Saturday, April 2, 2005

Knowledge of Communication with Federal Official for Obstruction of Jutice

The Third Circuit issued an opinion in United States v. Guadalupe (here) on the issue of whether must prove the existence or imminency of a federal investigation for a defendant charged with obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1512(b)(3) ("corruptly persuading").  The defendant was the deputy warden at a Pennsylvania state prison (Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility --CFCF) when two prison guards severely beat a prisoner.  Lieutenant Burnette saw the beating, and Guadalupe persuaded her not to report the beating by the two guards because "they can't burn . . . they're my boys, my homies."  The lieutenant provided a false report, but eventually disclosed the truth.  Guadalupe was was charged with obstruction (the two guards were charged and convicted for civil rights violations (18 U.S.C. Sec 242) and argued for reversal on the ground that he did not intend to obstruct a federal investigation, only a state investigation by the prison authorities.  In fact, there was no pending (or imminent) federal investigation at the time of the corrupt persuasion of Lieutenant Burnette.  The Third Circuit held, however, that a defendant did not have specifically intend to impede a federal investigation, only that that corrupt persuasion is likely to interfere with a federal investigation.

We hold that it was reasonable for the jury to infer that Guadalupe attempted to corruptly persuade Burnette "with intent to . . . prevent the communication by [Burnette] to a law enforcement officer . . . of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense." 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3). Although the government did not prove that Guadalupe had actual knowledge of the federal nature of the offense or that Burnette’s information might ultimately be communicated to officers who happen to be federal, this knowledge can be inferred by virtue of Guadalupe’s position as a veteran top executive of CFCF with extensive knowledge of how investigations of the sort involved here proceed (including that federal authorities typically become involved).

The issue of what constitutes "corruptly" under the statute will be decided by the Supreme Court this term in the Arthur Andersen case.  This decision highlights another circuit split, with the Fifth Circuit taking a different approach to the intent issue regarding the federal investigation in United States v. Causey, 185 F.3d 407 (5th Cir. 1999). (ph)

Judicial Opinions, Obstruction | Permalink

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