Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Forcible Resistance/Assault of a Federal Officer Includes Non-Assaultive Conduct

The 5th Circuit handed this case down a few weeks ago.  U.S. v. Williams, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 5997, March 24, 2010.

Looking at this issue for the first time, the court decides:

Title 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) provides that
(a) In general—Whoever—
(1) forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any [federal officer] while engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties;
. . .
shall, where the acts in violation of this section constitute only simple assault, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both,….
The statute contains two ambiguities. First, it distinguishes between misdemeanor and felony conduct by use of the undefined term “simple assault.” Second, and central to this case, the statute appears to outlaw several forms of conduct directed against federal officers, only one of which is assault, but then distinguishes between misdemeanors and felonies by reference to the crime of assault.

Simple assault as an attempted or threatened battery.

Section 111(a)(1) prohibits more than assault, simple or otherwise. A misdemeanor conviction under § 111(a)(1) does not require underlying assaultive conduct. The dual purpose of the statute is not simply to protect federal officers by punishing assault, but also to deter interference with federal law enforcement activities and ensure the integrity of federal operations by punishing obstruction and other forms of resistance.

The 6th Circuit agrees (cite omitted).

The 9th and D.C. circuits disagree (cites omitted).

Click HERE for the court's opinion.