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United States v. Mann

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

June 16, 2017



         Defendant Clay O'Brien Mann (Defendant) is charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) by discharging a firearm while using it during and in relation to a crime of violence, namely an assault resulting in serious bodily injury under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6). See INDICTMENT (Doc. No. 2). Defendant contends that § 113(a)(6) is not a crime of violence. He asks the Court to dismiss the Indictment and to vacate his 2013 conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) predicated on § 113(a)(6). See DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS, OR, ALTERNATIVELY, TO INSTRUCT THE JURY ON THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF A CRIME OF VIOLENCE (Doc. No. 95) (Motion). The United States maintains that § 113(a)(6) will support a conviction under § 924(c)(1)(A). See UNITED STATES' RESPONSE ASSERTING THAT ASSAULT RESULTING IN SERIOUS BODILY INJURY IS A CRIME OF VIOLENCE UNDER 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (Doc. No. 94) (Response). The Court will dismiss the current Indictment, but will not vacate Defendant's prior conviction.

         I. Background

         In 2011, a grand jury charged Defendant in an eight-count Indictment based on a July 24, 2010 shooting incident in which one person was killed and two people were severely injured. See United States v. Mann, 786 F.3d 1244, 1246-48 (10th Cir. 2015). Three of the charges were brought under § 924(c). Id. at 1246. Section 924(c)(1)(A) prohibits the use or carrying of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, while § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) prescribes a more severe penalty if the firearm is discharged. See § 924(c)(1)(A). Defendant was indicted under § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) based on the knowing discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Mann, 786 F.3d at 1248. During the 2013 trial, the Court dismissed one of these § 924(c) charges without prejudice due to a defect in the Indictment. See Id. at 1249 n.6. The jury found Defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and the two remaining § 924(c) violations. Id. at 1248. But the Court later vacated one of Defendant's § 924(c) convictions on Defendant's motion after concluding that the offense of involuntary manslaughter upon which it was predicated was not a crime of violence as defined by § 924(c)(3). Id. at 1248 n.4. Defendant did not raise, and the Court did not consider, the issue of whether assault resulting in serious bodily injury was a crime of violence as was required to support the remaining § 924(c) conviction. The Court sentenced Defendant to a total of 171 months of incarceration: three concurrent terms of 51 months for the involuntary manslaughter and two assault convictions, plus a consecutive term of 120 months for the sole § 924(c) conviction. Id. at 1249.

         Defendant appealed his conviction under § 924(c), alleging that the Court had constructively amended the Indictment because it did not instruct the jury that it was required to find that he knowingly discharged his firearm in relation to the assault, as was charged in the Indictment. Id. at 1248-49. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that this language was not necessary to prove the violation because § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) applies to accidental discharges unrelated to the underlying crime, so long as the use or carrying of the weapon occurs during and in relation to a crime of violence. See Id. at 1246, 1251. It affirmed Defendant's § 924(c) conviction after concluding that if the Indictment contains the required elements of the offense, any additional unnecessary allegations in the Indictment need not be proven even if they are mistakenly charged. See Id. at 1252-54. The Court of Appeals did not consider whether the assault resulting in serious bodily injury was a crime of violence because Defendant did not raise the issue.

         In September of 2014, a second grand jury reindicted Defendant on the previously-dismissed § 924(c) charge. See REDACTED INDICTMENT (Doc. No. 2). Like the § 924(c) conviction for which Defendant had already been sentenced, this charge was premised on the underlying offense of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Id. Defendant went to trial on this single-count Indictment in March 2017, but the Court declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. See DECLARATION OF MISTRIAL (Doc. No. 82). Defendant now asks the Court to dismiss the Indictment before his third trial is scheduled to begin, arguing that the offense of assault resulting in serious bodily injury cannot support the § 924(c) charge because it is not a crime of violence. Mot. at 1.

         II. Discussion

         “For purposes of [§ 924(c)(1)(A)] the term ‘crime of violence' means an offense that is a felony and (A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” § 924(c)(3). Defendant argues that § 924(c)(3) requires violent, aggressive, and purposeful conduct, and does not include offenses that may be committed through behavior that is merely accidental or reckless. Mot. at 2.

         A. Scope of Crime of Violence Under § 924(c)(3)

         “Force, as used in the definition of a crime of violence, is synonymous with destructive or violent force.” United States v. Venegas-Ornelas, 348 F.3d 1273, 1275 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted) (discussing 18 U.S.C. § 16, which is virtually identical to § 924(c)(3)). In Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 11 (2004), the Supreme Court interpreted the “use” of force in § 16 to require “a higher mens rea than . . . merely accidental or negligent conduct.” Id. Although § 16 contains both an elements clause and a residual clause, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause was still dependent on the risk that force would be “used” and therefore required the same mens rea. Id. at 10. Accordingly, Leocal held that a Florida offense of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and causing serious bodily injury was not a crime of violence under § 16. The Leocal Court specifically declined to decide whether an offense that requires proof of the reckless use of force would qualify as a crime of violence. Id. at 13.

