Monday, March 04, 2013

Fake Distress Call That Summons Coast Guard Suffices for Federal Crime

US v. Deffenbaugh: Deffenbaugh was on probation for a Maryland state conviction and was facing revocation.  To avoid that fate, he attempted to fake his own death, jumping off a boat off the Virginia coast and slipping away (with the help of his girlfriend) while the Coast Guard and others tried to locate him.  Rather that be pronounced dead and avoid incarceration, Deffenbaugh and his girlfriend were apprehended in Texas and returned to Virginia.  Deffenbaugh was charged with conspiring to cause a fake distress call to the Coast Guard and substantively causing that call.  He was convicted of both counts at trial (at which his girlfriend testified against him) and sentenced to a total of 84 months in prison.

On appeal, Deffenbaugh challenged both his conspiracy conviction and sentence, both of which the Fourth Circuit affirmed.  As to the conspiracy conviction, Deffenbaugh argued that the evidence was insufficient because it could not show that he and his girlfriend shared "the same criminal objective" because she didn't know that the Coast Guard would respond to the 911 call made about Deffenbaugh's disappearance.  Because she did not act with that knowledge, the aim of the conspiracy was not commit a federal crime.  The court disagreed, concluding that the knowledge requirement of the statute when to the falseness of the call itself, not the jurisdictional hook (i.e., that the Coast Guard would response).  The evidence was sufficient to show that Deffenbaugh and his girlfriend shared that knowledge.  As to the sentence, the court concluded that the district court was not plainly unreasonable by looking to the fraud Guideline for guidance in sentencing Deffenbaugh for an offense without an applicable Guideline range.  The court also concluded that his ultimate sentence, including the district court's decision to impose consecutive sentences, was not plainly unreasonable.

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