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Crime Victim's Victory in the Sixth Circuit:

The Sixth Circuit has just handed a crime victim a notable victory in the Sixth Circuit in this interesting order.

The case involves a federal criminal prosecution in Columbus, Ohio, involving some sort of fraud. After the defendant entered a guilty plea, he moved to seal all of the pleadings and other information involved in the case. A person who apparently was victimized by the defendant's crime filed a motion to unseal the pleadings three months ago so that he could begin to exercise his rights under the Crime Victims' Rights Act. The district judge handling the matter did not act on the motion for three months, despite the CVRA's requirement that district judge's rule on CVRA motions "forthwith."

In its order just released, the Sixth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus directing the district judge to rule on the victim's motion to unseal within two weeks. A brief dissenting opinion by Judge Clay wonders why a two-week delay is even needed. He asserted that there was no legitimate basis for the sealing in the first place, as

all we have is the defendant's unsubstantiated and unsupported representation that he fears retaliation from anonymous, unidentified individuals with whom he might be incarcerated in prison in the future if the file is not sealed. That vague contention is hardly enough to overcome the public interest in not sealing the file, particularly when the person making the representaiton is someone totally lacking in credibility who is known to identify himself by multiple names. Furthermore, in view of the passage of time without a ruling by the district court on the motion to unseal, I am completely baffled by the majority's order to permit up to an additional two weeks to expeire before the district court is required to rule. The parties and the district court were afforded ample opportunity to provide any information bearing on this issue prior to this Court's ruling, and further delay in unsealing the file, which never should have been sealed in the first place, is entirely inappropriate and contrary to the purposes of the Crime Victims' Rights aAct and the Mandatory Victims' Restitution Act.

While I think Judge Clay is correct, I have little doubt that there will be an unsealing in two weeks.

One of the impressive things about the Sixth Circuit's ruling is that it took place within about 48 hours of the filing of the victim's petition. The petition, found here, makes a compelling case that the district judge has simply been ignoring the victim -- something that the CVRA obviously does not allow. (Full disclosure: I have been informally consulting with the victim's attorney.) The fact that the victim was able to swiftly and successfully obtain relief from an appellate court is an encouraging sign about the implementation of the CVRA.

Frank H:
As a layman, why is it so impressive that the ruling occurred within 48 hours? According to both the petition and the ruling the Court only had 72 hours to respond anyway.
2.5.2009 6:59pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Frank:

Federal appellate courts typically do not rule on issues before them as quickly as federal trial courts are supposed to. Their rules and procedures are not designed for emergency proceedings.
2.5.2009 7:10pm
Oren:
Kudos on the good works. If it's appropriate, could you speculate on why the DJ dragged it out this long? Bad docket hygiene? Antipathy towards the CVRA? Spite? I really cannot understand the motivation here so I'm inclined to believe that it wasn't intentional ...
2.5.2009 9:36pm
Question (mail):
Under the statute, how are a crime victim's rights to info on a case balanced against prosecutorial need for secrecy regarding cooperators, etc?
2.6.2009 7:54am
Paul Cassell (mail):
Oren wonders why the district judge dragged this out. Uh, beats me. The district judge was ordered to respond to the mandamus petition by the Sixth Circuit, and essentially argued that, since sentencing had not yet been scheduled, there was no need to rule on the victim's motion. But the victim has all sort of rights before sentencing (right to confer with the prosecutor, right to be heard on the plea, right to fairness, right to notice, etc.), so that contention doesn't work very well.
2.6.2009 11:34am
Paul Cassell (mail):
Question wonders about the need for secrecy in cases involving cooperators, etc. The drafters of the CVRA envisioned some sort of balancing proces. But here there was apparently no effort to balance the competing concerns at all.
2.6.2009 11:35am
Oren:
Paul, thanks for the response. You are correct that the DJ's contention doesn't make a lot of sense, but that doesn't really get to his motivation for not responding/sealing. I don't see how a DJ has any particular interest in whether or not the files are sealed and so his behavior is just plain inexplicable.
2.6.2009 12:38pm
MJS (mail):
Federal Judges customarily do things at their own idiosyncratic pace. Judge Cassell is correct that a host of Victim rights accrue pending sentencing and the Court seemingly had no justification for its actions. The prosecutor also has various obligations to the victim pending sentencing but they typically do not want to alienate the Court prior to sentencing in this case and the next.....
2.6.2009 3:03pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Sounds like the judge just didn`t like having the legislators tell him how to run his court, on top of having little concern for crime victims.
2.7.2009 2:39am

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