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Varghese Summersett
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Julie Chrisley, a reality TV star known for “Chrisley Knows Best,” has had her fraud sentence vacated by an appeals court. In this article, we will discuss what the Julie Chrisley resentencing will look like.

Background of the Case

Julie Chrisley and her husband, Todd Chrisley, were convicted of various charges, including bank fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to defraud the IRS. The district court sentenced Julie to 84 months in prison, attributing her the entire loss amount of the bank fraud conspiracy. However, upon appeal, the higher court took issue with the district court’s handling of the loss calculations and the evidence supporting Julie’s involvement before 2007, based largely on the government’s concession on appeal.

Key Facts and Findings

Involvement in the Conspiracy

The central issue was determining the period during which Julie Chrisley was actively involved in the conspiracy. The district court adopted the factual findings that Julie was involved from 2006 to 2012. This was based on the presentence investigation report and the court’s observations during the trial.

Lack of Evidence for 2006

The appeals court found that while there was sufficient evidence to prove Julie’s involvement from 2007 onward, there was a lack of specific evidence to show her participation in 2006. Testimony and documents primarily indicated her active role starting in 2007. For instance, Special Agent Ryskoski’s testimony, which suggested Julie’s involvement “the entire time,” was insufficient without concrete evidence supporting the claim for 2006.

Government’s Concession on Appeal

The government’s brief conceded that the evidence showed Julie’s participation from 2007, not 2006. This concession played a significant role in the appeals court’s decision to vacate the sentence and remand the case for re-evaluation of the loss, restitution, and forfeiture amounts attributable to Julie Chrisley.

Appeals Court Decision

The appeals court’s decision highlighted several critical points:

Need for Specific Findings

The court emphasized the necessity for specific factual findings to support the loss calculations. The district court’s failure to identify its basis for including losses from 2006 made appellate review impossible.

Evidence Evaluation

The court noted that while sufficient evidence supported Julie’s involvement from 2007, the district court and the government did not direct to any specific evidence showing her involvement in 2006. The evidence, such as proceeds from fraudulently obtained loans and testimonies, indicated her role starting in 2007.

Implications for Sentencing

The court vacated Julie’s sentence and remanded the case to the district court to make detailed factual findings and calculations regarding the loss amount. This remand aimed to ensure that the loss, restitution, and forfeiture amounts accurately reflected the period of Julie’s involvement in the conspiracy. Will it make a difference in Julie’s sentence? To answer that question, we need to first discuss how federal sentences are determined and what the effect of removing her from any activity in 2006 will have on her sentence.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines: An Overview

Federal sentences are primarily guided by the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG), which provide a framework for judges to determine appropriate sentences for federal crimes. Although these guidelines are now only advisory, they play a crucial role in ensuring consistency and fairness in sentencing.

Key Components of the Federal Sentencing Process

  • Base Offense Level: Each type of offense has a base offense level assigned by the guidelines. For example, the base offense level for fraud offenses is determined by the nature of the fraudulent activity. Bank fraud has a base offense level of 7.
  • Specific Offense Characteristics: Adjustments are made based on the specific details of the crime. This includes the amount of loss, the number of victims, and other relevant factors. These adjustments can increase or decrease the offense level.
  • Adjustments and Departures: Additional adjustments may be applied based on the defendant’s role in the offense (e.g., leader, minor participant), obstruction of justice, acceptance of responsibility, and other factors.
  • Criminal History: The defendant’s criminal history is scored, resulting in a Criminal History Category (I to VI). This score influences the sentencing range.
  • Sentencing Table: The USSG Sentencing Table uses the final offense level and criminal history category to determine the appropriate sentencing range.
  • Advisory Nature: Judges use the guidelines as a starting point but may consider other factors (18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors) to impose a sentence outside the guideline range if justified.

The sentencing memos below highlight how both the government and Julie made arguments regarding these characteristics, factors, and adjustments.

Julie Chrisley’s Sentencing Memorandum

Government’s Sentencing Memorandum Regarding Julie Chrisley

Impact of Loss Amount on the Julie Chrisley Resentencing

Specific Offense Characteristic Adjustment

In financial crimes like fraud, the amount of financial loss significantly affects the offense level. The specific offense characteristic adjustment for the amount of loss is outlined in USSG §2B1.1(b)(1).

  • §2B1.1(b)(1)(K): If the loss amount is between $9.5 million and $25 million, the offense level is increased by 20 levels.
  • If the Loss Amount is Less than $9.5 million: The increase in offense level would be less.

