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Date: 09-22-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. Adaysha Tanner, also known as Adaysha Chark, also known as Jonathan Chark

Case Number: 19-30833

Judge: Jerry E. Smith

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:


New Orleans, LA - Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


Description:

New Orleans, LA - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with one count of financial aid fraud charge.



Ordinarily, if a defendant raises a sentencing error for the first time on
appeal, we review only for plain error. United States v. Diggles, 957 F.3d 551,
559 (5th Cir. 2020) (en banc), cert. denied, 2020 WL 6551832 (U.S. Nov. 9,
2020). But that does not apply where, as here, the alleged error appears for
the first time in the written judgment. Id. Instead, because the defendant did
not have the opportunity to object in the district court, we review for abuse
of discretion. United States v. Bigelow, 462 F.3d 378, 381 (5th Cir. 2006).
A defendant has a Fifth Amendment due process right to be present
at sentencing. Diggles, 957 F.3d at 557. “Including a sentence in the written
judgment that the judge never mentioned when the defendant was in the
courtroom is tantamount to sentencing the defendant in absentia.” Id. (quotation omitted). Thus, due process dictates that a district court “must orally
pronounce a sentence.” Id. at 556.
Accordingly, where the oral pronouncement and written judgment
conflict, the oral pronouncement controls. Id. at 557. But that is so only if
the two actually conflict. If, instead, “the written judgment simply clarifies
an ambiguity in the oral pronouncement, we look to the sentencing court’s
intent to determine the sentence.” United States v. Tang, 718 F.3d 476, 487
(5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). We determine that intent by examining “the
entire record.” United States v. English, 400 F.3d 273, 276 (5th Cir. 2005)
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No. 19-30833
3
(quotation omitted).
Our first task, then, is to determine whether there is a conflict between
the sentence as orally pronounced and the written judgment or, conversely,
whether any discrepancy between the two merely reflects an ambiguity. The
district court explained at the sentencing hearing that, although “the total
intended loss is $117,395,” the “net” amount “owed in restitution” was
$106,744. It clarified that, in arriving at that number, Tanner’s “previous
payments ha[d] been subtracted.” The present confusion arises from its next
statement, where it declared that “the [$]106,744 appears to be . . . the correct restitution amount, although in chambers we discussed the addition of
language to the form for the suggested sentence that will read ‘subject to
credits from IRS refunds, garnishments, and other payments, with a net balance currently showing due of $63,221.’”
After confirming with trial counsel that the statement was “accurate
as a discussion point in an agreement between the Court and counsel,” the
court went on to “find[] that the original calculation in the [presentence
investigation report] of $106,744 is correct.” Then, apparently referring to
the $106,744, the court affirmed that there was “an agreed amount of restitution.” But in its last word on the matter, the court reiterated its earlier
statement. There, it proclaimed that “[r]estitution in the amount of
$106,744 is ordered to be paid” and “that the restitution amount is subject
to credits already received . . . with a current accounting balance for restitution shown at $63,221.”
As previously explained, the court then imposed restitution of
$106,744 in the written judgment, which states that “[t]he defendant shall
receive credit for all payments previously made . . . .” The written judgment
does not, however, provide $63,221 as the “current accounting balance for
restitution,” as mentioned in the oral pronouncement.
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No. 19-30833
4
The district court could have been clearer. At times, it proclaimed
that the proper “net” amount owed was $106,744. In some tension with
that, it expressed elsewhere that the restitution amount was “subject to
credits already received . . . with a current accounting balance for restitution
shown at $63,221.”
Lack of clarity notwithstanding, we see no direct conflict between
those statements and the written judgment. The court stated, several times,
that the “correct” or “net” amount owed in restitution was $106,744—the
amount it imposed in its written judgment. Nonetheless, because the oral
pronouncement was ambiguous, “we look to the sentencing court’s intent to
determine the sentence.” United States v. Romero-Medrano, 899 F.3d 356,
363 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting Tang, 718 F.3d at 487).
The record confirms that the court intended to order restitution of
$106,744. The presentence investigation report, which the court adopted,
divides Tanner’s fraud into two distinct line items: fraudulent loans and
fraudulent grants. The “total outstanding loan balance . . . [was] $63,221,”
and the “outstanding balance for fraudulently obtained grants [was]
$43,523,” making “$106,744” the “total restitution due.”
That net amount was reduced from the gross total of $117,395, which
was “based on fraudulent loans totaling $63,977 and fraudulent grants totaling $53,418.” To get to the “outstanding” balance, the presentence investigation report subtracted “any amounts already paid back to the government.” Thus, the restitution of $106,744 was the proper total—the
“credits” to which the court referred in its oral pronouncement had already
been applied. The court acknowledged as much when it said that Tanner’s
“previous payments ha[d] been subtracted,” before it arrived at $106,744 as
“the correct restitution amount.”
There is nothing in the record to indicate that the court intended to
Case: 19-30833 Document: 00515695322 Page: 4 Date Filed: 01/06/2021
No. 19-30833
5
forgive the entire outstanding balance of $43,523 for the fraudulently obtained grants. Nor is there anything in the record to support Tanner’s bald
assertion that, at the time of sentencing, “she had made substantial progress
towards paying down the amount owed,” which, coincidentally, happened to
be the exact amount of the outstanding balance for grants. To the contrary,
it appears that the court merely misspoke when it referred to the outstanding
loan balance of $63,221 as the entire outstanding balance for restitution

Outcome: The oral pronouncement was ambiguous. But the written judgment
“clarified that ambiguity.” United States v. Milton, 805 F. App’x 280, 281
(5th Cir. 2020) (per curiam) (citing Schurmann v. United States, 658 F.2d
389, 391 (5th Cir. Unit A Oct. 1981)). The record makes certain that the
written judgment reflects the district court’s intent. Accordingly, the written
judgment of sentence is AFFIRMED

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