608 F.3d 717 (10th Cir. 2010), 09-2013, United States v. Quaintance

Docket Nº09-2013, 09-2014.
Citation608 F.3d 717
Opinion JudgeNEIL M. GORSUCH, Circuit Judge.
Party NameUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Danuel Dean QUAINTANCE and Mary Helen Quaintance, Defendants-Appellants.
AttorneyScott M. Davidson, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant-Appellant Danuel Dean Quaintance. John F. Robbenhaar, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant-Appellant Mary Helen Quaintance. Terri J. Abernathy, Assistant United State Attorney (Gregory J. Fouratt, United States Attorne...
Judge PanelBefore HENRY, EBEL, and GORSUCH, Circuit Judges.
Case DateJune 28, 2010
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)

Page 717

608 F.3d 717 (10th Cir. 2010)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Danuel Dean QUAINTANCE and Mary Helen Quaintance, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 09-2013, 09-2014.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.

June 28, 2010

Page 718

Scott M. Davidson, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant-Appellant Danuel Dean Quaintance.

John F. Robbenhaar, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant-Appellant Mary Helen Quaintance.

Terri J. Abernathy, Assistant United State Attorney (Gregory J. Fouratt, United States Attorney, with her on the briefs), Las Cruces, NM, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before HENRY, EBEL, and GORSUCH, Circuit Judges.

ORDER

NEIL M. GORSUCH, Circuit Judge.

Danuel and Mary Quaintance responded to their indictment for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute marijuana with a motion to dismiss. They didn't deny their involvement with the drug, but countered that they are the founding members of the Church of Cognizance, which teaches that marijuana is a deity and sacrament. As a result, they submitted, any prosecution of them is precluded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (" RFRA" ), which forbids the federal government from substantially burdening sincere religious exercises absent a countervailing compelling governmental interest.

After taking extensive evidence, the district court denied the motion to dismiss. It held, as a matter of law, that the Quaintances' professed beliefs are not religious but secular. In addition and in any event, the district court found, as a matter of fact, that the Quaintances don't sincerely hold the religious beliefs they claim to hold, but instead seek to use the cover of religion to pursue secular drug trafficking activities.

After this ruling, the Quaintances pled guilty to the charges against them but reserved their right to appeal the district court's denial of their motion to dismiss. They do that now. Because we conclude

Page 719

the district court did not err in finding the Quaintances insincere in their beliefs, we affirm its judgment.

I

A

While the Quaintances are the only appellants before us, their case stems from the arrest of Joseph Butts, Ms. Quaintance's brother and a co-defendant in the district court proceedings. During a traffic stop in eastern Missouri, a drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of narcotics in Mr. Butts's pickup truck. In the vehicle, which Mr. Butts said belonged to his sister or his sister-in-law, officers discovered approximately 338 pounds of marijuana. Mr. Butts was promptly arrested.

On learning of Mr. Butts's arrest, the Quaintances sought to raise the $100,000 needed to bail him out of jail. According to Timothy Kripner, another co-defendant in the district court, the Quaintances called to recruit him for " a job." R. Vol. III at 287. Mr. Kripner agreed to rent a car and drive to the Quaintances' home in Arizona, where they told him of Mr. Butts's arrest in Missouri for transporting marijuana. To raise the money needed for bail, they asked Mr. Kripner to make a delivery for them. As they explained the plan, the next day Mr. Kripner would pick up a load of marijuana in New Mexico and drive it to California. There, his car would " be stashed with $100,000," which he was to return to the Quaintances. R. Vol. III at 290. The Quaintances later added two more deliveries to the agenda, another to California and one to Arizona. For his trouble, Mr. Kripner was promised $35,000.

Their plans set, the next day the Quaintances and Mr. Kripner traveled in tandem to Lordsburg, New Mexico, using cellular phones and two-way radios to communicate between the two cars. A few miles outside of town, they rendezvoused with " backpack runners" from Mexico, who loaded four bags filled with marijuana into Mr. Kripner's car. Before they could leave the scene, however, Border Patrol agents stopped both Mr. Kripner's and the Quaintances' cars. The agents searched the vehicles, discovering in Mr. Kripner's car the bags containing approximately 172 pounds of marijuana. The Quaintances and Mr. Kripner were arrested and later indicted for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and conspiracy to commit the same. A superseding indictment added Mr. Butts and the marijuana found in his truck to the conspiracy charge.

