Supreme Court Cert Grant in “Farha v. US” Can Clarify Level of Criminal Intent Needed to Prove “Knowledge”

johnlauroGuest Commentary

By John Lauro, a white-collar defense attorney who represented one of the WellCare defendants at trial and at the Eleventh Circuit.

On Friday, April 21, 2017, the US Supreme Court will meet in conference to consider a pending petition for certiorari in Farha v. United States, No. 16-888, a major white-collar fraud case raising an important issue of concern to the defense bar and their clients: whether “deliberate indifference” is a sufficient level of mens rea for proving “knowledge” with respect to federal criminal statutes.  The High Court should grant review and reverse the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruling holding otherwise.

Farha is a classic case of overcriminalization, where civil and administrative remedies are more appropriate in the regulatory area of complex healthcare and business law. The case was extensively discussed in prior postings at the WLF Legal Pulse (here and here) and a WLF Legal Backgrounder [hot link to Kaiser’s piece]. In brief, following a raid by 200 FBI Agents at the offices of WellCare, a Florida Medicaid health maintenance organization, several executives, including the CEO, CFO, and general counsel, were indicted on healthcare fraud charges based on the government’s interpretation of Florida’s Medicaid law.   Continue reading

FEDERAL REGULATORY READING LIST: Resources for New Leaders at DOJ

DOJ*Note: This is the third in a series of posts compiling Washington Legal Foundation papers, briefs, regulatory comments, and blog commentaries relevant to critical legal and constitutional issues facing new senior leaders at specific federal regulatory agencies. To read posts addressing other federal agencies, click here.

As the federal government’s primary prosecutor, the Department of Justice (DOJ) serves an important role in enforcing criminal penalties.  However, DOJ frequently oversteps its bounds and advances overzealous enforcement policies.

Through its public-interest litigation, publishing, and other advocacy, WLF influenced debates over DOJ’s recent policies and actions with timely papers and blog commentaries, and weighed in directly through amicus briefs.  Those activities have resulted in an impressive body of reference materials that are instructive for new leadership in the agency.  This post provides a summary of and links to those documents below to simplify access to relevant work product from WLF in each of those areas.

Overcriminalization Timeline

In November 2015, WLF released the third edition of its Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties (Overcriminalization Timeline).  Each category in the Timeline reflects a separate concern with DOJ’s approach to white-collar criminal enforcement: mens rea, DOJ criminal enforcement, attorney-client and work product privileges, deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, and criminal sentencing. Continue reading

WLF Web Seminar Assesses Criminalization of Food-Safety Regulation

 

Speakers:

Related Materials:

  • Powerpoint slides used by Mr. Neale available here
  • WLF Legal Opinion Letter authored by David Debold on US v. DeCoster, discussed in seminar, available here

Feds Should Absolutely, Positively Abandon Bizarre Prosecution of FedEx—Overnight

barsLast term, in the now-infamous Yates case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Department of Justice’s outrageous contention that an undersized Red Grouper thrown overboard by a commercial fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico was a “record, document, or tangible object” under the “anti-shredding” provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  By so doing, the Court prevented a law passed in the wake of corporate accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom from becoming an all-purpose hammer for prosecutors.  Yates quickly became the poster child for the “overcriminalization” phenomenon.

Unfortunately, it appears that DOJ has not learned its lesson.  Although the phrase “tangible object” at issue in Yates was overbroad and ambiguous, in other cases the problem of overcriminalization arises when the government seeks to attribute a new, nonobvious meaning to long-understood, perfectly plain statutory language.  Nowhere is that problem better epitomized than in the federal government’s utterly bizarre ongoing criminal prosecution of FedEx, which is slated for trial next month in federal court in San Francisco. Continue reading

DC Circuit’s “Fokker” Decision Preserves the Separation of Powers, but Raises a Concern about DPAs

DC CircuitDeferred-prosecution agreements (DPAs) pose thorny questions from an overcriminalization perspective.  But DPA skeptics should welcome—at least for now—a decision issued last Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.  In a case entitled United States v. Fokker Services B.V., the DC Circuit held that federal district courts may not second-guess the charging decisions of prosecutors under the guise of performing their Speedy Trial Act (STA) duties.

After investigating the defendant company’s self-reporting of potential export control law and federal sanction violations with respect to Iran, Sudan, and Burma, the Department of Justice negotiated an 18-month deferred-prosecution agreement with Fokker.  To implement such a DPA the prosecutor formally initiates criminal charges against the defendant based on facts conceded in the agreement.  If the defendant meets the preconditions mapped out in the DPA (which generally involve complying with the law and keeping its nose clean), the prosecutor will then dismiss those charges at the conclusion of the deferral period.  If, on the other hand, the defendant fails to meet the preconditions at some point along the way, the prosecutor will proceed with its criminal case. Continue reading

Fifth Circuit Allows Maliciously Prosecuted Company to Sue US Government for Damages

EPAcrimIn 1996, a heavily armed team of EPA criminal investigators raided a facility of Louisiana company Trinity Marine Products, Inc. Three years later, the federal government indicted the company and manager of the raided facility, Hubert Vidrine, for illegally storing hazardous waste without a permit. The U.S. Attorney dismissed the indictment in 2003. On February 8, 2016, 20 years after the EPA raid, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has cleared the path for the company to at last pursue Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) remedies against the government. As we explained in a WLF Legal Pulse post, Mr. Vidrine, with assistance from WLF attorneys, won a $1.7 million malicious-prosecution claim under the same law in 2011. Continue reading

Federal Officials Display Disregard for Due Process in Opposing “Mens Rea” Reform

barsFair notice of the law is a basic principle that separates liberal democracies like the United States from more authoritarian governments. Fair notice is an especially critical due-process check against government’s power to criminally prosecute. Government must not only prove that a person did the unlawful act, but also that he intentionally engaged in wrongful conduct or knew the conduct was illegal—that it, that he had a guilty mind. So why, then, is the Obama Administration and other elected representatives opposing reforms to ensure that federal criminal laws include a clear criminal-intent standard?

The idea being advanced seems far from revolutionary or controversial, which may explain why politicians and interest groups of every ideological stripe support it: Federal laws with criminal provisions must require prosecutors to prove that the accused possessed the mens rea, or culpable mental state, to commit a crime. If a law lacks such language, then a default intent provision will apply, such as showing that the defendant acted “willfully” or “recklessly.” Continue reading