Monday, November 02, 2015

Obstruction Enhancement OK'd Based on False Alibi Testimony of Defense Witnesses

US v. Andrews: Andrews robbed a pizza joint, making off with some cash and the manager's wallet. Pursuing police found an abandoned car, in which they found two wallets (the manager's and Andrews's), a cell phone with pictures of Andrews's family, a traffic ticket with his name on it, and a "bill of sale showing that Andrews owned the vehicle." Officers also found a cap that matched the description of the robber and was matched to Andrews via DNA testing. He was charged with Hobbs Act robbery and using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Prior to trial he gave notice of an alibi defense (as well as filing a pro se motion suggesting the prosecutors were intimidating witnesses). The defense was provided by two witnesses, Andrews's mother and girlfriend, who testified that Andrews was at home the night of the robbery. Andrews didn't testify. He was convicted on all counts. At sentencing, his sentence was enhanced for obstruction of justice based on his "prior knowledge of the false testimony" provided by his alibi witnesses and his "subsequent silence during trial."

Andrews appealed only his sentence, particularly the imposition of the obstruction enhancement, which the Fourth Circuit affirmed. While the court noted that the paradigmatic example of the enhancement applying after a trial is perjury on the defendant's part, or subornation thereof, it is "warranted if the court below made a proper finding of obstruction even if it did not specifically find the subornation of perjury." The court also rejected the application of de novo review, stressing the discretion involved by the district court after evaluating evidence. In this case, the district court rested "the enhancement on the very essence of [obstruction] - the willful obstruction of justice" because of Andrews's knowledge of the false alibi testimony, at least after the first alibi witness had testified.

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