Defendant Obstructed Second Investigation by Attempting to Obstruct First, Ninth Rules – U.S. v. Manning

December 4, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

Not surprisingly, law enforcement is full of extra penalties for defendants accused of obstructing an investigation. In addition to criminal charges for obstruction of justice or interfering with police work, there is also a sentence enhancement under federal law that adds more time to a sentence when the defendant obstructed the investigation. This normally is applied to a sentence for the crime the defendant is accused of obstructing. But in United States v. Manning, defendant Dale Wayne Manning was accused of obstructing the investigation into his felon in possession of a firearm charges by lying about his possession of firearms while he was on pretrial release for child pornography charges. Manning pleaded guilty to the underlying charge but challenged the sentence enhancement, but the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his intentions were irrelevant; he obstructed both cases.

Manning pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography under circumstances not recorded in the opinion. In March of 2010, he was sentenced to prison, but permitted to stay on pretrial release and make a voluntary surrender in a few months. Later that month, Manning’s pretrial services officer was told that Manning may have had some of his brother’s guns, in violation of his release terms. Manning claimed at first that he’d returned them, but eventually admitted that he kept them past the time when he was legally barred from possessing firearms. A few days later, the officer recommended revocation of Manning’s pretrial release. Manning never showed up for the resulting hearing because he had fled to Mexico. He later pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm; his sentencing for that crime included the enhancement for obstruction.

On appeal, Manning argued that the obstructive acts didn’t qualify for the sentence enhancement, because they were intended to obstruct the investigation into the child pornography case, not the felon in possession case. The Ninth Circuit found his intentions irrelevant. Manning’s firearms possession made him guilty of being a felon in possession, even though they also violated the supervised release for child pornography possession. At the time he took his evasive actions—which included lying about the possession, reacquiring one gun, fleeing to Mexico and failing to appear at his hearing—he was under an active investigation for firearms possession. Thus, the court said, he was obstructive “with respect to the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing” of the felon in possession charge. Furthermore, the court said, a subsequent confession does not render false statements immaterial despite an Eighth Circuit decision otherwise.

Child pornography sentences are already very high. Even a casual review of child pornography appellate cases shows that many appeals focus on sentencing, because of the high sentences and frequent application of enhancements. Even without a second crime, Manning was likely facing a long sentence. It’s interesting to me, however, that the second crime was something that’s routinely applied to everyone convicted of a felony crime: bars on possession of a firearm. Many defendants object to this restriction, finding it an unreasonable limitation on their Second Amendment rights. Without having actually hurt anyone, Manning was breaking the law just because he never returned his brother’s guns; he may have fled just because he was scared of the consequences of this. That’s why it’s so vital to ensure that people facing criminal charges have an experienced attorney to help them understand their rights and legal duties,

Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients across the United States who are accused of serious cyber crimes. We offer free, confidential case evaluations to all potential clients. To learn more or tell us your story, call us 24 hours a day and seven days a week at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.

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