US v. Mather

Decision Date27 October 1995
Docket Number95-783-M-1.,Crim. No. 95-782-M-1
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. Gary P. MATHER. UNITED STATES of America v. Gregory B. LINN.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Robert A. Zauzmer, U.S. Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, PA, for Government.

Richard W. Berlinger, Abington, PA, for defendants.


DALZELL, District Judge.

Gary P. Mather and Gregory B. Linn appeal their convictions for open lewdness and disorderly conduct in a national park. The Government has, since the filing of their notices of appeal, withdrawn the open lewdness charges, and thus, although we shall affirm the disorderly conduct convictions, we shall remand for resentencing.

I. Factual Background

On June 13, 1995, at about 5:30 p.m., Ranger Duane Buck1 was on foot patrol in the picnic area of Valley Forge National Historical Park when he observed a male, wearing a white dress shirt and brown slacks, walk from the upper to the lower section of Varnum's Woods, just off the parking lot, and continue east along a foot path. August 2, 1995 Notes of Testimony of hearing before Magistrate Judge Charles B. Smith ("N.T.") at 3. Knowing that people had previously engaged in open sex in that area of the park, Ranger Buck remained where he was. Id. Two minutes later, another male, also in a white dress shirt and slacks, followed the first man down the foot path. Id. The Ranger followed the men from a distance until the men left the trail after about 150 yards. Id. at 4.

Reaching the end of the footpath, Ranger Buck momentarily lost sight of the men, until he detected them about fifteen yards ahead of him inside the tree line. Id. The two men, later identified as appellants Gary P. Mather and Gregory B. Linn, were standing with their trousers down, masturbating in front of one another. Id. The Ranger testified that he observed Linn then perform fellatio on Mather.2 Id. After about two minutes, Ranger Buck ordered the men to come out of the woods, at which point they quickly dressed and began to walk away. Id. Ranger Buck ordered the men to halt, but they continued to flee. Id. The Ranger pursued them and they eventually stopped. Ranger Buck then led them from the woods into an open field. Id.

After Ranger Buck called for assistance, Mather agitatedly asked him, "Why don't you go harass some straight people?" and remarked to Linn that the Ranger was out to get his "quota". Id. at 5. Ranger Buck handcuffed the appellants to one another, escorted them to the parking lot and placed them in the back seat of a squad car. Id. Ranger Buck arrested the appellants for disorderly conduct in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(2)3 and open lewdness in violation of 18 Pa. Cons.Stat.Ann. § 5901.4 Id. Mather was also charged with interference with agency function in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.32(a)(1).5 Id.

On August 2, 1995, the appellants were convicted of disorderly conduct and open lewdness at a bench hearing before United States Magistrate Judge Charles B. Smith. Id. at 8. Magistrate Judge Smith fined the appellants $400 each, and imposed a one-year term of probation, a condition of which was that both must stay out of Valley Forge National Historical Park. Id. at 8. Mather and Linn filed timely appeals. Fed. R.Crim.P. 58(g)(2)(B); Fed.R.App.P. 4(b). On appeal, the Government has, as noted, withdrawn the open lewdness charges. Govt. Brief at 1.

II. Legal Analysis

Magistrate Judge Smith had jurisdiction at the August 2 hearing pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 3401(a) (1985). We have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 3402 (Supp.1995). Our review of a Magistrate Judge's findings is the same as the review the Court of Appeals conducts over a District Court decision. Fed.R.Crim.P. 58(g)(2)(D); United States v. Jenkins, No. 91-147, 1991 WL 101423, 1991 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 7809 (E.D.Pa.1991).

The regulation governing disorderly conduct, 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(2) (1995), provides, in pertinent part:

(a) A person commits disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy or violence, or knowingly or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person commits any of the following prohibited acts:
. . . . .
(2) Uses language, an utterance, a gesture, or engages in a display or act that is obscene, physically threatening or menacing, or done in a manner that is likely to inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace.

Surprisingly, this regulation has drawn little attention from the federal courts, receiving mention in only five opinions, two of which being unpublished decisions of the Ninth Circuit and said by that Circuit to have no precedential value.6 Nevertheless, the regulation is sufficiently plain on its face that we shall apply the ordinary meaning of its terms. See, e.g., Connecticut Nat'l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253-54, 112 S.Ct. 1146, 1149-50, 117 L.Ed.2d 391 (1992).

