281 F.3d 84 (3rd Cir. 2002), 01-1119, United States v Tyler

Docket Nº:01-1119
Citation:281 F.3d 84
Case Date:February 11, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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281 F.3d 84 (3rd Cir. 2002)




No. 01-1119

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

February 11, 2002

Argued: September 6, 2001

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania D.C. Criminal No. 96-cr-00106 (Honorable William W. Caldwell)

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Lori J. Ulrich, Esquire (argued) Office of Federal Public Defender 100 Chestnut Street, Suite 306 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101, for Appellant.

Theodore B. Smith, III, Esquire (argued) Gordon A. D. Zubrod, Esquire Office of United States Attorney Federal Building, Suite 220 228 Walnut Street P.O. Box 11754 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17108, for Appellee.

Before: Scirica, Rendell and Aldisert, Circuit Judges

Scirica, Circuit Judge

The central issue on appeal is the constitutionality of the federal witness tampering statute, 18 U.S.C. S 1512. A jury convicted Willie Tyler of violating the witness tampering statute by murdering a potential federal witness. Tyler claims error in the admission of a statement he submitted in connection with a previous sentencing. He also challenges several rulings of the trial court. We will affirm.


Responding to continuing drug trafficking, state and local law enforcement officers from Cumberland, Perry, and York Counties formed the Tri-County Drug Force in central Pennsylvania. In 1991, Doreen Proctor, a resident of Cumberland County and an informant for the Tri-County Drug Force, began buying narcotics undercover. On February 1, 1991, she purchased several grams of cocaine from David Tyler, the brother of Willie Tyler. In July 1991, David Tyler was arrested for drug trafficking. Doreen Proctor testified against David Tyler at his state preliminary hearing. She was scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness in David Tyler's trial on April 21, 1992. On that date, Proctor's severely beaten, lifeless body was found alongside a country road in neighboring Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Evidence at trial demonstrated that on April 20, 1992, the day of Proctor's murder, David Tyler told his brother Willie, "The bitch is going to die tonight," referring to Doreen Proctor. Later the same evening, an eyewitness saw Willie Tyler showing David how to cock a sawed-off shotgun. Another eyewitness said the Tyler brothers tried to abduct Doreen Proctor earlier that day but failed because too many cars were in the vicinity. On the night of April 20, Roberta Ronique Bell, David Tyler's girlfriend, asked Laura Mae Barrett to baby-sit her children while she and David Tyler left for the evening. The next morning, while Barrett was doing laundry at Bell's house, Bell brought in an armful of bloody clothing, telling Barrett that she was to say Bell had been home all evening.

On April 21, 1992, Willie Tyler appeared at the home of Mary Jane Hodge, where he announced, "It's over. She's gone." David Tyler then arrived, stating, "[S]he's dead, and I'll be at court, I'll be in court but that bitch won't." Shortly after the murder, Barrett returned to Bell's apartment, where she observed a fervent argument between Bell, Willie Tyler, and David Tyler. During the argument, Bell told Willie Tyler, "I shot Doreen, but you killed her." Willie Tyler became angry, telling Bell to be quiet because someone could be listening.


On July 9, 1992, David Tyler, Willie Tyler, and Ronique Bell were arrested by state authorities for the murder of Doreen Proctor. On May 18, 1993, after a jury trial, Willie Tyler was acquitted of the murder but convicted of intimidating a Page 89

witness.1 The state court ordered a post-conviction presentence investigation. Following an invitation from the Adams County Probation Office, Tyler voluntarily submitted a six-page handwritten letter to the court. Tyler's first four pages described his childhood, education, and work experiences. In the final two pages, Tyler acknowledged he had driven his brother to the murder scene but denied any intent on his part to kill Proctor. On July 6, 1993, Tyler was sentenced to two to four years in state prison.

