I have been notified recently that my old case of criminal copyright infringement was selected for prosecution. My case is old, all of the events happened nearly 4 years ago. I was contacted last week with a plea bargain that upon first glance, I cannot accept. My question is, what is the statute of limitation on the criminal proceedings? Also, if I reject the first plea bargain, can I expect another? The prosecutor in the case wants to charge me at level 15 of the federal sentencing guidelines. Do I have options? If so, what? I was assigned a federal public defender but he doesn't sound optimistic about my case. I need some help here, any information you can provide would be beneficial.
1 Answer from Attorneys
First, while they are not necessarily copyright experts, the federal public defender's office has some of the best criminal defense lawyers out there.
Regarding the statute of limitations, it is 3 years for the actual copyright crime (17 USC 506(a)), while most "regular" crimes are 5 years. To quote from the US Attorney's manual:
Copyright Infringement�Statute of Limitations
It is important to note that criminal copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. � 506(a) and related offenses under Title 18 are subject to different statutes of limitations. Prosecutions of Title 18 offenses generally must be commenced within five years of the date of the crime itself. See 18 U.S.C. � 3282. In contrast, 17 U.S.C. � 507(a) provides that "[n]o criminal proceedings shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within three years after the cause of action arose." See United States v. Shabazz, 724 F.2d 1536, 1540 (11th Cir. 1984). Thus, felony cases of criminal copyright infringement under section 2319 of Title 18 also must be brought within three years of the commission of the crime, as the statute which contains the actual criminal prohibition is 17 U.S.C. � 506.
PRACTICE TIP: In some cases, Title 17 offenses which are clearly barred by the statute of limitations may still be prosecutable as violations of Title 18
So there may be 2 issues: (1) are you charged with any Title 18 offenses, or just Title 17, and (2) when did the conduct cease, versus when were you indicted. If the indictment came down some time ago, that stops the clock on the statute of limitations, even if you were not arrested or notified of the charges until later. Once indicted, there is no fixed time for moving forward with the case (although if it was the government's delay, you may have speedy trial issues).
As for the plea bargain, there is no fixed rule - these are negotiated. But the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Va. is pretty tough, and if you say no now, the next offer may be worse. Go over it with your lawyer carefully; if you have defenses, or if you can offer useful cooperation, you may be able to get a better deal.
Sentencing guidelines are based on the nature of the offense (big enhancements for manufacture, importation or uploading), and the dollar value of the infringing items. A 15 offense level is significant, but whether it is right or not will depend on the circumstances. Acceptance of responsibility will get you a reduction.