The Government impliedly acknowledges that appellants did not have any actual intent to cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy or violence. Govt.Brief at 3 ("... the government concedes that Mather and Linn made an effort to conceal themselves in the woods...."). Therefore, the appellants' convictions can stand only if Mather and Linn "knowingly or recklessly created a risk" of "public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy or violence" by engaging "in a display or act that is obscene", 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(2) (emphasis added).

It seems clear that masturbation in a public park is obscene under both the standard in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973)7, and Pennsylvania law.8See, e.g., United States v. Schein, 31 F.3d 135, 136 (3d Cir. 1994) (affirming appellant's conviction for mailing materials "containing graphic depictions of urination, masturbation, and oral and anal sex among homosexual males", considered "obscene" under the Miller test); Commonwealth v. Greenich, 420 Pa.Super. 551, 554, 617 A.2d 323, 324 (1992) (affirming obscenity convictions for display of magazines depicting "sadomasochistic behavior, bondage, homosexuality and males ejaculating"), allocatur denied, 533 Pa. 656, 625 A.2d 1191, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 114 S.Ct. 193, 126 L.Ed.2d 151 (1993); Commonwealth v. Heinbaugh, 467 Pa. 1, 354 A.2d 244 (1976) (open lewdness statute could be constitutionally applied to defendant who masturbated in his car in a parking lot in plain view of members of public). The only issue remaining is whether appellants recklessly created a risk of public alarm.

The appellants rely upon United States v. Malone, 822 F.Supp. 1187 (E.D.Pa.1993) and United States v. Bender and Todd, Nos. 93-885-M-1 and 93-886-M-1 (E.D.Pa.1994) (non-jury trial) in urging us to overturn their convictions. In Malone, the appellant approached an undercover law enforcement agent in Valley Forge National Historical Park and asked the agent if he wanted to take a walk. 822 F.Supp. at 1187-88. The men walked to an area fifty to seventy yards from the picnic tables where the appellant began to rub his genitalia through his shorts. Id. at 1188. The appellant moved closer to the agent until he touched the agent's hand, when the agent walked away. Id. The appellant followed, asked the agent what type of sexual activity he preferred, and rubbed the agent's chest. Id. The agent walked away and signalled his backup officer who arrested the appellant. Id. A Magistrate Judge convicted the defendant of disorderly conduct. Id.

On appeal before Senior Judge Ditter, the Government conceded at oral argument that the appellant's disorderly conduct conviction should be vacated. Id. Judge Ditter wrote:

However, it is clear from the regulation that such an act is only disorderly conduct if it is intended to disturb the public or if the defendant's reckless acts create a risk of public disturbance. Here, the public was not involved at all. For this reason as well as the government's concession, I will vacate Malone's disorderly conduct conviction.


In United States v. Bender and Todd, Nos. 93-885-M-1 and 93-886-M-1 (E.D.Pa.1994), Senior Judge Fullam held a bench trial9 on defendants' charges of disorderly conduct and open lewdness. The ubiquitous Ranger Buck testified that he was walking along the picnic area of Varnum's Woods when he saw the defendants hugging and kissing in the woods approximately ten to fifteen yards away from him. February 14, 1994 Notes of Testimony of non-jury trial before Senior Judge John P. Fullam ("Bender N.T.") at 8. Bender was facing and Todd had his back to Ranger Buck. Id. Todd then performed fellatio on Bender. Id. Ranger Buck arrested the defendants for disorderly conduct and open lewdness. Id. at 9. At trial, Judge Fullam acquitted the defendants of both charges. Id. at 24.10

While we agree with appellants that this case bears some similarities, especially to Bender and Todd, because we focus on the recklessness of appellants' acts and the public nature of a park, we shall affirm appellants' convictions.

There are, to be sure, different formulations of the term "reckless". For the most part, the common law disregarded any difference between the terms "recklessness" and "criminal negligence". See Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 849 (3d ed. 1982). More recently, the trend has been to differentiate the terms, with "recklessness" involving a subjective sense of awareness on the part of the actor of the unjustifiable danger inherent in his conduct. Id. at 850-51; Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Jr., Handbook on Criminal Law § 30, at 215 (1972); Joshua Dressler, Understanding Criminal Law § 10.04, at 104 (1987). The Model Penal Code states that

A person acts recklessly with respect to a material element of an offense when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the actor's conduct and the circumstances known

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