Federal authorities launched their own investigation into the death of Doreen Proctor. After his release from state prison, Tyler was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 16, 1996. In his federal trial, the government introduced two inculpatory statements by Tyler, one from July 9, 1992 and one from July 20, 1992.2 Tyler was convicted of conspiracy to tamper with a witness (18 U.S.C. S 371), tampering with a witness by murder (18 U.S.C. S 1512(a)(1)(A)), tampering with a witness by intimidation and threats (18 U.S.C. S 1512(b)(1)-(3)), and a related firearms offense (18 U.S.C. S 924), and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

On appeal, we suppressed Tyler's July 9, 1992 statement, finding the police failed to "scrupulously honor" Tyler's right to remain silent. Tyler, 164 F.3d at 155. We remanded to determine whether Tyler waived his Miranda rights before making the July 20 statement. Id. at 159. The District Court granted Tyler a new trial, finding his post- arrest statements were obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.3 United States v. Tyler, No. 96-106 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2000).

Before Tyler's second federal trial, an Adams County probation officer released Tyler's letter written to the state trial judge to the Pennsylvania State Police, who forwarded it to the United States Attorney. After the government gave notice it would introduce the letter during its case-in-chief, Tyler moved to suppress it on Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment grounds. Denying Tyler's motion, the District Court allowed the prosecution to introduce the letter.

Tyler was acquitted of conspiracy but found guilty of tampering with a witness by murder (18 U.S.C. S 1512(a)(1)(A)), tampering with a witness by intimidation and threats (18 U.S.C. S 1512(b)(1)-(3)), and using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. S 924(c)). On January 5, 2001, Tyler was sentenced to life imprisonment.4 This appeal followed.

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The District Court had subject matter jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. S 3231. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. S 1291.


Initially, we consider the constitutionality of the Witness Tampering Act, 18 U.S.C. S 1512. Tyler contends the statute is unconstitutional because it is impermissibly vague, exceeds Congress's constitutional authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause, and violates due process by eliminating the prosecutor's burden of proving scienter. Exercising plenary review, United States v. Bishop, 66 F.3d 569, 576 (3d Cir. 1995), we find these arguments unconvincing.


18 U.S.C. S 1512, entitled "Tampering with a witness, victim, or informant," provides:

(a)(1) Whoever kills or attempts to kill another person, with intent to--

(A) prevent the attendance or testimony of any person in an official proceeding;

(B) prevent the production of a record, document, or other object, in an official proceeding; or

(C) prevent the communication by any person to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense or a violation of conditions of probation, parole, or release pending judicial proceedings; shall be punished as provided in paragraph (2).

(b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation or physical force, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to--

(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;

(2) cause or induce any person to--

(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding;

(B) alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding;

(C) evade legal process summoning that person to appear as a witness, or to produce a record, document, or other object, in an official proceeding; or

(D) be absent from an official proceeding to which such person has been summoned by legal process; or

(3) hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense or a violation of conditions of probation, parole, or release pending judicial proceedings; shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

(e) For the purposes of this section--

(1) an official proceeding need not be pending or about to be instituted at the time of the offense....

(f) In a prosecution for an offense under this section, no state of mind need be proved with respect to the circumstance--

(1) that the official proceeding before a judge, court, magistrate, grand jury, or government agency is before a judge or court of the United States, a United States magistrate, a Page 91

bankruptcy judge, a Federal grand jury, or a Federal Government agency; or

(2) that the judge is a judge of the United States or that the law enforcement officer is an officer or employee of the Federal Government or a person authorized to act for or on behalf of the Federal Government or serving the Federal Government as an advisor or consultant.

Sections (a) and (b) of S 1512 each contain state-of-mind requirements on the defendant's intent to obstruct justice. But under the statute, the prosecution need not prove a defendant's state of mind about the federal nature of the proceeding (S 1512(f)(1)) or that the law enforcement officer is acting on behalf of the federal government (S 1512(f)(2)).

Tyler contends the failure to include mens rea requirements for...

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