Friday, February 26, 2010

Sixth Circuit Rejects Victims' Plea to Reject Corporate Plea Agreement

The Sentencing Law and Policy Blog has an interesting post regarding a recent 6th Circuit opinion that denied the victims' request that a corporate plea agreement be rejected. Below is a portion of the decision.

This petition for a writ of mandamus and a related appeal arise from the proceedings in United States v. Arctic Glacier Int’l Inc., No. 1:09-cr-00149 (S.D. Ohio). In that case, Arctic Glacier International was charged in a criminal information with violating 15 U.S.C. § 1 by participating in “a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by allocating packaged-ice customers in southeastern Michigan and the Detroit, Michigan metropolitan area.” The petitioners describe themselves as “nine consumers and one business that paid too much for packaged ice as a result of Arctic Glacier’s offense” based on purchases both within and outside of the geographic area of the offense. Their civil action for damages is pending in the Eastern District of Michigan. In re Packaged Ice Antitrust Litig., No. 08-md- 1952 (E.D. Mich.). In these criminal proceedings, the petitioners claim to be victims of the crime under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771....

Whether these petitioners as indirect purchasers were “directly and proximately harmed” by the actions of Arctic Glacier is an issue that is largely beside the point, because we conclude that the district court afforded them the status of crime victims. That is, the petitioners were allowed a full opportunity for participation. That included their appearance through counsel at the arraignment, at the plea hearing, and at sentencing. The district court delayed a decision on whether to accept the guilty plea to allow counsel for the petitioners an opportunity to confer with government counsel. Counsel for the petitioners admitted at the sentencing hearing that upon their entry into the case, the district court had afforded them every opportunity for participation. Notwithstanding that active participation, the petitioners assert a right to an earlier notice prior to filing of the charges and direct involvement with the government’s negotiation of a plea agreement. The petitioners’ right to such notice is uncertain, and based on the record in this case, we do not find this to be grounds for relief in mandamus.

The petitioners disagree with the district court’s final decision, made after hearing from them on multiple occasions, to accept the plea agreement and impose sentence pursuant to that agreement. They object that the plea agreement makes no provision for restitution in deference to the pending civil causes of action. They seek through this petition to vacate the plea agreement, to direct the district court to reopen the proceedings, and to participate as a party to the renegotiation of a plea agreement that will include provisions for restitution in their favor. Although the Act reaffirms the right of crime victims “to full and timely restitution as provided in law,” it does not compel such a result in this case. Upon review, we cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion in accepting the agreement. The record reflects a consideration of all appropriate factors. The district court reasonably concluded that the difficulty of determining the losses claimed would so prolong and complicate the proceedings that any need for restitution would be outweighed by the burden on the sentencing process.

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