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October 11, 2007

Lastest federal-state head-butting over prior convictions

I noted here last week this article from Boston discussing a brouhaha over a state judge vacating a prior state conviction in an effort to impact federal sentencing realities.  The latest twists in the story come from this new Boston Globe story.  Here are excerpts:

A prominent federal judge issued an angry rebuke yesterday against his counterpart in the state district court, adding another extraordinary twist in the now failed attempts of a repeat convict to sidestep a lengthy prison term under the career criminal statute.

"It never occurred to me that there could be [such] a deviation from the laws of the Commonwealth," US District Court Judge William Young said at a sentencing hearing.  His ire was directed not at the convicted drug dealer before him, but at Quincy District Court Judge Diane E. Moriarty, who last month vacated a previous state conviction against the defendant without prosecutors present. Moriarty's Sept. 24 decision to rescind a previous assault conviction against Matthew West, who was awaiting sentencing on a federal drug charge, would have spared him designation as a career criminal and a longer prison term. According to transcripts, she told West's lawyer to tell his client that "it was an early Christmas present."

While Young never mentioned Moriarty by name, his criticism clearly referred to her decision, which would have reduced West's maximum prison time from 27 years to less than two.  Young said it never occurred to him that a state judge would display "so little respect" for court proceedings by ruling without consulting Suffolk County prosecutors. "I confess that having gone over the record, I am guilty of a stunning naïveté," said Young, a Superior Court judge from 1978 to 1985, who sentenced West yesterday to 15 years in prison for his March conviction on two federal counts of distributing cocaine.

The rare public rebuke was the latest development in the topsy-turvy case in which Moriarty rescinded her reversal Tuesday, under pressure from federal prosecutors.... As a result of Moriarty's initial dismissal of the conviction, Young said he would change procedures for sentencing federal defendants who are waiting to see whether they can get minor state convictions thrown out to avoid being labeled career criminals.

October 11, 2007 at 04:02 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Oct 12, 2007 7:35:11 AM


I think Young's comments were improper. State prosecutors are fully capable of challenging the vacation of a conviction if they want, and the feds need to understand that they can't do anything about it. This is America.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 11, 2007 4:36:12 PM

Judge Saylor (D. Mass.) wrote a great opinion dealing with these issues several months back:


Posted by: Bob | Oct 11, 2007 4:47:41 PM

The key words here are "minor state convictions."

They should not make the difference between 2 and 20 years.

Posted by: George | Oct 11, 2007 7:08:57 PM

lets see:

1. the advisory guideline sentence was 27 years

2. after the state court judge's order vacating the prior conviction the advisory guideline sentence was now two years

3. the district judge's section 3553 sentence (sufficient but not greater than necessary)was 15 years

Maybe the district judge should also have rebuked the sentencing commission for having a guideline sentence that was greater than necessary--according to the judge's sentence it was 12 years greater than necessary to comply with the commands of section 3553.

I am on the CJA Panel.

Posted by: ky | Oct 11, 2007 10:58:13 PM

Why all the anger when the trial court rescined her order the next day after she "felt better"?

Posted by: JustClerk | Oct 12, 2007 9:06:29 AM

Because states (and state judges) are free to conclude that, as a constitutional matter, "knowing and voluntary" includes understanding the collateral consequences or even "knowing" that one really knows what happened. There is absolutely nothing the First can do about it.

In fact, if the Mass. legislature wanted, they could simply declare all felonies to be nullities after one serves their sentence, and make it a crime for any state employee to disclose them.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 12, 2007 10:34:40 AM

Not you S.cotus -- I was wondering why the Federal court was so angry over something that was changed before he even sentenced the guy...

Posted by: JustClerk | Oct 12, 2007 11:11:47 AM

S.cotus, what is "improper"? Is that a legal term, or are you wearing your non-lawyer hat?

Posted by: federalist | Oct 12, 2007 12:17:14 PM

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