U.S. v. Fox, 94-5794

Decision Date02 August 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-5794,94-5794
Citation60 F.3d 181
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Donald FOX, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: James Patrick Doyle, MacDowell & Associates, P.C., Fairfax, VA, for appellant. Karen Elizabeth Skelton, Office of the U.S.Atty., Alexandria, VA, for appellee. ON BRIEF: Helen F. Fahey, U.S. Atty., Cynthia M. Monaco, Sp. Asst. U.S. Atty., Office of U.S. Atty., Alexandria, VA, for appellee.

Before WIDENER and LUTTIG, Circuit Judges, and BUTZNER, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Senior Judge BUTZNER wrote the opinion, in which Judge WIDENER joined. Judge LUTTIG wrote a separate concurring opinion.


BUTZNER, Senior Circuit Judge:

Reserving a right to appeal, Donald Fox pled guilty to driving in violation of a court order and driving while intoxicated in a federal enclave. He appeals from the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss the first count of the indictment. Because Fox was properly indicted, we affirm.

Fox was arrested on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia and charged in a six-count indictment with several violations, including count 1, driving in violation of a court order after he had been adjudged an habitual offender, and count 2, driving while intoxicated in violation of 36 C.F.R. Sec. 4.23(a)(2). Fox moved to dismiss the first count of the indictment, claiming it was brought under the incorrect provision of federal law. The district court denied the motion. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Fox pled guilty to counts 1 and 2 of the indictment, and the government dismissed the remaining counts. Fox reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss count 1 and now appeals. See Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(a)(2). Fox does not appeal his conviction under count 2.

We will first discuss the government's reasons for charging and prosecuting count 1 under the Virginia Habitual Offender Act and the Assimilative Crimes Act. We will then discuss Fox's reasons for contending that he should have been prosecuted under 36 C.F.R. Sec. 4.2, which provides for a much lower sentence than the district court imposed.


Count 1 alleged that Fox drove a vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, after he had been adjudged an habitual offender and prohibited by order of a Virginia court from driving a vehicle in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 13, assimilating Va.Code Ann. Sec. 46.2-357 (Michie 1994). Fox acknowledges that he has been adjudged to be an habitual offender and that an order of a Virginia court prohibits him from driving on Virginia highways.

The Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 13(a), fills gaps in federal criminal law. Williams v. United States, 327 U.S. 711, 718-19, 66 S.Ct. 778, 781-82, 90 L.Ed. 962 (1946). It provides that anyone who, within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, engages in conduct "which, although not made punishable by any enactment of Congress, would be punishable if committed ... within the jurisdiction of the State ... in which such place is situated ... shall be guilty of a like offense and subject to a like punishment."

By the terms of the Act and well-established case law, the United States may invoke the Assimilative Crimes Act to prosecute an offense under state law only when there is no enactment of Congress that punishes the offender. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 13(a); Williams, 327 U.S. at 724-25, 66 S.Ct. at 784-85.

The Virginia Habitual Offender Act determines the status of a person who has been found guilty of certain predicate criminal offenses defined by the Act. A person is adjudged an habitual offender in a civil proceeding before a court of record. See, e.g., Davis v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 808, 252 S.E.2d 299 (Va.1979); Huffman v. Commonwealth, 210 Va. 530, 172 S.E.2d 788 (Va.1970). If the court finds that the person is an habitual offender, it must enter an appropriate order directing the person not to operate a motor vehicle and to surrender his driver's license. Secs. 46.2-355, 46.2-356. If a person drives on the highway while the court order remains in effect, as Fox did, he may be convicted of a felony for which the maximum punishment is five years. Sec. 46.2-357(B).

"The purpose of the Habitual Offender Act is to promote highway safety...." Davis, 219 Va. at 812, 252 S.E.2d at 301. It denies the privilege of operating a motor vehicle to "persons who by their record have demonstrated their indifference to the safety of others and their disrespect for the laws of the state and the orders of its courts." Whorley v. Commonwealth, 215 Va. 740, 745 214 S.E.2d 447, 451 (Va.1975). The conduct that the law punishes is the deliberate violation of a court order by one who has the status of an habitual offender. Whorley, 215 Va. at 746, 214 S.E.2d at 451; see Edenton v. Commonwealth, 227 Va. 413, 417, 316 S.E.2d 736, 738 (Va.1984).

