Thursday, July 27, 2017

Flight crew interference not categorically COV

US v. Diaz:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered whether the Victim and Witness Protection Act (VMPA) or the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) applied in the defendant, David Diaz’ case, after he pleaded guilty to interfering with the flight crew on a cross-country flight he tried to take in 2015.  Diaz, who self-medicated his declining mental health, got drunk before a flight that he was supposed to take to move from his father’s home in Northern Virginia, to his mother’s home in Texas.  Approximately 45 seconds after take off, an inebriated Diaz left his seat and rushed the cockpit, and resisted attempts to restrain him.  After the plane landed back in D.C. a short 13 minutes later, the flight crew refused to get back on the plane, the flight was canceled and passengers booked onto other flights.  United Airlines lost approximately $22k as a result.

After Diaz pleaded guilty, the PSR noted United’s losses but did not indicate a statutory basis for restitution.  Diaz argued that his offense fell within the scope of the VMPA and restitution was not mandatory, but he suggested that he could more readily afford a slightly lesser amount of restitution, in light of his financial situation.  At sentencing, the government argued for the application of the MVRA and mandatory restitution.  The district court agreed with the government, and did not rule on whether flight crew interference was a crime of violence.  Diaz appealed the restitution order.

The issue for the Fourth Circuit was whether it is possible for a crime presumptively covered by the VWPA to instead fall within the scope of the MVRA, and the court says yes.  It is clear that the MVRA may apply in determining restitution for a defendant who interferes with a flight crew, but only if it is also determined that flight crew interference falls within the scope of a statutory list of certain crimes.  If it is not a crime of violence, it won’t fit on the list.  The Fourth Circuit did a categorical approach analysis of whether flight crew interference is a crime a violence and determined the statute is indivisible, that it did not qualify as a crime of violence under the force clause (and the government, by failing to address the argument, waived the residual clause possibility).  It concluded that the appropriate statute to apply in Diaz’s case for determining the restitution question here was the VWPA.

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