Eleventh Circuit Upholds Conviction of Defendant for Assaulting a Federal Officer

In United States v. Gutierrez, No. 12-13809 (Jan. 16, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit decided whether to uphold the district court’s conviction of a defendant for assaulting a federal officer, which resulted in bodily injury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) and (b). The Eleventh Circuit’s determination involved a detailed analysis of jury instruction issues and trial error issues on appeal. Ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit decided that the district court did not commit error in charging the jury or in the challenged rulings.

For jury instruction issues, the Court decided if the district court erred in refusing to give a simple assault instruction, by not including a definition of forcible assault in the jury charge, and by not presenting the jury with a self-defense motion. First, the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the refusal to give the Defendant’s requested simple assault instruction for abuse of discretion, which would occur where a rational jury could find the defendant guilty of the lesser offense and not the greater (See United States v. Cornillie, 92 F.3d 1108, 1109 (11th Cir. 1996)). The Eleventh Circuit decided that the district court did not err in denying this instruction because both the appellant and the victim conceded that the appellant touched the victim. An assault cannot be classified as a “simple assault” if the assailant had physical contact with the victim (See United States v. Martinez, 486 F.3d 1239, 1246 (11th Cir. 2007)). Next, the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the district court’s decision not to include a definition of forcible assault from the Pattern Instruction in the jury charge for plain error because the appellant did not object before the jury deliberated (See Fed. R. Crim. P. 30(d); United States v. Moore, 525 F.3d 1033, 1048 (11th Cir. 2008)). The facts of the case did not concern attempts or threats, so the Eleventh Circuit found that the Pattern Definition of forcible assault, which concerns attempts or threats, would not have been of use to the jury. Lastly, the Court reviewed the district court’s omission of the self-defense instruction for plain error because the Defendant did not object to the omission (See Moore, 525 F.3d at 1048). The Eleventh Circuit decided that because the defense counsel failed to request the defense instruction and was even hesitant about such an instruction, the district court did not err by not providing the instruction to the jury.

For trial error issues, the appellant’s arguments related to the district court’s evidentiary rulings and comments by the court, government witnesses, and the prosecutor. First, the court found that the appellant’s argument that the district court had prevented him from presenting certain evidence during trial was meritless and that the Defendant had introduced the evidence several times throughout the trial. Next, the appellant claimed that some of the judge’s statements to the jury were prejudicial to the jury’s determination of whether the appellant presented a viable defense. The Eleventh Circuit found that not only were the district court judge’s statements non-prejudicial, but also that the prejudicial nature was a moot point because the appellant did not request an instruction for a defense. Then, the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the district court’s admission of certain government witness’s statements under plain error, which will only warrant the correction of an error if there is (1) error, (2) that is plain, (3) affects substantial rights, and (4) seriously affects fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings (See United States v. Langford, 647 F.3d 1309, 1325 n.11 (11th Cir. 2011)). Because the government witness’ statements surrounded the issue of self-defense and the jury did not decide whether the Defendant acted in self-defense, his substantial rights were not affected by the witness’s testimony on the subject. Lastly, the Court found that there was no reasonable probability that the Defendant’s substantive rights would have been prejudicially affected by the prosecutor’s reference to the appellant’s conduct as an assault and an attack.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email