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August 3, 2007

Fourth Circuit affirms life sentence for perjury and obstruction

The Fourth Circuit today in US v. Ruhbayan , No. 05-5166 (4th Cir. Aug. 3, 2007) (available here), affirms a life sentence for perjury and obstrcution of justice over an array of sentence objections.  Here is how the opinion begins:

Rajul Ruhbayan takes this appeal from his 2005 sentence of life imprisonment and three concurrent sixty-month prison terms.  See United States v. Ruhbayan, 427 F. Supp. 2d 640 (E.D. Va. 2006). The sentence resulted from Ruhbayan’s convictions in the Eastern District of Virginia on four offenses arising from a perjury and obstruction of justice scheme. On appeal, Ruhbayan contends that the district court erred in four respects: (1) by enhancing his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(j), thereby increasing his prison exposure from ten years to life, in violation of the Sixth Amendment; (2) by applying United States v. Booker in contravention of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Fifth Amendment; (3) by miscalculating his sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines (the "guidelines"); and (4) by failing to properly consider the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) sentencing factors.  As explained below, we reject these contentions and affirm.

August 3, 2007 at 04:45 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 3, 2007 10:35:12 PM

Actually, unfortunately, it's entirely believable. Welcome to America. It's not the country you grew up in.

And you can thank your corrupt politicians who ran on "get tough on crime" platforms (when were we ever soft on crime?) And spineless judges who are afraid of an inquiry even if they do have the balls to challenge injustice when they see it, or else they're just trying to get into the papers again.

Feel safe yet? And what is it that makes this country the greatest in the world? Oh yeah, whatever it is, it's no longer here.

Posted by: BabbaLu | Aug 3, 2007 11:18:47 PM

Have either of you read the opinion? It appear you have not so here is a summary. Ruhbayan convinced his girlfriend to commit perjury in his own criminal trial where he was facing a life sentence for armed drug distribution. The jury bought her testimony, possibly because they felt she was extra credible when she, as a convicted felon, admitted that she hid the gun in Ruhbayan's van without his knowledge. The Government now in possession of a judicial confession charged her with being a felon in possession of the loaded 9mm handgun. She then decided to produce the fifty plus letters from Ruhbayan where he had demanded she find a non-felon to take responsibility for his gun. Unable to do so Ruhbayan convinced his girlfriend, who loved him, to testify falsely.

Ruhbayan is no model citizen, he had a criminal history including voluntary manslaughter. That means he killed someone. Life in prison is severe, but it pales in comparison to Ruhbayan's willingness to commit crime at any expense (except his own).

Posted by: David | Aug 4, 2007 3:39:58 PM

Another utterly confusing sentence. No one but no one could be deterred by these laws because they would be impossible to understand before hand and probably long after sentencing.

What makes it all the more confusing is the appeals and retrial. Evidently, he was arrested on 2 occasions. In one arrest, drugs were found but no gun. In the second no drugs but a gun was found. Doesn't there seem to be some double jeopardy violation? He was acquitted at first of the trafficking and gun charges, then was sentenced to life based on the perjury conspiracy in that trial because the maximum sentence at the first trial was life (and a life sentence for a drug case even with gun possession is just begging for perjury rather than responsibility). And the amount of rock was also determined in part by the amount of cash found on him. In other words, possessing cash is the same as possessing rock cocaine. Who knows this? And the burden of proof was not beyond a reasonable doubt but was substantial evidence, with a whole lot of hearsay.

Evidently, two higher level drug dealers he bought from testified against him, and they probably got far less sentences in exchange. Also, his girlfriend undoubtedly aided and abetted in the criminal enterprise more than we know. For example, this was common in The Sopranos when people who never pulled the trigger themselves actually instigated serious crimes. Neither do we know the circumstances of the manslaughter conviction. Drunk driving? Drug deal gone bad? Premeditated murdered dropped to a manslaughter?

Sympathy for this guy may be impossible but it is also irrelevant. The bedrock of statutory construction is due notice and no one but no one has due notice.

"That the terms of a penal statute creating a new
offense must be sufficiently explicit to inform those
who are subject to it what conduct on their part will
render them liable to its penalties is a well-
recognized requirement, consonant alike with ordinary
notions of fair play and the settled rules of law;
and a st atute which either forbids or requires the
doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common
intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and
differ as to its application violates the first
essential of due process of law." Connally et al. v
General Construction Co., 269 US 385, 391 (1926)

No one of common intelligence or education could understand these laws and that puts the entire concept of deterrence to rest. No one is deterred by confusion. Defendants more often undoubtedly feel ambushed instead. Even after all the cases I've read and all the reading here, how confusing the law continues to be is still shocking. A detailed PBS documentary series that tried its best to explain it would probably fail. Its title might be "The Politics of Fear and the Laws of Confusion." The theme would likely be "You don't have to understand the laws, people, just trust us."

Posted by: George | Aug 5, 2007 6:10:56 PM

Wow, you mean "ordinary" notions of fair play are actually supposed to apply and that "men of common intelligence" should understand when they have and haven't broken the law? But this is what I have been arguing! I know this guy is undoubtedly a sleazebag, but I agree with George. You people talk about promoting respect for the law. How am I as a citizen supposed to respect something which is too convoluted to understand and which, when applied, appears arbitrary and unjust? You are promoting contempt for the law, not respect.

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Aug 5, 2007 9:24:43 PM

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