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United States v. Brown

September 7, 1984

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
WILBERT BROWN, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Pierre N. Leval, Judge); appellant challenges the constitutionality of an order of restitution imposed pursuant to the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3579, 3580 (1982).

Kaufman, Meskill, and Newman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Newman

NEWMAN, Circuit Judge

This appeal primarily concerns the issue whether the inclusion in a criminal sentence of a judicial order requiring the defendant to make restitution to the victims of his crimes violates the defendant's Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury. The issue is raised by Wilbert Brown, Jr. on this appeal from a December 16, 1983, judgment of conviction in the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Pierre N. Leval, Judge). Following a jury trial, Brown was found guilty of two counts of fraud arising out of a scheme in which he falsely held himself out to be an attorney, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2314 (1982). Appellant first challenges his conviction on the ground that the trial judge improperly refused his request to proceed pro se. Appellant then asks that we vacate that part of his sentence ordering him to pay $20,030 as restitution to the victims of his crimes on the ground that the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3579, 3580 (1982) ("the Act" or "VWPA"), is unconstitutional. For reasons that follow, we conclude that the District Judge acted within his discretion in denying appellant pro se status and that the VWPA is constitutional.

Facts

During the pretrial phase of this case, Brown and his court-appointed attorney, John Byrnes of the Legal Aid Society's Federal Defenders Services Unit, disagreed about the conduct of Brown's defense. Brown raised with his lawyer the possibility that he take part in his own representation. Byrnes, perceiving loss of his client's trust, asked to be relieved from further representation of Brown. At a September 7, 1983, pretrial conference, Judge Leval sought to resolve the issue of representation. The District Judge ruled out the possibility of Brown's participating with Byrnes in the conduct of his defense, affording Brown the choice of representation by Byrnes, representation by another appointed attorney, or proceeding pro se. After determining that Brown did not wish to have his counsel relieved, Judge Leval denied Byrnes' request to be relieved as counsel. That settled the issue through the remainder of pretrial activity and the first three days of the trial.

After the Government rested its case and the Court denied a motion for acquittal, however, Brown requested that he be granted "dual responsibility with respect to the area of questioning." Judge Leval denied this request on the grounds that Brown did not have a constitutional right to such hybrid representation and that Brown would suffer no prejudice by Byrnes' continued representation. Judge Leval also denied both a renewed request by Byrnes to be relieved and a request by Brown to proceed pro se. The District Judge determined that a change of representation so late in the trial would be disruptive and would prejudice the prosecution and the defense.

At trial the Government established that Brown defrauded at least seven people by falsely holding himself out to be a lawyer. Brown bilked his victims of at least $20,030, primarily fees for "legal" services not rendered at all, much less by a licensed attorney, and non-existent "court costs." Judge Leval sentenced Brown to concurrent sentences of five and seven years' imprisonment. Pursuant to the VWPA, the District Judge also sentenced appellant to pay $20,030 in restitution over a five-year period following his release from incarceration.*fn1

Discussion

1. Pro Se Representation. Judge Leval acted well within his discretion in denying appellant's mid-trial request to proceed pro se. Although the Sixth Amendment implies a right of self-representation, Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 818-21, 45 L. Ed. 2d 562, 95 S. Ct. 2525 (1975), this right is unqualified only if exercised before the commencement of trial. Sapienza v. Vincent, 534 F.2d 1007, 1010 (2d Cir. 1976).

Once the trial has begun with the defendant represented by counsel, . . . his right thereafter to discharge his lawyer and to represent himself is sharply curtailed. There must be a showing that the prejudice to the legitimate interests of the defendant overbalances the potential disruption of proceedings already in progress, with considerable weight being given to the trial judge's assessment of this balance.

United States ex rel. Maldonado v. Denno, 348 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir. 1965) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 1007, 86 S. Ct. 1950, 16 L. Ed. 2d 1020 (1966).*fn2

The record reveals no prejudice suffered by the appellant by reason of the denial of his application to conclude the trial on a pro se basis. Indeed, when he called the witnesses appellant desired, appellant's counsel corrected the only colorable criticism of his performance. Judge Leval was well aware of this history of appellant's relationship with his counsel and reasonably concluded not only that his representation by counsel was adequate but also that appellant's representation of himself would have been disruptive of the trial process. Under all the circumstances, the District Court's refusal to permit pro se representation during the trial will not be disturbed.

2. Restitution. We turn next to appellant's constitutional challenges to the restitution order. He contends primarily that the order violated his Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial "in Suits at common law." In support of this claim appellant argues that a restitution order imposed under the VWPA is the equivalent of a civil judgment because it is compensatory, it has res judicata effect, and it is enforceable in the same manner as a civil judgment. We hold that ...


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