13 August 2007

A Rare Moment Of Federal Court Sanity

On rare occassions, a federal court in a criminal case will consider the circumstances of a case to prevent an unexpectedly harsh result. This was one such case:

Mooney of Huntington, W.Va., was charged as a felon in possession of a weapon, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. He seized a .38-caliber revolver from his drunken ex-wife as she held the gun to his temple . . . . She had a "propensity to brandish and shoot guns at the men in her life," [the appellate judge] wrote.

Mooney tried to call police to turn over the gun but his wife disconnected the 911 calls and Mooney, who worked at a nearby bar, ultimately called his boss to say he would bring it to the bar to turn it over to police there. When he arrived at the bar, police were waiting, tipped by his former wife, and he was arrested for possession.

Although Mooney believed that his possession was justified under the circumstances, and that he "did the right thing," his original attorney advised him to plead guilty because the government had to prove only that Mooney was a felon and had a firearm, according to Niemeyer.

"Mooney told me that his appointed counsel had no criminal experience," [his appellate lawyer, a law student,] said.

Mooney had three prior convictions dating back 25 years, including burglary, robbery and the last an attempted robbery in 1989. He developed the original motion in the federal district court seeking to reverse his 2003 guilty plea and that gave a very clear picture of what happened, Poirier said.

Despite Mooney's repeated attempt to protest his innocence when he appeared in court to plead guilty, and again at sentencing, his lawyer advised the court that the law did not allow a justification defense. "It was patently inaccurate for Mooney's counsel to have advised Mooney and to have represented to the court that no such defense was ever available," [the appellate judge] wrote.

Mr. Mooney has so far served more than four years of his fifteen year sentence, largely as a result of the ineffective assistance of defense counsel that he received.

This case also demonstrates, once again, a gross abuse of discretion by the U.S. Attorney involved. Why do prosecutors feel compelled to try to a put a guy who was in this situation away in prison for another fifteen years?

The full court ruling, via How Appealing, is here.


Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the US Attorney didn't believe the guy's story about how he came to possess the gun? The appellate court didn't find that the story was true, only that it should've been presented to the jury for evaluation.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The appellate court noted in a footnote that virtually all of the facts were undisputed. All that was disputed was the immaterial question of what the couple was arguing about.