November 1, 2013 4th Circuit published opinions

United States v Crawford

Crawford objected to the use of hearsay evidence at his sentencing hearing. Te district court overruled his objections and sentenced him to 135 months imprisonment. The panel affirmed. It held that hearsay is admissible at sentencing hearings so long as it is reliable. The panel rejected Crawford’s argument to exclude the testimony as it actually provided a basis for drug weight, telephonic interviews are not per se inadmissible and drug case defendants are not per se unreliable. The panel noted that the officer who testified at the hearing provided a basis to find the two informants were reliable based on past buys and independent corroboration. The panel finally noted that the 6th Amendment does not apply to sentencing hearings under 4th Circuit precedent.

Wilkins v Gaddy

Wilkins was awarded nominal damages of $1 in his civil rights claim and over his objections was awarded $1.40 in attorney fees under the cap in 42 USC 1997e (d) (2). He appealed ruing the cap violates equal protection principles. The panel disagreed and affirmed. It first held that prisoners are not a suspect class as violating the criminal law is a voluntary act and most incarcerated persons will be released. It further held there is no constitutional right to have the expenses of litigation transferred to the opposing party. Applying rational basis review, the panel held the cap on attorney fees in rational as it deters frivolous and marginal claims and protects the public fisc. The cap is rationally related to these goals as Congress could reasonably believe that because prisoners have their necessities provide to them, have more free time than nonprisoners and have the incentive to use lawsuits to have brief sabbaticals form incarceration and as a means to intimidate staff and further reasonably believe that an ex ante cap on fees could deter some attorneys from taking cases and placing the burden of pursuing cases on the backs of the inmates themselves. Thus, the cap advances the goals. The panel noted that in so holding, it joined all other courts of appeals that have decided the issue.

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