706 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 2013), 11-12052, United States v. McGuire

Docket Nº:11-12052.
Citation:706 F.3d 1333
Opinion Judge:O'CONNOR, Supreme Court Justice (Ret.):
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jason Dennis McGUIRE, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Peggy Morris Ronca, Daniel W. Eckhart, U.S. Attys., Orlando, FL, Robert E. O'Neill, David Paul Rhodes, U.S. Attys., Tampa, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee. Valarie Linnen (Court-Appointed), Valarie Linnen, Atlantic Beach, FL, for Defendant-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before O'CONNOR,[*] Associate Justice Retired, and MARCUS and PRYOR, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:January 30, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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706 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 2013)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Jason Dennis McGUIRE, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 11-12052.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

January 30, 2013

Page 1334

Peggy Morris Ronca, Daniel W. Eckhart, U.S. Attys., Orlando, FL, Robert E. O'Neill, David Paul Rhodes, U.S. Attys., Tampa, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Valarie Linnen (Court-Appointed), Valarie Linnen, Atlantic Beach, FL, for Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before O'CONNOR,[*] Associate Justice Retired, and MARCUS and PRYOR, Circuit Judges.

Page 1335

O'CONNOR, Supreme Court Justice (Ret.):

Appellant Jason McGuire fired a single shot from a handgun in the general direction of an airborne police helicopter. Believing he meant to hit the helicopter, a jury convicted McGuire of attempting to " set[ ] fire to, damage[ ], destroy[ ], disable[ ], or wreck[ ] an[ ] aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States." 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(1). The judge determined that this was a crime of violence for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), which imposes a mandatory consecutive sentence on anyone who uses or possesses a firearm in connection with such a crime. McGuire challenges both the jury's verdict and the judge's determination. We affirm.

I.

Because McGuire challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction, the facts are in dispute. Roughly speaking, however, they are as follows:

Inebriated and distraught because of losing his girlfriend and his job, McGuire took his father's loaded .38-caliber revolver from an unlocked safe and out into the driveway of his home. He called several friends on his cell phone, attempting to vent his distress, but could not find a ready ear. He was contemplating suicide, he says, but he could not bring himself to it. Instead, he fired off several rounds: one into a tree near the driveway, and several down the empty street. Neighbors called the police. McGuire, meanwhile, went back inside. See Dkt. No. 152 at 19-24.

When he came out again, the police had responded. By then, there were officers on the ground and a police helicopter in the air, shining its spotlight in his direction. McGuire raised his arm and fired one round into the sky. See, e.g. Dkt. No. 150 at 120-123. One witness testified that he saw McGuire fire directly into the spotlight and at the helicopter, see Dkt. No. 151 at 115-117; another said that he raised his arm to an 80-degree angle and fired, see Dkt. No. 150 at 124-125; and yet others testified that he had surely fired into the air and in the general direction of the helicopter, but could not say whether he had fired at the helicopter or not, see, e.g., Dkt. No. 150 at 134-135; Dkt. No. 150 at 189.

McGuire's story at trial was that, having abandoned his thoughts of suicide, he merely came back outside to empty the gun of its final bullet, as he had intended when firing into the empty night before. He had fired the bullet off " randomly," without meaning to hit the helicopter or even knowing it was there. See Dkt. No. 152 at 25. That was not the same story he told when he was arrested, however: Then he had said that he had been inside sleeping, had heard nothing, and had never fired a gun at all. See Dkt. No. 151 at 119. Other witnesses had also undermined the suggestion that McGuire could somehow have failed to appreciate the helicopter's presence at the time that he fired, attesting to the loud noise and vibrant spotlight it produced. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 150 at 101.

In closing, McGuire told the jury that " there [wa]s just one issue and that [wa]s whether [he had] intentionally, willfully and knowingly shot at the sheriff's office helicopter." Dkt. No. 152 at 108-109. Evidently believing that he had, the jury found McGuire guilty on Count One: attempting to wreck, damage, or destroy an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States. See 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(1). It also found that McGuire had used or possessed a firearm in connection with that crime, which the judge determined to be a crime of violence. See Dkt. No. 153 at 81 (instructing jury that the first element of the firearms offense was

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committing the crime charged in Count One). This appeal followed.

II.

We review the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict de novo, but in so doing, we must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the verdict. United States v. Mercer, 541 F.3d 1070, 1074 (11th Cir.2008). If " a reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," then we cannot overturn the jury's determination. Id.

This standard, which entrusts the resolution of disputed factual issues to the jury, resolves McGuire's sufficiency challenge. McGuire admits, as he must, that " one witness, Deputy Nicholas Paul, testified that he witnessed a stationary Jason McGuire shoot a pistol skyward ‘ right toward the spotlight’ where a helicopter orbited." Appellant's Br. 25. The jury was entitled to believe Deputy Paul, and conflicting testimony about whether McGuire aimed at the helicopter or the sky was for the jury to resolve.

McGuire counters that a reasonable jury could not have accepted Deputy Paul's testimony because the testimony indicated that the helicopter was circling and McGuire was standing still " without moving to follow the path of the helicopter" or otherwise tracking it when he fired. Appellant's Br. 26. He views this as a physical impossibility that makes Paul's testimony that McGuire fired at the helicopter " so inherently incredible, so contrary to the teachings of basic human experience, so completely at odds with ordinary common sense, that no reasonable person would believe it beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Chancey, 715 F.2d 543, 546 (11th Cir.1983). We cannot agree. To begin with, we are not...

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