Articles Tagged with appeal

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Following her conviction at trial in the Southern District of New York for various federal charges relating to the sex trafficking of minors, disgraced Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell received a sentence of 20 years in prison. She will get credit towards that sentence for the time she has already spent in prison, and assuming she receives the maximum amount of good time credit for her behavior in custody, she will probably only serve about 85% of that sentence, or 17 years.

The question on everyone’s mind has been whether Ms. Maxwell will finally disclose the names of the other purportedly rich and powerful celebrities who engaged in illicit conduct with minors and Jeffrey Epstein. Ms. Maxwell has steadfastly refused to do that, even after Epstein’s death (to the surprise of some). Ms. Maxwell initially denied being knowingly involved in any criminal conduct, and her statement at sentencing was hardly an apology, either.

Ms. Maxwell may also have a legitimate ground for an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. After the verdict, a juror disclosed that they had not told the Court during jury selection about having been a victim of a sexual assault. Judge Nathan (the trial judge) denied a motion for a new trial on that basis, and Maxwell will almost certainly pursue that argument on appeal.

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After a long trial followed by over forty hours of jury deliberations, Ghislaine Maxwell finally stands convicted of several federal charges relating to the sexual abuse of minors. Ms. Maxwell somewhat curiously chose not to testify in her own defense, and she now faces a sentence of up to 65 years in federal prison. Ms. Maxwell’s fight is far from over, but ultimately it will almost certainly lead to one final choice: cooperate with the government or die in prison.

After a federal conviction – by guilty plea or by jury verdict – the defendant is interviewed by a specialized officer from the U.S. Department of Probation. These officers typically have backgrounds in social work, and it is their responsibility to prepare a biography – or presentence report – for the court. The judge uses this presentence report at sentencing to understand the defendant’s life, background, and circumstances. (The Bureau of Prisons also uses this report in determining the defendant’s prison designation.) The preparation of a report can easily take two months or more, as the interview has to be scheduled, a draft report prepared, edits and objections made by both the defense and the prosecution, and a final draft with a sentencing recommendation submitted to the sentencing court.

Following the preparation of the presentence report, both the prosecution and defense prepare sentencing memoranda for the judge. Both sides make arguments about the proper application of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the sentencing factors pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Defense lawyers usually submit character letters from friends and family of the defendant, and sometimes the defendant also submits his/her own letter of remorse. Eventually, the sentencing court then holds a sentencing hearing at which both sides make oral arguments about the sentence and the court pronounces its decision. That sentencing hearing could be anywhere from 4 to 6 months after the conviction, though it could take even longer.

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Harvey Weinstein was recently convicted by a jury of two of the five charges contained in a Manhattan indictment (Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree and Rape in the Third Degree). He will be sentenced on March 11 by the presiding judge at trial, James Burke. Weinstein faces a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a possible maximum sentence of 29 years. One can reasonably expect Weinstein to receive a sentence in the 10-15 year range, though it could be higher. We doubt he will receive a single-digit sentence, though, even in light of his advanced age and ill health.

Weinstein has a right to a direct appeal to the appellate court, in this case called the Appellate Division, First Department, based upon issues that were raised “on the record” (i.e. issues which can be pointed to in the trial transcript). The deadlines for filing and responding to an appeal are typically somewhat flexible in actual practice, as both sides routinely ask for and are awarded extensions of time to file their appellate arguments and responses. Given the complexity of this case, a reasonable estimate is that the appellate court will arrive at a decision about a year after sentencing, though it could potentially be sooner if the defense team submits their arguments quickly.

If Weinstein were to win his appeal, then he would earn a new trial on the two charges for which he was convicted. (He can never be convicted of or retried on the predatory sexual assault charges for which he was acquitted at trial.) If Weinstein loses his appeal, he could ask the Court of Appeals (the highest court in the New York State system) to hear his next appeal – this process is called “seeking leave” to appeal. Unlike the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals is not required to hear his appeal. Typically, the Court of Appeals chooses to only consider cases with novel legal issues or cases of great importance, or cases involving issues about which lower courts in the state have disagreed. Theoretically, if the Court of Appeals denies leave, then Weinstein could seek the remedy called a writ of habeas corpus in state court, and then even pursue that type of appeal in federal court. This process of “exhausting” his appeals could potentially take several years.

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