         However, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that “recklessness falls into the category of accidental conduct that the Leocal Court described as failing to satisfy the use of physical force requirement under either of § 16's definitions of ‘crime of violence.'” United States v. Zuniga-Soto, 527 F.3d 1110, 1124 (10th Cir. 2008). Even interpreting the broader “crime of violence” provision in USSG § 4B1.2(a), the Tenth Circuit “has specifically held that only those crimes with a mens rea of intent or purpose qualify as crimes of violence.” United States v. Armijo, 651 F.3d 1226, 1234 (10th Cir. 2011); see also United States v. Duran, 696 F.3d 1089, 1095 (10th Cir. 2012) (applying Armijo to conclude that aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is not a crime of violence under § 4B1.2(a) when the offense can be committed by the reckless discharge of a firearm); United States v. Serafin, 562 F.3d 1105, 1109 n.5 (10th Cir. 2009) (stating that both the Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit have recognized that the definition of a crime of violence under § 16(b) is narrower than that in § 4B1.2(a)(2)); United States v. Williams, 559 F.3d 1143, 1148 (10th Cir. 2009) (“The Supreme Court has stated [that § 4B1.2(a)(2)] is intended to reach purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct rather than merely negligent or reckless acts.” (citing Begay v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 1586 (2008))).

         The United States contends that § 924(c)(3) does encompass reckless conduct and argues that Zuniga-Soto is no longer good law. Resp. at 4. It relies on Voisine v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2272, 2278 (2016), in which the Supreme Court held that a reckless domestic assault qualifies as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). Section 922(g)(9) prohibits the possession of firearms or ammunition by any person “who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” Like a § 924(c) crime of violence, “the term ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence' means an offense that . . . has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force.” 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(A). Voisine interpreted the use of force required by § 921(a)(33)(A) to encompass any volitional act “undertaken with awareness of [its] substantial risk of causing injury, ” which included reckless behavior. Voisine, 136 S.Ct. at 2279-80.

         However, Voisine expressly stated that its interpretation of § 921(a)(33)(A) did not determine whether § 16 extends to reckless behavior, the question left open in Leocal, id. at 2280 n.4, but answered by the Tenth Circuit in Zuniga-Soto. The Supreme Court acknowledged that “Courts have sometimes given those two statutory definitions divergent readings in light of differences in their contexts and purposes, and we do not foreclose that possibility with respect to their required mental states.” Id. While federal appeals courts have generally interpreted § 16 to require violent force, the Supreme Court has held that § 921(a)(33)(A) extends to any offensive touching. Id. (citing United States v. Castleman, 134 S.Ct. 1405, 1411 n.4 (2014)). These cases reflect different interpretations as to the level of force required, and may also suggest different mens rea requirements.

         The Supreme Court has distinguished the force required by § 921(a)(33)(A) from the violent force required in § 924(e), the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). See Castleman, 134 S.Ct. at 1410. The ACCA, like § 16, applies to felonies that involve extreme, active, violent force capable of causing physical pain or injury. Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 139-40 (2010). By contrast, Castleman “observ[ed] that at common law, the element of force in the crime of battery was ‘satisfied by even the slightest offensive touching.'” 134 S.Ct. at 1410 (quoting Johnson, 559 U.S. at 139). Because § 921(a)(33)(A) referred to misdemeanor crimes rather than felonies and because domestic violence crimes are often prosecuted under generally applicable assault and battery statutes, the Supreme Court concluded that Congress likely intended to incorporate the common-law meaning of force within the phrase “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” Castleman, 134 S.Ct. at 1411. The Supreme Court further explained that “whereas the word ‘violent'or ‘violence' standing alone ‘connotes a substantial degree of force' that is not true of ‘domestic violence.' ‘Domestic violence' is not merely a type of ‘violence'; it is a term of art encompassing acts that one might not characterize as ‘violent' in a nondomestic context.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Limiting § 922(g)(9) so that it did not extend to offensive touching would have made it ineffectual in barring gun ownership by a large percentage of domestic abusers, those who had been convicted under broad state statutes prohibiting common-law assault and battery. Id. at 1413. And the Supreme Court saw “no anomaly in grouping domestic abusers convicted of generic assault or battery offenses together with the others whom § 922(g) disqualifies from gun ownership, ” which includes drug addicts, certain noncitizens, and those subject to a domestic restraining order. Id. at 1412.

         In Johnson and Castleman the Supreme Court relied on the purpose and context of the different statutory provisions at issue to interpret the identical phrase “physical force” in two different ways. Voisine extended Castleman by concluding that the force involved could be not only knowing or intentional, but also reckless. 136 S.Ct. at 2277-78. But the Supreme Court noted that statutory differences might compel a different conclusion regarding § 16, see Id. at 2280 n.4, just as those differences had led to opposite conclusions about “physical force.” As with § 16, the differences between § 922(g) and § 924(c) are marked. Violation of § 922(g)(9) by possessing a firearm requires only a prior misdemeanor conviction and carries a maximum statutory penalty of ten years imprisonment. § 924(a)(2). Violation of § 924(c)(1)(A), on the other hand, depends on a separate felony conviction and carries a statutory minimum penalty of five years for carrying a firearm, seven years for brandishing a firearm, and ten years for discharging a firearm, even accidentally, all to be served consecutively in ...

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