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August 27, 2010

Second Circuit holds Apprendi precludes increased fine based on judicial fact-finding

Today the Second Circuit handed down an interesting Apprendi decision in US v. Pfaff, No. 09-1702 (2d Cir. Aug. 27, 2010) (available here), a case which, as the Pfaff panel notes, has been called "the largest criminal tax case in American history."  Perhaps size really does matter, because this big case produces a notable per curiam ruling which starts this way:

Defendants-Appellants Robert Pfaff, Raymond J. Ruble, and John Larson appeal from judgments of conviction, and Larson from his sentence, entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Kaplan, J.).  Following a ten-week jury trial, Appellants were convicted of tax evasion for designing, implementing, and marketing fraudulent tax shelters.

In a separate summary order filed today, we AFFIRM the Appellants’ convictions as well as Larson’s term of imprisonment, the only term challenged on appeal.  Here, we address a single question: whether the district court plainly erred by fining Larson $6 million, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3571(d), based on the court’s finding that Larson caused a pecuniary loss in excess of $100 million, when the maximum fine absent such a finding would have been $3 million, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3571(b)(3).  We hold that the district court’s fine violated Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and that it constituted plain error.  Therefore, we VACATE and REMAND for the district court to reconsider Larson’s fine.

August 27, 2010 at 01:24 PM | Permalink


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