United States v. Watters

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-05-2013
  • Case #: 11-10362
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wallace for the Court; Circuit Judges Farris and Bybee
  • Full Text Opinion

For the purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c), which penalizes a person for “corruptly” does not have a “knowingly” mens rea component.

The government indicted Watters on nineteen counts, including transportation of stolen vehicles, on April 19, 2009. Watters, the government alleged, went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to unlawfully take and sell cars left in the city during the storm. In speaking with the FBI, Watters’s cousin described a plan Watters divulged to obtain a forged receipt for some of the vehicles in controversy. Later, at a pretrial hearing, Watters’s attorney attempted to show that Watters purchased some of the vehicles by presenting a copy of a receipt from a New Orleans salvage yard. The government then filed a superseding indictment alleging that Watters had obstructed justice as well as made a false statement, while retaining the original charges. A jury convicted Watters of having obstructed justice and made a false statement, acquitting him the other charges. Although Watters appealed the conviction on many grounds, the Ninth Circuit only considered whether the district court judge properly instructed the jury on the meaning of “corruptly” in 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c). Watters contended that the jury instructions should have explained “corruptly” meant “acting with an evil or wicked purpose.” The district court defined “corruptly” in the jury instructions as acting with “consciousness of wrongdoing.” Watters relied on cases that defined “knowingly corruptly” in 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b). The Ninth Circuit found that the section at issue in this case, section 1512(c), did not have a knowingly component and that the district court, in instructing the jury that “corruptly” meant acting with “consciousness of wrongdoing,” unnecessarily attributed a knowingly component to the term. However, the panel held that this merely imposed a higher burden of proof on the government than was necessary, and that this was not grounds for reversal because Watters would have been convicted if the burden of proof were lower. AFFIRMED.

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