U.S. v. Hunt

Decision Date05 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-16641.,06-16641.
Citation526 F.3d 739
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jason Hardy HUNT, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Dirk C. Phillips, Jessica Dunsay Silver, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civ. Rights Div., App. Section, Washington, DC, Richard H. Loftin, David Andrew Sigler, Asst. U.S. Attys., Mobile, AL, for U.S.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.

Before BLACK and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and RESTANI*, Judge.

BLACK, Circuit Judge:

Following a jury trial, Jason Hardy Hunt was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1519 for knowingly making a false entry into a police incident report with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence an FBI investigation. Hunt raises three issues on appeal. First, he says § 1519 is constitutionally wanting because it did not put him on fair notice his behavior was proscribed. Second, he asserts the evidence was insufficient to convict him. Third, he says his ten-month sentence is unreasonable. Each of these arguments fail; therefore, we affirm his conviction and sentence.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts were adduced at trial and are substantially undisputed. On March 22, 2005, officers from the Pritchard, Alabama police department were patrolling a neighborhood known for drug activity. Hunt, at that time a detective in the narcotics unit, joined other officers on patrol that evening. The officers observed James Woodard engaging in suspicious activity and stopped him to question him.

Woodard became agitated and resisted the officers' attempt to detain him. Officer Waite handcuffed Woodard and brought him over to a car where Hunt and other officers awaited. The officers searched Woodard and checked for any outstanding warrants. Finding nothing, they released him.

Woodard remained agitated and berated the group of officers, which now included Hunt, Jonathan Waite, Walter Knight, and George Lyons. He cursed them and threatened them. The officers responded. Hot words were exchanged, with Hunt in particular arguing with Woodard. After Knight tried to defuse the situation, Woodard persisted in yelling at the officers, focusing specifically on Hunt. Knight then ordered Woodard arrested.

Hunt and Waite moved towards Woodard to place him under arrest. Hunt reached him first. He grabbed Woodard, placed him in a bearhug, and threw him to the ground. Woodard's head hit the concrete, and he required medical attention as a result. Other officers administered first aid to Woodard and summoned an ambulance. Woodard was hospitalized for eight days and suffered permanent hearing loss from the incident.

The night of Woodard's arrest, Hunt returned to the station with Knight and filled out a use of force report. In the report, Hunt made the following statement: "when I (Det. Hunt) got between 2-3 feet to him (Mr. Woodard) he grabbed me (Det. Hunt) and tried to slam me, but I (Det. Hunt) was strong enough to get my hands free around his and take him (Mr. Woodard) to the ground."

The FBI launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Woodard's arrest. On February 8, 2006, Hunt met with FBI Agent George Glaser to discuss his conduct during the arrest. At the meeting, Hunt reiterated the statement made in his original report — that Woodard grabbed Hunt first, wrapping his arms around his waist near his weapon. According to Hunt, he grabbed Woodard in an attempt to defend himself.

Two days later, Glaser again met with Hunt. Glaser had interviewed others present at the March 22 incident and found a number of inconsistencies between their recollections and Hunt's version of events. During the meeting, Hunt admitted his statement in the police report — and his statement two days prior — was inaccurate. Woodard had not initiated contact; Hunt grabbed Woodard first by wrapping his arms around his waist and pinning his arms to his side.

Ultimately, a grand jury indicted Hunt on several counts related to his conduct on March 22, including the § 1519 charge for knowingly making a false statement in his police report with the intent to impede a federal investigation. At trial, the Government presented evidence that Hunt (while undergoing training) had attended a civil rights course, where he learned the federal government would investigate and prosecute civil rights violations such as willful uses of excessive force. Glaser also testified. He noted Hunt stuck to his original version of events during the February 8 meeting and only changed his story after Glaser confronted Hunt with inconsistencies during the February 10 meeting.

Hunt testified in his own defense. He conceded the statement in the report was false: Woodard had not grabbed Hunt first; rather, Hunt was the first to make the move on Woodard. Hunt testified that, when he filled out the report following the incident, he was still in the "heat of the moment" and simply made an error. He said the falsity in the report was not an intentional lie.

Knight also testified to a conversation he and Hunt had together while traveling back to the police station after Hunt's takedown of Woodard but before Hunt filed the report. Knight said Hunt told him Woodard had grabbed him first and asked if he had done anything wrong. Knight responded by saying that, if Woodard indeed had grabbed him first, then Hunt's behavior was appropriate.

A jury convicted Hunt of the § 1519 charge. At sentencing, the judge noted the calculated guidelines range was 10 to 16 months. The judge found Hunt's behavior was aberrant, but also recognized deterrence was an important factor in the case. In light of this, the judge sentenced Hunt to five months' imprisonment followed by five months' home confinement. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Due Process Challenge

Hunt argues application of § 1519 in this context deprived him of due process because his conduct is not the type contemplated by Congress when it passed the statute and, therefore, he was not placed on fair notice that his conduct was criminal. We review such a constitutional challenge de novo. United States v. Knight, 490 F.3d 1268, 1270 (11th Cir.2007).

The Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause harbors within its scope the notion of fair warning: a statute cannot be enforced "if it is so vague that `men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.'" United States v. Mena, 863 F.2d 1522, 1527 (11th Cir.1989) (quoting Connally v. Gen. Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322 (1926)). Put another way, the statute must be sufficiently clear to give a "person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly." Bama Tomato Co. v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 112 F.3d 1542, 1547 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298-99, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972)). The touchstone of the inquiry is the meaning of the statute in light of common understanding and practice. Mena, 863 F.2d at 1527.

The question of fair warning must begin with the language of the statute itself. Section 1519 states as follows:

Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States ..., or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be [in violation of this statute].

18 U.S.C. § 1519 (emphasis added). Nothing here suggests the statute is, in the context before us, vague. This statute rather plainly criminalizes the conduct of an individual who (1) knowingly (2) makes a false entry in a record or document (3) with intent to impede or influence a federal investigation. The statute unambiguously describes the precise conduct the jury found Hunt engaged in when he made a false statement in his police report following Woodard's arrest. A person of ordinary intelligence would understand a police report to be a "record" or "document," and would also read the language "any matter within the jurisdiction of [a] department ... of the United States" to include an FBI investigation. Moreover, there is nothing ambiguous or unclear about the word "false" or the requirement that the statement be made knowingly and with an intent to impede said investigation. By its plain text, the statute placed Hunt on notice his conduct was unlawful.

Hunt's arguments in large part ignore the language of the statute and attempt to channel this Court's analysis into the unwelcome morass of legislative history and Congressional intent. When the text of a statute is plain, however, we need not concern ourselves with contrary intent or purpose revealed by the legislative history. See Harry v. Marchant, 291 F.3d 767, 772 (11th Cir.2002) (en banc) (holding courts should follow clear statutory language even where an inquiry into legislative history might reveal contrary Congressional intent); United States v. Maung, 267 F.3d 1113, 1121 (11th Cir. 2001) (holding legislative history is irrelevant unless the plain meaning produces absurd results). Hunt makes much of the fact that § 1519 was passed as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was targeted at corporate fraud and executive malfeasance. Indeed, the broad language of § 1519 suggests it can be a useful tool in such arenas. But that same breadth bears no hint of any limiting principle cabining § 1519 to corporate fraud cases, and Congress is free to pass laws with language covering areas well beyond the particular crisis du jour that initially prompted legislative action. Section 1519 covered Hunt's behavior; the context of passage is of no moment.

Hunt also...

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