UNITED STATES v. SEIGNIOUS, NO. 12-4621

Decided: July 1, 2014

The Fourth Circuit held that: (1) Seignious failed to show prejudice because the district court failed to follow the various procedures that 18 U.S.C. § 3664(a)–(d) required; (2) Seignious was not entitled to relief from the district court’s factual finding on the actual losses caused by the conspiracy; and (3) there was no reason to believe that the district court would have ordered Seignious to pay a different amount under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3663A, if the district court had explained its reasoning for imposing the restitution.

Seignious, the Defendant, was a key player in a conspiracy to steal credit card numbers. The Government’s evidence included a color-coded spreadsheet listing three categories of stolen credit cards: 1) credit cards gained through the bulk purchase of stolen credit card numbers that could have been purchased by people outside of the conspiracy; 2) credit cards with evidence verifying usage by the conspiracy; and 3) credit cards with evidence verifying usage by the conspiracy, but without corroborating evidence on the computers that were used by the conspiracy. This spreadsheet was prepared as the law enforcement agency was gathering evidence, and was not created specifically for trial. The Defendant appealed the district court’s judgment for restitution, and the Government submitted the Restitution Worksheet shortly after the appeal was filed, which specified the names of the victims and their addresses.

The Fourth Circuit first examined whether the Government and the district court sufficiently complied with 18 U.S.C. § 3664(a)–(d), which lays out the procedures for issuance and enforcement of a restitution order under MVRA. The Fourth Circuit reviewed the case for plain error because Seignious failed to object to the procedural compliance with § 3664(a)–(d) in the lower court. The four prongs of plain error review considered by the Court were: (1) whether the existence of legal error had been waived by the appellant; (2) whether the legal error was “clear or obvious;” (3) whether the obvious legal error affected the outcome of the district court’s proceedings; and (4) if the first three prongs were satisfied, whether “the error seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 134 (2009). The Court reasoned that, though all required procedures were not followed, Seignious failed to show an obvious legal error that would have affected the outcome of the district court’s proceedings because the district court had all of the evidence that it relied on when it calculated the restitution, and Seignious had a fair opportunity to challenge the evidence.

Also under plain error review, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court’s accounting of the evidence was plausible because: (1) the district court had evidence to support at least half of the loss amounts even without the bulk purchase stolen credit cards; (2) the spreadsheet was based on losses found during the time period in which the conspiracy was ongoing and in which the conspiracy had care, custody, and control of the credit card information; and (3) the evidence included corroborating coconspirator testimony. Focusing on the third prong of plain error review, the Court further determined that Seignious would not be able to show that the district court’s failure to sufficiently explain its reasoning would have affected his substantial rights because the Court could find no reason to believe that the outcome would have been different when the district imposed the restitution. Finally, the Court concluded that the lower court’s failure to specifically identify the victims and their respective losses in its judgment was not plain error because filing of the Restitution Worksheet approximately one week after the district court’s judgment did not affect Seignious’ substantial rights.

Full Opinion

Verona Sheleena Rios

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