"Blade" files appeal in Atlanta
Snipes, who was sentenced to a maximum three years in federal prison for his convictions on tax evasion charges in April 2008, had vowed to appeal and on November 20 his attorneys made oral arguments in appellate court. The appeal focused on two issues: that the three year sentence was "unreasonable" and that the actor should have been granted a pre-trial hearing to decide whether his trial should have been in New York instead of Florida.In November 2007, Snipes' attorney had alleged that it was impossible to get a fair trial in Ocala, FL due to racism. In a motion to have the trial moved to New York, Snipes' attorney claimed that "the government chose the most racially discriminatory venue available, with the best possibility of an all-white Southern jury." Supporting his claims was a telephone survey conducted by the University of North Florida (at Snipes' expense) which he believed proved that there is a greater level of racism in Ocala than in New York City. In the survey, 63% of people polled in Ocala regarded the Confederate flag as a sign of pride rather than prejudice, compared to 33% responding similarly in New York.
At the time, prosecutor Ric Ridgway referred to the filing as "perhaps the most outrageous claim" he has ever heard in court.
Prior to that motion, Snipes had asked to postpone his trial, claiming that his attorneys were not prepared. The judge denied his request, ruling "[t]his series of events would lead any reasonable person to suspect that the defendant's dismissal of able counsel is nothing more than a ploy designed to force a continuance of the trial. In any event, it will not have that effect."
The trial went ahead as scheduled and Snipes was acquitted of federal tax fraud and conspiracy charges in April 2008. He was, however, convicted of failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004 and received the maximum sentence: three years in prison.
Snipes' co-defendants, Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas P. Rosile, were convicted on conspiracy and false claim charges in connection with Snipes' tax returns.
In addition to his prison sentence, Snipes will have to pay the back taxes due plus interest and penalty. Prosecutors have been unable to pinpoint exactly how much money Snipes made during those years since Snipes allegedly stashed money in overseas accounts. Estimates range from $13 million to $40 million.
Today, Snipes' attorneys argued that the trial judge's decision not to move the trial jeopardized Snipes' constitutional rights. Attorney Peter Goldberger, referring to the failure to move the trial, said "The right to a correct venue is part and parcel to the right to a jury trial."
Federal prosecutors, however, claim that Snipes was a resident of Florida. They also argued that Snipes had sufficient time to appeal to move the case to New York prior to trial.
There was no immediate ruling from the panel of judges which heard arguments at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Reacting to the arguments, assistant US District Attorney Patricia Barksdale, said, "Wesley Snipes received a fair trial and a fair sentence. His numerous appeals do not make that sentence erroneous."