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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

High Court to Tackle|2 New Criminal Cases

(CN) - The nation's high court on Monday agreed to take up two criminal cases: Tolentino v. New York and Fowler v. United States.

The first case involves a driver who was pulled over for playing his music too loudly. The officer ran a check of Jose Tolentino's DMV files and discovered that not only was his license suspended, but it had also been suspended at least 10 times prior.

Tolentino was arrested and charged with first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He pleaded guilty in exchange for five years' probation.

He later appealed, claiming his driving record should have been suppressed, because the police stop and subsequent DMV record search were illegal.

New York's highest court disagreed and upheld his sentence, a decision the Supreme Court has agreed to review.

In Fowler v. United States, Charles Andrew Fowler claimed the government lacked the evidence to prove that he murdered a police officer to prevent him from communicating information about a federal offense to a federal law enforcement officer or judge.

Fowler shot and killed Todd Horner for trying to interfere with his plan to rob a bank with four other men. Horner had approached Fowler's accomplices as they sat in a stolen Oldsmobile, decked out in black clothes and gloves. Fowler, who had stepped out of the car to use cocaine, snuck up behind Horner, grabbed his gun, forced him to get on his knees and shot him in the back of the head.

One of Fowler's accomplices later implicated him in the murder, and a jury convicted Fowler of killing Horner with the intent to prevent him from communicating information about a federal offense. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 10 years.

He claimed the government failed to prove the federal nexus to the murder: that a federal investigation would have been likely, and that Horner would have transferred the information to a federal officer or judge.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said Fowler "misperceives the requirements of the statute."

"Nothing in [the law] requires proof that a federal investigation is ongoing, imminent, or likely," the court ruled. "To the contrary, the statute explicitly provides that the murder must have been intended to prevent communication relating to the 'possible commission' of a federal offense." (Emphasis in original.)

The high court granted certiorari on Monday, agreeing to consider Fowler's appeal.

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