Opinion by Judge KOZINSKI; Dubitante by Judge FRIEDMAN
KOZINSKI, Circuit Judge.
We consider whether the Crime Victims' Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771, gives victims the right to allocute at sentencing.
Moshe and Zvi Leichner, father and son, swindled scores of victims out of almost $100 million. While purporting to make investments in foreign currency, they spent or concealed the funds entrusted to
Three months later, at Zvi's sentencing, the district court heard from the prosecutor and the defendant, as required by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4). But the court denied the victims the opportunity to speak. It explained:
One victim protested that "[t]here are many things that are going on with the residual and second and third impacts in this case that have unfolded over the last 90 days since we were last in this courtroom." But the district judge told the victims that the prosecutor could bring those developments to his attention, and continued to refuse to let the victims speak. Zvi was sentenced to 135 months in prison.
Kenna filed a timely petition for writ of mandamus pursuant to the Crime Victims' Right Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771(d)(3). He seeks an order vacating Zvi's sentence, and commanding the district court to allow the victims to speak at the resentencing.
Kenna and the district court disagree over the scope of one of the rights guaranteed by the CVRA: "The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding." 18 U.S.C. § 3771(a)(4). Kenna contends that his right to be "reasonably heard" means that he is entitled to speak in open court at Zvi's sentencing, if that is how he chooses to express himself. The district court argues that the words "reasonably heard" vest the judge with discretion about how to receive the views of the victims, and that the judge is entitled to limit Kenna to written victim statements or his prior statements at Moshe's sentencing. No court of appeals has considered the scope of this CVRA right, and the two district courts that have closely considered it have reached opposite conclusions. Compare United States v. Degenhardt, 405 F.Supp.2d 1341,
Kenna would have us interpret the phrase "reasonably heard" as guaranteeing his right to speak. For support, he points to the dictionary definition of "hear"—"to perceive (sound) by the ear." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.2000), available at http://www.bartle-by.com/61/69/H0106900.html. Kenna concedes that the district court may place reasonable constraints on the duration and content of victims' speech, such as avoiding undue delay, repetition or the use of profanity.
But this isn't the only plausible interpretation of the phrase "reasonably heard." According to the district court, to be "heard" is commonly understood as meaning to bring one's position to the attention of the decisionmaker orally or in writing. See, e.g., Fernandez v. Leonard, 963 F.2d 459, 463 (1st Cir.1992) ("Where the parties have had a `fair opportunity to present relevant facts and argument to the court,' a matter may be `"heard" on the papers' alone.'" (quoting Aoude v. Mobil Oil Corp., 862 F.2d 890, 894 (1st Cir.1988))). The district court urges us to follow Marcello and hold that the CVRA guarantees victims only a right to make their position known by whatever means the court reasonably determines. See Marcello, 370 F.Supp.2d at 748. Even though "heard" has been held to include submission on the papers in some contexts, it does not follow that the CVRA calls for an equally broad construction. It merely shows that the district court's interpretation of the term is also plausible.
The district court also argues that, had Congress meant to give victims a right to speak at sentencing hearings, it could easily have done so by using the word "speak" which clearly connotes only oral communications, not written ones. This is the term used in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4)(B), which gives the victims of certain types of crimes the right "to speak or submit any information about the sentence." The district court would have us infer from the fact that Congress used the more ambiguous term "heard" that it meant to give victims of crimes not covered by Rule 32 a more circumscribed right to present their views. However, the term "heard" does not appear in isolation in the CVRA. The full phrase we are construing is "[t]he right to be reasonably
In the end, we find none of these textual arguments dispositive and conclude, as did Degenhardt, that both readings of the statute are plausible. The statute is therefore ambiguous as to what it means for crime victims to be heard. To resolve this ambiguity, we turn to the legislative history of the CVRA. See Toibb v. Radloff, 501 U.S. 157, 162, 111 S.Ct. 2197, 115 L.Ed.2d 145 (1991) ("[A] court appropriately may refer to a statute's legislative history to resolve statutory ambiguity. . . ."). The Senate considered the CVRA in April 2004, and at that time the primary sponsors of the bill, Senators Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein, discussed this very issue:
150 Cong. Rec. S4268 (daily ed. April 22, 2004) (statement of Sen. Kyl); see also id. (statement of Sen. Feinstein) ("That is my understanding as well."). Six months later, the CVRA was attached to a House bill, and Senator Kyl reiterated his understanding of the CVRA language.
150 Cong. Rec. S10911 (daily ed. Oct. 9, 2004) (statement of Sen. Kyl).
Floor statements are not given the same weight as some other types of legislative history, such as committee reports, because they generally represent only the view of the speaker and not necessarily that of the entire body. However, floor statements by the sponsors of the legislation are given considerably more weight than floor statements by other members, see NLRB v. St. Francis Hosp. of Lynwood, 601 F.2d 404, 415 n. 12 (9th Cir. 1979), and they are given even more weight where, as here, other legislators did not offer any contrary views. Silence, the maxim goes, connotes assent, see Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons act 2, at 88 (1962), and so we can draw from the
We also note that the CVRA passed as a compromise measure after a lengthy effort to amend the Constitution to protect victims' rights. The proposed constitutional amendment used language almost identical to that ultimately enacted in the CVRA; it guaranteed victims the right "reasonably to be heard." S.J. Res. 1, 108th Cong. (2003). But the legislative history of the proposed amendment is more substantial than that of the CVRA. The Senate Report on the amendment notes that:
S.Rep. No. 108-191, at 38 (2003). The statements of the sponsors of the CVRA and the committee report for the proposed constitutional amendment disclose a clear congressional intent to give crime victims the right to speak at proceedings covered by the CVRA.
