Court Finds Proof of Witness Tampering Insufficient
In U.S. v. Shavers, No. 10-2790 (Aug. 27, 2012), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit considered the defendants’ Hobbs Act and witness tampering convictions, arising out of the robbery of a "speak-easy" in Philadelphia.
On the Hobbs Act counts, the defendants had argued that the government failed to show a "substantial effect" on interstate commerce. The Court held that only a minimal or potential effect was necessary, and found that the evidence – which showed the speakeasy had operated for years, the proprietress bought alcohol at retail and resold it to friends, and made enough money to help pay her bills, but that she shut down the business after the robbery – met that threshold, particularly if robberies like this were considered in the aggregate.
The Court found the evidence on the witness tampering counts insufficient, however. The defendants were charged under § 1512(b)(1). The Court held that a successful prosecution under this provision requires proof that the defendant contemplated a particular, foreseeable proceeding that constitutes an "official proceeding," that is, "a proceeding before a judge or court of the United States, a United States magistrate judge, a bankruptcy judge, a judge of the United States Tax Court, a special trial judge of the Tax Court, a judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims, or a Federal grand jury." Here, the defendants’ tampering was directed at preventing witnesses from testifying at specific state court hearings. Even if a federal proceeding might have been foreseeable, there was no nexus between their conduct and the possible federal proceeding.
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