Example: Impact of a Reduced Loss Amount

Let’s break down how a reduction in the loss amount from $20 million (which falls within the $9.5M – $25M range) to an amount less than $9.5 million would affect the sentence. Given this is such a broad range, and the government estimated her involvement from 2006-2012 amounted to roughly $20 million, it seems unlikely that removing a single year from the calculation would get Julie below 9.5 million. As such, any change in the years she is responsible is unlikely to have any effect on her recommended guideline range. For sake of the example:

Calculation with $20 Million Loss

  • Base Offense Level: 7 – from 2B1.1(a)(1)
  • Loss Amount Adjustment: +20 (for $9.5M to $25M loss).
  • Total Offense Level: 27

Assuming Less than $9.5 Million Loss

  • Base Offense Level: 7.
  • Loss Amount Adjustment:
    • If the loss is between $3.5M and $9.5M: +18.
  • Total Offense Level:
    • For $3.5M to $9.5M: 25

Sentencing Table Impact

Using the USSG Sentencing Table:

  • Criminal History Category I (no prior criminal history):
    • Offense Level 25: 57-71 months.

So a 2-level reduction in the offense level (as an example) would have brought a hypothetical 70-87 month range down to 57-71 range.

Calculation of Julie Chrisley’s Sentence

The Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) calculated Julie Chrisley’s total offense level at 38, with a corresponding guideline sentencing range of 235-293 months. However, the government, in its Sentencing Memorandum, recommended a total offense level of 32, which corresponds to a sentencing range of 121-151 months. A hypothetical 2-level reduction there would have resulted in a 97-121 recommended sentencing guideline range.

Federal Sentencing Table

Julie Chrisley’s Sentence and the Effect of the Downward Variance

Ultimately, Julie Chrisley received a sentence of 84 months, which reflects a significant downward variance from even the government’s recommendation. As a result, on resentencing Julie faces two challenges to any further reduction:

  1. It is unlikely that removing a single year from the conduct Julie is responsible for will bring the $20 million dollars down to the meaningful threshold of $9.5 million or less.
  2. Because Julie was sentenced below the recommended Guideline Range and the judge already granted a downward variance, it is unlikely (but possible) that the judge would further reduce the sentence upon resentencing. This is also while the Government conceded that 2006 should not be included in the loss calculation on appeal.

How Could the Sentence Be Affected by Loss Calculation?

Given the significant downward variance already applied in Julie Chrisley’s case, adjusting the loss amount might not substantially affect her sentence for several reasons:

  • Current Sentence Details: Julie Chrisley’s sentence of 84 months is already substantially lower than both the PSR’s guideline range (235-293 months) and the government’s recommended range (121-151 months).
  • Downward Variance Explanation: The court already considered factors warranting a lower sentence, possibly including her personal history, circumstances, and other § 3553(a) factors. This means that even if the loss amount were recalculated to reduce her offense level, the court might still find that the 84-month sentence is appropriate based on these broader considerations.
  • Sentencing Discretion: Federal judges have considerable discretion to impose sentences below the guideline range, especially when they find that the guideline range does not adequately reflect the § 3553(a) factors. The downward variance in this case indicates that the judge already exercised such discretion extensively.

Illustrative Impact (or Lack Thereof) on Sentencing

If the loss amount attributed to Julie Chrisley were reduced to below $9.5 million, resulting in a lower offense level, the guideline range would decrease accordingly. For example:

  • Loss Less Than $9.5 Million (Offense Level 25): If the offense level dropped to 25 (reflecting a reduction in the loss amount adjustment), the corresponding guideline range for a Criminal History Category I would be 57-71 months.
  • Loss Between $3.5M and $9.5M (Offense Level 27): If the offense level dropped to 27, the guideline range would be 70-87 months.

However, given that Julie’s current sentence of 84 months is already within or near these lower ranges, further reductions might not be deemed necessary by the court. The significant downward variance already applied demonstrates the court’s view that a lower sentence was appropriate for reasons beyond just the loss amount.

Conclusion

Julie Chrisley’s sentence of 84 months reflects a considerable downward variance from both the PSR’s calculated range and the government’s recommended range. A downward variance, as applied in her case, considers a broader set of factors beyond the specific offense characteristics. Therefore, even if the loss amount were recalculated to result in a lower offense level, it might not lead to a further reduced sentence, given the judge’s extensive consideration of the § 3553(a) factors that warranted the existing downward variance.

Varghese Summersett is a premier criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Our attorneys focus exclusively on criminal law and represent clients charged with crimes at both the state and federal level. We handle everything from DWI to capital murder to white collar crime. Collectively, our attorneys bring together more than 100 years of criminal law experience and have tried more than 550 cases before Texas juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in Criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. We are the firm people turn to when the stakes are high and they are facing the biggest problem in their lives. - Contact Varghese at  
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