Sunday, April 17, 2016

First Circuit Refines Mens Rea and Aiding and Abetting

Last week in a significant opinion involving mens rea and the federal aiding and abetting statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 2(a), the First Circuit threw out a conviction based on faulty jury instructions.

The instruction allowed the jury to convict the defendant if she “knew or had reason to know” that her husband had been previously convicted of a criminal offense punishable by a term of over one year.

The court ruled that the “had reason to know” language impermissibly allowed for conviction on a theory of negligence.

Here is the key language:

“Notwithstanding Xavier and its progeny, we therefore adhere to our view that, in order to establish criminal liability under 18 U.S.C. § 2 for aiding and abetting criminal behavior, and subject to several caveats we will next address, the government need prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the putative aider and abettor knew the facts that make the principal's conduct criminal. In this case, that means that the government must prove that Darlene knew that James had previously been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison. Having so concluded, and before turning to consider the effect of this holding on this appeal, we add several important caveats.”

The chief caveat imposed by the court was that “knowledge” can be established through a “willful blindness” instruction, if  "(1) the defendant claims lack of knowledge; (2) the evidence would support an inference that the defendant consciously engaged in a course of deliberate ignorance; and (3) the proposed instruction, as a whole, could not lead the jury to conclude that an inference of knowledge [is] mandatory."

The case is  U.S. v. Ford (1st Cir. 2016) (mens rea for aiding and abetting).

(wisenberg)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/2016/04/first-circuit-refines-mens-rea-and-aiding-and-abetting.html

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