United States v. Hill, No. 16-4299

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSHEDD, Circuit Judge
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. JAMES WILLIAM HILL, III, Defendant - Appellee.
Decision Date18 August 2017
Docket NumberNo. 16-4299

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellant,
JAMES WILLIAM HILL, III, Defendant - Appellee.

No. 16-4299


Argued: January 26, 2017
August 18, 2017


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. John A. Gibney, Jr., District Judge. (3:16-cr-00009-JAG-1)

Before SHEDD, AGEE, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

Reversed and remanded by unpublished opinion. Judge Shedd wrote the opinion, in which Judge Agee joined. Judge Wynn wrote an opinion dissenting from the basis for the judgment.

ARGUED: Vikram Swaruup, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Elizabeth W. Hanes, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Thomas E. Chandler, Civil Rights Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, S. David Schiller, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Richmond, Virginia, for

Page 2

Appellant. Geremy C. Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Alexandria, Virginia, Mary E. Maguire, Patrick L. Bryant, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.

Page 3

SHEDD, Circuit Judge:

James Hill, III was working at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chester, Virginia, when he allegedly assaulted C.T., a fellow employee, because of C.T.'s actual or perceived sexual orientation. Consequently, the United States indicted Hill for violating 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2). The district court dismissed the indictment, finding § 249(a)(2) unconstitutional as applied to Hill. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.


The indictment alleges that, on or about May 22, 2015, Hill willfully caused bodily injury to C.T. because of C.T.'s actual and perceived sexual orientation in violation of § 249(a)(2). Additionally, the indictment charges that "in connection with the offense, . . . Hill . . . interfered with commercial and other economic activity in which C.T. was engaged at the time of the conduct, and which offense otherwise affected interstate and foreign commerce." J.A. 5.1

Hill moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that § 249(a)(2) is unconstitutional, both facially and as applied, as an invalid exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause. In deciding the motion, the district court considered facts provided by the parties that were not included in the indictment. Specifically, the court considered asserted facts relating to the government's allegation that the assault affected interstate

Page 4

commerce. Ultimately, the court dismissed the indictment and concluded that § 249(a)(2) exceeds Congress' legislative power as applied to Hill.2


We start by recognizing two important presumptions. First, although the district court considered the proffered facts as true in deciding Hill's pretrial motion, every defendant comes into court presumed to be innocent. Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 483 (1978). Additionally, every statute passed by Congress is presumed to be constitutional. United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 607 (2000).

With these presumptions in mind, we review de novo the district court's dismissal of the indictment. United States v. Brandon, 298 F.3d 307, 310 (4th Cir. 2002). "[A] challenge to the sufficiency of the indictment . . . is ordinarily limited to the allegations contained in the indictment," and a court accepts the allegations as true. United States v. Engle, 676 F.3d 405, 415 (4th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 12, "[a] district court may dismiss an indictment . . . where there is an infirmity of law in the prosecution; a court may not dismiss an indictment, however, on a determination of facts that should have been developed at trial." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Although the parties have presented and briefed novel and complex issues of constitutional law, this appeal is more appropriately resolved on a threshold issue. On its

Page 5

face, the indictment is legally sufficient and does not present an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power. In an attempt to satisfy § 249(a)(2)'s jurisdictional element, the indictment specifically alleges that Hill's conduct had an effect on interstate commerce. Because this is an as-applied challenge, whether Hill's conduct sufficiently affects interstate commerce as to satisfy the constitutional limitations placed on Congress' Commerce Clause power may well depend on a consideration of facts, and because the facts proffered here may or may not be developed at trial, it is premature to determine the constitutional issues.3 See Richmond Med. Ctr. for Women v. Herring, 570 F.3d 165, 172 (4th Cir. 2009) (en banc) (An as-applied challenge is "based on a developed factual record and the application of a statute to a specific person[.]"); see also United States v. Terry, 257 F.3d 366, 373 (4th Cir. 2001) (King, J., concurring) ("The interstate commerce element of [18 U.S.C.] § 844(i) requires proof of a fact, and, in the ordinary course, it is subject to our review of the Government's evidence in accordance with" a motion for a judgment of acquittal, not a pretrial motion.); United States v. Matzkin, 14 F.3d 1014, 1019 (4th Cir. 1994) ("An indictment that tracks the statutory language is ordinarily valid." (quoting United States v. Fogel, 901 F.2d 23, 25 (4th Cir. 1990))). Importantly, the complex constitutional issues presented may be avoided in this case, for

Page 6

instance, should the prosecution fail to result in a conviction.4 See Harmon v. Brucker, 355 U.S. 579, 581 (1958) (Courts have a "duty to avoid deciding constitutional questions presented unless essential to proper disposition of a case."); see also Bell Atl. Maryland, Inc. v. Prince George's Cty., Maryland, 212 F.3d 863, 866 (4th Cir. 2000) (determining that the district court committed reversible error by deciding constitutional questions in advance of considering state law questions that may dispose of the case).

We acknowledge that a court may look beyond the indictment where "the government does not dispute the ability of the court to reach the motion and proffers, stipulates, or otherwise does not dispute the pertinent facts." United States v. Weaver, 659 F.3d 353, 355 n.* (4th Cir. 2011). However, in Weaver the issue was one of statutory interpretation and was "purely legal." Id. Because the issue before this Court is an as-applied constitutional challenge, it involves questions of law and fact, and it is not prudent at this point to consider the extraneous facts, most of which were proffered by the government in an attempt to strengthen its case.5 This determination is reinforced by the

Page 7

presumptions of innocence and constitutionality. Facts outside of an indictment should not be used to conclusively decide whether an element of a criminal offense is satisfied during a pretrial motion, and a Congressional statute should not be overturned on an incomplete record. Thus, we conclude that the district court erred when it dismissed the indictment.


Accordingly, we reverse and remand with directions to reinstate the indictment.


Page 8

WYNN, Circuit Judge, dissenting from the basis for the judgment:

Defendant James Hill, III physically assaulted a coworker preparing packages for interstate shipment because Defendant believed him to be homosexual. Recognizing that the Virginia hate crime statute does not extend to cases involving sexual orientation, the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office in Chesterfield County referred this case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Following the Attorney General's certification that prosecuting Defendant at the federal level is in the public interest and is necessary to secure substantial justice, the government indicted Defendant under the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (the "Hate Crimes Act"), 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2). The district court dismissed the indictment on grounds that the Hate Crimes Act, as applied to Defendant's conduct, exceeded Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause.

On review to this Court, the majority opinion now ignores the district court's basis for dismissing the indictment and instead concludes that, because the government's indictment sets forth the charged offense in the language of the statute, it satisfies the specificity requirement imposed by Fifth and Sixth Amendments. But that conclusion answers a question that Defendant never raised and the district court, unsurprisingly, never addressed. In so doing, the majority opinion elides the question that Defendant and the government properly placed before the district court and this Court: Whether Congress can enact a statute, pursuant to its authority to regulate interstate commerce, proscribing the physical assault of a victim whose job involves packing products for interstate sale and shipment and who is doing that job at the time of the assault?

Page 9

If that important question is properly answered, as it should be, then it must be concluded that such a statute easily falls under Congress's broad authority to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has consistently held that Congress has the authority to regulate criminal conduct that interferes with ongoing commercial activity subject to congressional regulation. See, e.g., Taylor v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2074 (2016). And the Commerce Clause assuredly empowers Congress to regulate the sale and shipment of goods across state lines. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3; United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558 (1995). Therefore, Congress may proscribe conduct—including violent assaults on individuals engaged in interstate commercial activity—that interferes with that activity.

Cavalierly, the majority ducks...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT