United States v. Ermoian

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 08-14-2013
  • Case #: 11-10124; 11-10388
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge O'Scannlain for the Court; Circuit Judges Goodwin and N. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the federal statute criminalizing obstruction of justice, 18 U.S.C. § 1512, a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigation is not an “official proceeding.”

Gary Ermoian and Stephen Johnson, defendants in the present case, were charged with conspiracy to “corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit, a law enforcement investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation" in relation to a larger indictment involving twelve associates of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang and the affiliated Road Dog Cycle Shop. A jury convicted Ermoian and Johnson of obstructing justice despite their arguments throughout the proceedings that an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) did not qualify as an "official proceeding" under the obstruction of justice statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1512. The district court read “official proceeding” broadly to include an FBI investigation. On appeal, Ermoian and Johnson focused on arguing that the district court erred in concluding that an FBI investigation qualifies as an “official proceeding.” The Ninth Circuit had never interpreted the meaning of “official proceeding” as it related to the obstruction of justice statute. After looking at the plain meaning of “proceeding,” the word’s use in the grammatical context of the “official proceeding” definition, as well as the broader statutory context, the panel concluded that the term implies a type of formal hearing. Therefore, a criminal investigation did not seem to fit the definition, and an FBI investigation is not an “official proceeding.” REVERSED and REMANDED.

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