United States v. Hill, No. 18-4660

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtWYNN, Circuit Judge
Citation927 F.3d 188
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. James William HILL, III, Defendant - Appellee. Matthew Shepard Foundation; Freestate Justice, Inc.; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Incorporated; the Anti-Defamation League; Trevor Project ; Public Justice Center; Japanese American Citizens League, Amici Supporting Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 18-4660
Decision Date13 June 2019

927 F.3d 188

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
James William HILL, III, Defendant - Appellee.


Matthew Shepard Foundation; Freestate Justice, Inc.; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Incorporated; the Anti-Defamation League; Trevor Project ; Public Justice Center; Japanese American Citizens League, Amici Supporting Appellant.

No. 18-4660

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

Argued: March 20, 2019
Decided: June 13, 2019


ARGUED: Vikram Swaruup, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Patrick L. Bryant, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas E. Chandler, Tovah R. Calderon, Appellate Section, Civil Rights Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; G. Zachary Terwilliger, United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, S. David Schiller, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellant. Geremy C. Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Alexandria, Virginia, Mary E. Maguire, Assistant Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Richmond, Virginia; Elizabeth W. Hanes, CONSUMER LITIGATION ASSOCIATES, P.C., Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. Jennifer L. Kent, FREESTATE JUSTICE, INC., Baltimore, Maryland; Joseph Dudek, GOHN HANKEY & BERLAGE LLP, Baltimore, Maryland; Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Cathren Cohen, LAMBDA LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND, INC., New York, New York, for Amici Curiae.

Before MOTZ, AGEE, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge Wynn wrote the opinion, in which Judge Motz joined. Judge Agee wrote a dissenting opinion.

WYNN, Circuit Judge:

927 F.3d 193

In this appeal, we confront the issue of whether the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 ("Hate Crimes Act"), 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2), may be constitutionally applied to an unarmed assault of a victim engaged in commercial activity at his place of work. This appears to be an issue of first impression in this Circuit or any other.

Defendant James Hill, III ("Defendant") boastfully admitted to physically and violently assaulting a coworker preparing packages for interstate sale and shipment because of the coworker’s sexual orientation. But after a jury convicted Defendant for violating the Hate Crimes Act, the district court granted Defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal on grounds that the Hate Crimes Act, as applied to Defendant’s conduct, exceeded Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause. Because we conclude that as applied to Defendant’s conduct, the Hate Crimes Act easily falls under Congress’s broad authority to regulate interstate commerce, we reverse and remand to the district court to reinstate the jury’s guilty verdict.

I.

At the time of the assault, Defendant and Curtis Tibbs ("Tibbs")1 were coworkers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Chester, Virginia. Defendant worked as a "re-binner" at the facility, moving items from conveyor belts and placing them into bins in a wall. Tibbs worked as a "packer," loading these items from the bins into boxes for packaging, scanning them, packaging them in a box, and then placing the boxes on a conveyor belt to move to the next department.

Video shows that shortly after the beginning of Tibbs’s shift on May 22, 2015, as Tibbs carried items to load into a box, Defendant approached Tibbs from behind and—without provocation or warning—repeatedly punched him in the face. As a

927 F.3d 194

result of the assault and battery, Tibbs suffered significant bruising, cuts to his face, and a bloody nose. After the incident, Tibbs went to Amazon’s in-house medical clinic and then to the nearest hospital for treatment. Tibbs did not return to work on the production line for the remaining several hours of his ten-hour shift. Amazon shut down the area of the incident for approximately 30–45 minutes to clean blood off the floor, but Amazon did not miss any "critical pull times," or packaging deadlines, as a result of the incident because other areas of the facility absorbed the work. J.A. 24. An expert witness testified that, notwithstanding Tibbs’ absence and the temporary closure of his workspace, the performance of the fulfillment center as a whole during the shift in which the incident occurred was in-line with its performance during other shifts.

Defendant told an Amazon investigator and a local police officer that he assaulted Tibbs solely because Tibbs was gay. In particular, Defendant stated that "his personal belief is he didn’t like [homosexuals]," that Tibbs "disrespected him because he is a homosexual," and that Defendant "does not like homosexuals, so he punched [Tibbs]." J.A. 353, 383. Defendant offered no other explanation for the assault.

The Commonwealth of Virginia initially charged Defendant with misdemeanor assault and battery in state court, but the state prosecutor subsequently requested that the United States "assume prosecution of this case as a hate crime" under the Hate Crimes Act, in part because Virginia’s hate crime statute does not cover crimes based on sexual orientation. J.A. 25.

On July 24, 2015, the United States Attorney General certified that Defendant’s prosecution under the Hate Crimes Act "is in the public interest and is necessary to secure substantial justice." J.A. 25. Thereafter, the Commonwealth of Virginia dropped the misdemeanor assault charge, and on January 19, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Defendant under the Hate Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2). The indictment stated that:

On or about May 22, 2015 ... [Defendant] did willfully cause bodily injury to [Tibbs] by assaulting [Tibbs], including by punching [Tibbs], because of [Tibbs’s] actual and perceived sexual orientation, namely that he is gay; and that, in connection with the offense, [Defendant] [1] interfered with commercial and other economic activity in which [Tibbs] was engaged at the time of the conduct, and which offense [2] otherwise affected interstate and foreign commerce.

J.A. 19.

Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing in relevant part that Section 249(a)(2) of the Hate Crimes Act, on its face and as applied to him, exceeded Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause. The district court agreed with Defendant’s as-applied challenge and dismissed the indictment.2 United States v. Hill , 182 F. Supp. 3d 546, 555–56 (E.D. Va. 2016). The Government appealed the district court’s dismissal.

In an unpublished opinion, a divided panel of this Court reversed and remanded the district court’s decision with directions to reinstate the indictment. United States v. Hill , 700 F. App'x 235 (4th Cir. 2017). The majority opinion stated that "[o]n its face, the indictment is legally sufficient and does not present an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power." Id . at 236–37. However, because the case presented

927 F.3d 195

an as-applied challenge, the majority opinion further concluded that it was "premature to determine the constitutional issues" because "whether [Defendant’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." Id . at 237. Therefore, the majority opinion did not resolve the merits of Defendant’s Commerce Clause challenge.

On remand, the Government dropped reliance on the statutory element that the offense "otherwise affect[ed] interstate or foreign commerce." 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2)(B)(iv)(II). Instead, the Government relied exclusively on the theory that Defendant’s assault of Tibbs "interfere[d] with commercial or other economic activity in which the victim [was] engaged at the time of the conduct." Id. § 249(a)(2)(B)(iv)(I) ; J.A. 440.

The district court held a two-day jury trial beginning on January 22, 2018. The district court instructed the jury that the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) Defendant caused bodily injury to Tibbs; (2) Defendant did so willfully; (3) Defendant did so because of Tibbs’s actual or perceived sexual orientation; and (4) Defendant’s conduct "interfered with the commercial or economic activity in which Tibbs was engaged at the time of the conduct." J.A. 541. The jury found Defendant guilty.

Thereafter, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, Defendant moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the Hate Crimes Act is unconstitutional as applied to his assault of Tibbs. The district court granted Defendant’s motion, concluding that the Hate Crimes Act as applied exceeds Congress’s Commerce Clause authority. Specifically, the district court held that the Hate Crimes Act as applied does not regulate activity that substantially affects interstate commerce. The Government timely appealed the district court’s judgment of acquittal.

II.

On appeal, the Government argues that the district court erred in granting Defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal on grounds that the Hate Crimes Act, as applied to Defendant’s conduct, exceeds Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause. We review de novo a...

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12 practice notes
  • United States v. Roof, 17-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 25, 2021
    ...with commerce, even if the effect of the interference on interstate commerce in an individual case is 'minimal.'" United States v. Hill, 927 F.3d 188, 202 (4th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 141 S.Ct. 272 (2020). We need not decide now whether that rule carries over to interfe......
  • United States v. Roof, 17-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 25, 2021
    ...with commerce, even if the effect of the interference on interstate commerce in an individual case is ‘minimal.’ " United States v. Hill , 927 F.3d 188, 202 (4th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted), cert. denied , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 272, 208 L.Ed.2d 36 (2020). We need not decide now whethe......
  • United States v. Diggins, 2:18-cr-00122-JDL
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maine
    • December 30, 2019
    ...2019) ; United States v. Hill , No. 3:16-cr-00009-JAG, 2018 WL 3872315, at *3-5, *4 n.5 (E.D. Va. Aug. 15, 2018), rev'd on other grounds , 927 F.3d 188 (4th Cir. 2019) ; United States v. Jenkins , 909 F. Supp. 2d 758, 773-74 (E.D. Ky. 2012).Diggins and Leo do not point to anything in the te......
  • United States v. Mostofsky, CRIMINAL ACTION 21-138 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 21, 2021
    ...commerce in individual instances.” United States v. Pettaway, 297 F.Supp.3d 137, 147-48 (D.D.C. 2018); see also United States v. Hill, 927 F.3d 188, 199 (4th Cir. 2019) (“Congress may proscribe violent conduct when such conduct interferes with or otherwise affects commerce over which Congre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • United States v. Roof, 17-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 25, 2021
    ...with commerce, even if the effect of the interference on interstate commerce in an individual case is 'minimal.'" United States v. Hill, 927 F.3d 188, 202 (4th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 141 S.Ct. 272 (2020). We need not decide now whether that rule carries over to interfe......
  • United States v. Roof, 17-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 25, 2021
    ...with commerce, even if the effect of the interference on interstate commerce in an individual case is ‘minimal.’ " United States v. Hill , 927 F.3d 188, 202 (4th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted), cert. denied , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 272, 208 L.Ed.2d 36 (2020). We need not decide now whethe......
  • United States v. Diggins, 2:18-cr-00122-JDL
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maine
    • December 30, 2019
    ...2019) ; United States v. Hill , No. 3:16-cr-00009-JAG, 2018 WL 3872315, at *3-5, *4 n.5 (E.D. Va. Aug. 15, 2018), rev'd on other grounds , 927 F.3d 188 (4th Cir. 2019) ; United States v. Jenkins , 909 F. Supp. 2d 758, 773-74 (E.D. Ky. 2012).Diggins and Leo do not point to anything in the te......
  • United States v. Mostofsky, CRIMINAL ACTION 21-138 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 21, 2021
    ...commerce in individual instances.” United States v. Pettaway, 297 F.Supp.3d 137, 147-48 (D.D.C. 2018); see also United States v. Hill, 927 F.3d 188, 199 (4th Cir. 2019) (“Congress may proscribe violent conduct when such conduct interferes with or otherwise affects commerce over which Congre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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