Our interpretation advances the purposes of the CVRA. The statute was enacted to make crime victims full participants in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors and defendants already have the right to speak at sentencing, see Fed. R.Crim.P. 32(i)(4)(A); our interpretation puts crime victims on the same footing. Our interpretation also serves to effectuate other statutory aims: (1) To ensure that the district court doesn't discount the impact of the crime on the victims; (2) to force the defendant to confront the human cost of his crime; and (3) to allow the victim "to regain a sense of dignity and respect rather than feeling powerless and ashamed." Jayne W. Barnard, Allocution for Victims of Economic Crimes, 77 Notre Dame L. Rev. 39, 41 (2001). Limiting victims to written impact statements, while allowing the prosecutor and the defendant the opportunity to address the court, would treat victims as secondary participants in the sentencing process. The CVRA clearly meant to make victims full participants.
Nor was Kenna's statutory right vindicated because he had the opportunity to speak at Moshe's sentencing three months earlier. The statute gives victims a "right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding." 18 U.S.C. § 3771(a)(4). This language means that the district court must hear from the victims, if they choose to speak, at more than one criminal sentencing. The court can't deny the defendant allocution because it thinks "[t]here just isn't anything else that could possibly be said." Victims now have an indefeasible right to speak, similar to that of the defendant, and for good reason: The effects of a crime aren't fixed forever once the crime is committed—physical injuries sometimes worsen; victims' feelings change; secondary and tertiary effects such as broken families and lost jobs may not manifest themselves until much time has passed. The district court must consider the effects of the crime on the victims at the time it makes its decision with respect to punishment, not as they were at
However, we need not balance the usual Bauman factors because the CVRA contemplates active review of orders denying victims' rights claims even in routine cases. The CVRA explicitly gives victims aggrieved by a district court's order the right to petition for review by writ of mandamus, provides for expedited review of such a petition, allows a single judge to make a decision thereon, and requires a reasoned decision in case the writ is denied. The CVRA creates a unique regime that does, in fact, contemplate routine interlocutory review of district court decisions denying rights asserted under the statute. We thus need not balance the Bauman factors in ruling on mandamus petitions brought under the CVRA; rather, we must issue the writ whenever we find that the district court's order reflects an abuse of discretion or legal error. The Second Circuit has come to the same conclusion. See United States v. Rigas (In re W.R. Huff Asset Mgmt. Co.), 409 F.3d 555, 562 (2d Cir.2005) (holding that "a petitioner seeking relief pursuant to the mandamus provision set forth in § 3771(d)(3) need not overcome the hurdles typically faced by a petitioner seeking review of a district court determination through a writ of mandamus"). We are aware of no court of appeals that has held to the contrary.
We could delay further our consideration of the petition and order briefing from the defendant, but we think it more advisable to let the district court consider the motion to reopen in the first instance. In ruling on the motion, the district court must avoid upsetting constitutionally protected rights, but it must also be cognizant that the only way to give effect to Kenna's right to speak as guaranteed to him by the CVRA is to vacate the sentence and hold a new sentencing hearing. We note that if the district court chooses not to reopen the
We grant the petition for writ of mandamus and hold that the district court erred in refusing to allow Kenna and other victims to speak at Zvi Leichner's sentencing hearing. The district court shall deem timely a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3771(d)(5) filed by Kenna or any other of Zvi's victims within 14 days of the date of our opinion. If the district court grants the motion, it shall conduct a new sentencing hearing, according Kenna and the other victims the right to speak as described above.
The panel retains jurisdiction over any future mandamus petitions arising from the Zvi Leichner criminal case.
FRIEDMAN, Senior Circuit Judge, dubitante.
Although I agree that the writ should issue, I am concerned about the seemingly broad sweep of the opinion.
1. The court decides — and I agree — that the requirement in the Crime Victims Rights Act ("the Act") that crime victims may be "reasonably heard" at sentencing entitles them to speak there. The court then holds — and I again agree — that the district court could not justify its refusal to permit the victims of this huge swindle to speak at Zvi's sentencing because it had permitted them to speak at his father's sentencing three months earlier (both father and son participated in the fraud).
My concern is that the court seems to hold that a victim has an absolute right to speak at sentencing, no matter what the circumstances. As the court states, "the CVRA gives victims the right to confront every defendant who has wronged them; speaking at a co-defendant's sentencing does not vindicate the right of the victims to look this defendant in the eye and let him know the suffering his misconduct has caused." Suppose that the present case were changed so that Zvi's sentencing took place immediately after his father's on the same day, and that Kenna had been allowed to speak at the father's sentencing (as he did). Would he have an absolute
2. There is a similar sweep to the mandamus writ the court issues. Although only Kenna filed a petition for mandamus, the "Conclusion" of the opinion gives not only Kenna but the "other victims" of the fraud the right to speak at Zvi's sentencing. Suppose a case with five defendants and 20 victims. Does each victim have the right to speak at the sentencing of each defendant? Although the court notes that "Kenna concedes that the district court may place reasonable constraints on the duration and content of victims' speech, such as avoiding undue delay, repetition or the use of profanity," it stops short of accepting this concession. In the hypothetical I have just posed, it is difficult to believe that the Act requires the court to listen to 100 victim statements. Once again, I think that the statutory standard of "reasonably heard" may permit a district court to impose reasonable limitations on certain oral statements. Perhaps in my hypothetical, the court could require multiple victims, as a condition to speaking, to state what they would add to the prior statements of other victims. In any event, I would think that our writ would only require the district court to consider allowing Kenna to speak at any resentencing. I would leave it to the district court initially to decide whether other victims also may speak there.