In agreement with the prosecutor, the district court found no federal law applicable to Fox's offense that is charged in count 1, and it applied the Assimilative Crimes Act. It convicted Fox of violating Virginia law as assimilated by the federal Act and sentenced him to 14 months' imprisonment.

There remains the question whether the district court erred in concluding that there was no applicable federal law. To consider this issue, we turn to Fox's defense.


Fox asserted in the district court, and maintains on appeal, that the government should not have charged him under the Assimilative Crimes Act. He claims that application of the Assimilative Crimes Act to his case is precluded by the existence of 36 C.F.R. Sec. 4.2, which regulates the use of motor vehicles on federal lands. Section 4.2 reads:

(a) Unless specifically addressed by regulations in this chapter, traffic and the use of vehicles within a park area are governed by State law. State law that is now or may later be in effect is adopted and made a part of the regulations in this part.

(b) Violating a provision of State law is prohibited.

Fox argues that section 4.2 is an "enactment of Congress" that includes within its scope the Virginia Habitual Offender Act, precluding application of the Assimilative Crimes Act. He reasons that because the act of driving a motor vehicle is necessary for a violation of the Habitual Offender Act, it is a state law that governs traffic and the use of vehicles within the meaning of 36 C.F.R. Sec. 4.2(a). He insists the United States must prosecute him under the Code of Federal Regulations and not under an assimilated state law. Among the pertinent authorities cited by Fox are the following.

Title 16 U.S.C. Sec. 3 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to make and publish "regulations as he may deem necessary and proper for the use and management of parks." Section 3 also provides that any violation of such regulations "shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both." Title 36 C.F.R. Sec. 1.3 prescribes the same penalties. Pursuant to this statutory authority, the Secretary promulgated 36 C.F.R. Sec. 4.2, on which Fox relies. Regulations issued pursuant to this grant of authority, like all duly promulgated regulations, have the force and effect of law. United States v. Eubanks, 435 F.2d 1261, 1262 (4th Cir.1971); see Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U.S. 281, 295-96, 99 S.Ct. 1705, 1714-15, 60 L.Ed.2d 208 (1979); Free v. Bland, 369 U.S. 663, 668, 82 S.Ct. 1089, 1093, 8 L.Ed.2d 180 (1962).

In United States v. Pardee, 368 F.2d 368 (4th Cir.1966), the defendant was convicted of driving on wrong side of road on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a federal enclave, in violation of 36 C.F.R. Sec. 3.32(d). Invoking the Assimilative Crimes Act, the defendant claimed the government should have charged him under Maryland law rather than the regulation. Noting that the regulation was duly promulgated pursuant to 16 U.S.C. Sec. 3, the court held that the Assimilative Crimes Act had no application where the federal government had spoken through a regulation. 368 F.2d at 372. The court affirmed Pardee's conviction.

In United States v. Hall, 979 F.2d 320 (3d Cir.1992), the government prosecuted the defendant under state law through application of the Assimilative Crimes Act for driving under the influence of alcohol in a national park. The court held that the prosecution should have been brought under 36 C.F.R. Sec. 4.23, the regulation prohibiting driving under the influence. The court stated that the regulation qualified as an enactment of Congress for purposes of the Assimilative Crimes Act because it was promulgated pursuant to specific congressional authorization and applied to the conduct of anyone on a federal enclave. 979 F.2d at 322 (collecting cases); accord United States v. Palmer, 956 F.2d 189, 191 (9th Cir.1992); United States v. Brotzman, 708 F.Supp. 713, 715 (D.Md.1989).

Fox relies on the principles expressed in these cases, and others of similar nature, to sustain his defense that the government should have prosecuted him under the federal regulations rather than the Virginia Habitual Offender Act. He asserts that "the Habitual Offender Act is nothing more than a glorified driving on a suspended license statute." (Brief at 9). Pursuing this line of argument, he cites cases that hold that driving in a national park while a license is suspended must be prosecuted under the federal regulations and not under state law through application of the Assimilative Crimes Act. See, e.g., United States v. Rogers, 865 F.Supp. 718, 720 (D.Colo.1994); Brotzman, 708 F.Supp. at 715; cf. United States v. Knott, 722 F.Supp. 1365, 1368 (E.D.Va.1989).


We are not persuaded by Fox's argument. The cases on which he relies are not controlling, although they are correct in holding that the Secretary's traffic regulations for national...

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