Federal Convictions of Non-Existent Crime Tossed
Third Person Pled Guilty to Non-Crime

By Hans Sherrer

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 12

A federal judge in Pittsburgh set aside the December 2003 convictions of two people who were prosecuted for allegedly violating a federal “securities” law. Cordez Graham, 30, his wife Crystal Holliday, 26, and Angela Barnes, 21, were alleged to have used counterfeit sales receipts to obtain refunds from several Bed Bath & Beyond stores. The three were inducted for allegedly violating United States Code Title 18 Section 2314, “Transportation of stolen goods, securities, moneys, fraudulent State tax stamps, or articles used in counterfeiting.”

Barnes pled guilty and agreed to testify as a friendly government witness against Graham and Holliday in exchange for the prosecution’s recommendation of a downward departure in her sentence. After the conviction of her co-defendants, Barnes was sentenced to three months imprisonment that she completed on March 16, 2004.

In a post-trial motion for a judgment of acquittal, Graham and Holliday argued that they were convicted of a non-existent crime. They keyed on the fact that for an item to be considered as a security under Section 2314, it must have value in and of itself and identify the owner. The alleged counterfeit sales receipts meet neither of those criteria, and therefore they could not be guilty of the crime they were convicted of committing.

Senior U.S. District Judge William Standish agreed that the prosecution had not proved the two convicted defendant’s violated Section 2314, and in late March 2004 granted the motion setting aside their convictions. Judge Standish didn’t have to vacate their sentences, since Graham and Holliday’s motion was post-trial and pre-sentencing.

In his decision setting aside the couple’s convictions, Judge Standish wrote that Angela Barnes was also entitled to have her conviction set aside, because she had pled guilty to a non-existent crime. His decision was issued a week after she completed her three month prison sentence.

Federal Judge Overturns Convictions in Fraudulent Receipt Case, AP Pittsburgh, Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal, March 23, 2004.
Judge Overturns Fraud Convictions, Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 27, 2004.