Can “Victims” Testify at a Federal Sentencing?

Steven Salutric pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud (with a $3.8 million loss) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 and was ordered to serve a below-Guidelines sentence of 96 months. Salutric appealed and contended the district court committed error at sentencing when it took into consideration two victim impact statements submitted by people who were NOT victims of his offense. Judge Rovner wrote the opinion for the Court in USA v. Salutric.

Salutric complained that the Judge erred because it considered these statements. Neither person was a victim of the charged offense, and he asserted that the court was categorically prohibited from taking their statements into account in arriving at an appropriate sentence.

He also contended that he was denied the opportunity to respond (due process) to the two statements and to demonstrate that they were not relevant to the court’s sentencing decision. In particular, he asserted he was prevented from showing that he did not commit the misdeeds with which he was charged in one of the statements.

The Court of Appeals held that it was not error for the court to take into consideration statements from these individuals that were not named victims of his offense. In arriving at an appropriate sentence, a sentencing judge necessarily must consider not only the offense of conviction but the defendant’s broader criminal record and history.

The Criminal Code makes clear that “[n]o limitation shall be placed on the information concerning the background, character, and conduct of a person convicted of an offense, which a court of the United States may receive and consider for the purpose of imposing an appropriate sentence.”

The Court also held that the defendant was not denied due process in confronting these letters because he had advance notice that they were a part of the pre-sentence investigation report prepared by the probation department.

Case decided January 8, 2015.

The federal criminal defense lawyers at NLKJ represent people charged with federal crimes in both the District Court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Our office has participated in 100's of sentencings like Salutric. Click here for more information.