Court Parses ‘Evil’ in Katrina-Tied Conviction

     (CN) – A man accused of trying to sell cars abandoned in New Orleans as residents fled Hurricane Katrina cannot appeal his conviction, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
     Gabriel Watters was indicted in 2009 on 19 counts of conspiracy, transportation and sale of stolen vehicles.
     The government alleged that Watters had traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to take and sell cars left behind by their owners during the storm.
     In the time between the indictment and his trial, Watters lived with his cousin, Starr, whom the FBI asked to relay information about Watters’ car sales.
     Starr later told the FBI that Watters intended to forge a receipt to show he had purchased some of the vehicles from a junk yard.
     When Watters’ attorney gave the government a copy of this forged receipt to the government, prosecutors filed additional charges of obstruction of justice and making a false statement.
     A federal jury in Sacramento, Calif., acquitted Watters of the original 19 charges, but convicted him of these two new charges under a statute that penalizes anyone who “corruptly … obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.”
     On appeal, Watters challenged the trial court’s explanation in jury instructions that “corruptly” means acting with “consciousness of wrongdoing.” Watters claimed the court should have said “corruptly” means “acting with an evil or wicked purpose,” relying on language from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States.
     A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the conviction Wednesday.
     “Watters is wrong that the case required the district court to define corruptly in the manner he suggests,” Judge John Wallace wrote for the San Francisco-based panel.
     “While the court in Arthur Andersen did observe, citing various dictionaries, that ‘corruptly’ is generally associated with ‘wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil,’ the court’s holding was not that the definition of ‘corruptly’ had to include those words,” Wallace added. “Rather, consideration of the dictionaries was merely a step towards the court’s ultimate conclusion, which was that to act ‘knowingly corruptly’ requires ‘consciousness of wrongdoing.’ Therefore, Arthur Andersen does not require inclusion of the words ‘evil’ or ‘wicked’ when defining ‘corruptly’ in section 1512(b), and certainly cannot be read to require those words in the definition of section 1512(c).”

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