B

In due course, the Quaintances moved to dismiss the indictment under RFRA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. They explained that they are members of the Church of Cognizance, which Mr. Quaintance founded in 1991. The church is organized around the teaching that marijuana is a deity and sacrament. The Quaintances claimed that they sincerely hold this belief and that possession (and consumption) of marijuana is essential to their religious exercise. Accordingly, they argued the prosecution against them unduly burdened their religious beliefs and thus could not stand under RFRA.

RFRA allows religious adherents to challenge government activities that encroach on their beliefs. To make out a prima facie RFRA defense, a criminal defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that government action (1) substantially burdens (2) a religious belief, not merely a philosophy or way of life, (3) that the defendant sincerely holds. United States v. Meyers, 95 F.3d 1475, 1482 (10th Cir.1996). If a defendant makes that showing, it falls to the government to show

Page 720

that the challenged action is justified as the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. Id. Here, the government conceded that criminal punishment for the charged crimes constitutes a substantial burden, leaving the Quaintances to prove the religiosity and sincerity prongs of their prima facie defense.

The Quaintances sought and received an evidentiary hearing in connection with their motion to dismiss. That hearing eventually consumed approximately three days, during which the district court received live testimony from ten witnesses as well as argument and briefing from counsel. At the end of it all, the district court issued an extensive 38-page opinion denying the motion to dismiss and concluding that the Quaintances had failed to establish either of the remaining elements of their prima facie case.

In the district court's view, the Quaintances failed to show that their beliefs about marijuana qualify as " religious" within the meaning of RFRA. 1 Even if they had succeeded on that score, the court added, they couldn't show that they sincerely held their professed religious beliefs, rather than simply used them as cover for secular drug activities. United States v. Quaintance, 471 F.Supp.2d 1153 (D.N.M.2006).

The Quaintances sought to take an interlocutory appeal challenging these rulings, but we dismissed the appeal, holding that it must wait until the district court entered a final judgment. United States v. Quaintance, 523 F.3d 1144 (10th Cir.2008). After this and other motions practice in the district court, the Quaintances eventually pled guilty to the indictment, reserving the right to appeal the district court's rulings. Once the district court entered a final judgment of conviction, they brought this appeal.

II

On appeal, the Quaintances challenge both of the district court's independent reasons for denying their motion to dismiss the indictment. They argue that the district court erred as a matter of law when it held their beliefs are not " religious" in nature. And they challenge the correctness of the district court's factual finding that their beliefs are, in any event, not " sincerely held." 2 Because we cannot

Page 721

say the district court's latter, sincerity holding was reversibly wrong, we cannot say it erred in denying the motion to dismiss and need not address the district court's religiosity holding.

A

Under our precedents, sincerity of religious beliefs " is a factual matter," and so, " as with historical and other underlying factual determinations, we defer to the district court's findings, reversing only if those findings are clearly erroneous." Meyers, 95 F.3d at 1482; see also Thiry v. Carlson, 78 F.3d 1491, 1495 (10th Cir.1996); United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 185, 85 S.Ct. 850, 13 L.Ed.2d 733 (1965) (sincerity of beliefs is " a question of fact" ); Iron Eyes v. Henry, 907 F.2d 810, 813 (8th Cir.1990) (reviewing district court's sincerity finding for clear error); Smith v. Pyro Mining Co., 827 F.2d 1081, 1086 (6th Cir.1987) (same); Sourbeer v. Robinson, 791 F.2d 1094, 1102 (3d Cir.1986) (same). That is, we may disturb the district court's finding of insincerity " only if the court's finding is without factual support in the record or if, after reviewing all the evidence, we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Aquila, Inc. v. C.W. Mining, 545 F.3d 1258, 1263 (10th Cir.2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). To be clearly erroneous, " a finding must be more than possibly or even probably wrong; the error must be pellucid to any objective observer." Watson v. United States, 485 F.3d 1100, 1108 (10th Cir.2007).3

Page 722

As the district court noted, numerous pieces of evidence in this case strongly suggest that the Quaintances' marijuana dealings were motivated by commercial or secular motives rather than sincere...

