

U.S. v. Majia-Pimental (9th Cir. - Feb. 26, 2007)

I'd have been reluctant to sign onto the opinion of Judge Paez in this case.

Admittedly, after reading the underlying precedent and statutory language, I understand why the panel comes out the way it does. (Though I thought that Judge Paez could have written the opinion a little better in this regard, including but not limited to refraining from putting a lot of the important discussion/distinctions in the footnotes rather than the text). So, in the end, maybe he's right, and maybe I'd have climbed on board.

It nonetheless still bothers me that we're interpreting the statute that clearly permits a defendant to game the system -- to refuse to provide relevant information until his third sentencing hearing (which was six full years after he was charged with the offense) and then "come clean" and satisfy the safety valve requirements with a complete disclosure only after everyone else had already been convicted and/or pled out, at which point his information is useless. It's clear that Majia-Pimental initially lied in order to protect his uncle, and only told the truth after the truth could no longer help the government. While in an unusual case that might be okay, waiting until six years -- and multiple appeals -- have transpired to make a full disclosure, and doing so only when this disclosure is useless, is hardly what I think Congress was thinking about when they enacted the safety valve to the mandatory minimums.

Nonetheless, I understand that the statute doesn't expressly establish a good faith requirement; moreover, that precedent apparently allows each new sentencing hearing to essentially wipe the slate clean and allow another shot at everything, including the safety valve. So, okay, maybe the case has to come out the way it does.

Still, even if I'd have come out his way in the end -- and I'm still not positive I would -- I'd have likely written a much more moderate opinion on the subject than Judge Paez. I'm far from convinced that this case advances a just and equitable result.