When Wesley Snipes was found guilty on tax evasion charges, he vowed to appeal. And appeal he did. Over and over. That, however, may finally be coming to an end.
This morning, Snipes’ petition for certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court. You might have heard this referred to as “denied cert” or “cert denied” by lawyers trying to sound cool or, as in my case, those of us in the legal profession who can’t pronounce or spell Latin.
Here’s what it means: the Supreme Court has what is called “original jurisdiction” over certain kinds of cases. Those cases, which are defined by statute (28 U.S.C. § 1251) go straight to the Supreme Court. The typical case associated with original jurisdiction would be a dispute between the states.
Most cases, including the Snipes matter, don’t have original jurisdiction. To be heard at the Supreme Court level without having original jurisdiction, the losing party must file a petition seeking a review of the case. If the Supreme Court grants the petition and decides to hear the matter, it’s called a writ of certiorari. If the Supreme Court turns the petition down, it’s referred to as certiorari denied. A denial does not necessarily mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the findings of the appellate court; it simply means that appellate decision will stand.
And that’s what happened in this case. Snipes, who is serving a three-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution McKean in Lewis Run, Pennsylvania, filed a 49 page petition (downloads as a pdf) raising two issues:
- Is an accused person deprived of the right under Article III and the Sixth Amendment to be tried only by a jury of the community where venue is proper, when factual questions determinative of whether venue has been correctly laid are determined solely by a jury selected in the place challenged by the defendant as incorrect?
- Where venue is a contested factual issue in a criminal trial, does the government bear a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt or only by a preponderance of the evidence?
Neither issue was addressed by the Supreme Court which declined to hear the matter without further comment. Likewise, Snipes did not comment. With that, Snipes will likely now serve the remainder of his sentence.
Snipes was convicted of failing to file federal income tax returns three years ago despite earning an estimated $40 million during the years in question. He was acquitted on more serious charges of tax fraud and conspiracy, despite admitting that he knew that not paying his taxes “sounded too good to be true.”
Snipes was slated to begin his sentence in June 2008 but did not, however, report to prison until November 2010 due to a number of appeals. Originally, Snipes lost an appeal filed based on the length and severity of his sentence. Snipes’ attorneys claimed that the sentence was unreasonable. A federal court disagreed.
Snipes tried again in November 2010, claiming that he did not receive a fair trial. At the center of his appeal was a claim that he could not have gotten a fair trial in Ocala, Florida, which he had previously referred to as a “hotbed of Klan activity.” U.S. District Court Judge William Terrell Hodges denied Snipes a new trial, writing:
The Defendant Snipes had a fair trial; he has had a full, fair, and thorough review of his conviction and sentence by the Court of Appeals; and he has had a full, fair, and thorough review of his present claims, during all of which he has remained at liberty. The time has come for the judgment to be enforced.
Despite that ruling, Snipes tried again. The issues of venue, which were described as “precisely those which led to the colonists’ inclusion of a venue grievance in the Declaration of Independence” were raised again in Snipes’ petition to the Supreme Court.
Whoa. Is it just me or do Snipes’ lawyers sound like they might be moonlighting as screenwriters? This is, after all, the stuff of Hollywood.