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5 practice notes
  • Equal Participation of Faith-Based Organizations in the Federal Agencies' Programs and Activities
    • United States
    • Agency For International Development,Education Department,Justice Department,Labor Department
    • Invalid date
    ...that they were ``divine messengers'' who could heal ailments and diseases and had done so hundreds of times); United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 721-23 (10th Cir. 2010) (Gorsuch, J.) (explaining that extensive evidence showed criminal defendants who sold large quantities of marijuan......
  • A Legal Sanctuary: How the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Could Protect Sanctuary Churches.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 128 Nbr. 2, November 2018
    • November 1, 2018
    ...May (and Why They Must) Judge Burdens on Religion Under RFRA, 85 GEO. WASH. L. REV. 94, 98 (2017). (196.) See United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 721 (10th Cir. (197.) See, e.g., id. at 722. (198.) See Nathan S. Chapman, Adjudicating Religious Sincerity, 92 WASH. L. REV. 1185, 1215-2......
  • Sincerity, Religious Questions, and the Accommodation Claims of Muslim Prisoners.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 129 Nbr. 6, April 2020
    • April 1, 2020
    ...662 F.2d 1025,1030 (3d Cir. 1981). (79.) Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. at 717 n.28 (quoting United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 718-19 (10th Cir. (80.) Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 725 n.13 (2005). (81.) There is a forceful argument to be made that in this case, because th......
  • RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, IMMIGRATION SANCTUARY, AND UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES FOR REPRODUCTIVE AND LGBTQ RIGHTS.
    • United States
    • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law Vol. 37 Nbr. 2, March 2019
    • March 22, 2019
    ...in defense to criminal drug prosecution. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2774 n.28 (2014) (citing United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 718-19 (10th Cir. 2010)). The Tenth Circuit rejected the RFRA claim, holding that the evidence strongly suggested the defendant's marihuana d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • A Legal Sanctuary: How the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Could Protect Sanctuary Churches.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 128 Nbr. 2, November 2018
    • November 1, 2018
    ...May (and Why They Must) Judge Burdens on Religion Under RFRA, 85 GEO. WASH. L. REV. 94, 98 (2017). (196.) See United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 721 (10th Cir. (197.) See, e.g., id. at 722. (198.) See Nathan S. Chapman, Adjudicating Religious Sincerity, 92 WASH. L. REV. 1185, 1215-2......
  • Sincerity, Religious Questions, and the Accommodation Claims of Muslim Prisoners.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 129 Nbr. 6, April 2020
    • April 1, 2020
    ...662 F.2d 1025,1030 (3d Cir. 1981). (79.) Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. at 717 n.28 (quoting United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 718-19 (10th Cir. (80.) Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 725 n.13 (2005). (81.) There is a forceful argument to be made that in this case, because th......
  • RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, IMMIGRATION SANCTUARY, AND UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES FOR REPRODUCTIVE AND LGBTQ RIGHTS.
    • United States
    • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law Vol. 37 Nbr. 2, March 2019
    • March 22, 2019
    ...in defense to criminal drug prosecution. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2774 n.28 (2014) (citing United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 718-19 (10th Cir. 2010)). The Tenth Circuit rejected the RFRA claim, holding that the evidence strongly suggested the defendant's marihuana d......
2 provisions
  • Equal Participation of Faith-Based Organizations in the Federal Agencies' Programs and Activities
    • United States
    • Agency For International Development,Education Department,Justice Department,Labor Department
    • Invalid date
    ...that they were ``divine messengers'' who could heal ailments and diseases and had done so hundreds of times); United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 721-23 (10th Cir. 2010) (Gorsuch, J.) (explaining that extensive evidence showed criminal defendants who sold large quantities of marijuan......
  • Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause's Religious Exemption
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    • Federal Contract Compliance Programs Office
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    ...assertion of a religious belief in order to obtain an exemption for financial reasons would fail.''); United States v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 724 (10th Cir. 2010) (Gorsuch, J.) (``the record contains additional, overwhelming contrary evidence that the [defendants] were running a commerci......

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