United States v. John Terry Chatman, Jr. (8th Cir. March 2020)

The Federal Docket

March 18, 2020

Obstruction of Justice/Crime of Violence – There was insufficient evidence of the defendant’s intent to prevent a communication regarding the commission of a federal offense to law enforcement where the defendant pulled out a gun and shot at an officer who was shooting him with pepper balls.

The defendant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, obstruction of justice by attempting to kill a witness, and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. On appeal, he argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of obstruction of justice, and therefore insufficient evidence to support the count under 924(c).

Officers had attempted to arrest the defendant outside a gas station. The defendant wouldn’t exit the vehicle he was in, so one officer started shooting him with pepper balls. As the pepper balls struck the victim, the victim pulled out a gun and shot at the officer shooting him, while another officer screamed “He’s got a gun!”

On appeal, the issue was whether, under Fowler v. United States, there was sufficient evidence that there was: 1) a killing or attempted killing, 2) committed with the intent of preventing a communication about the commission of a federal offense to a law enforcement officer or judge. The defendant argued that, in shooting at the officer, he was not acting with the intent of preventing him from communicating to other officers regarding the defendant’s unlawful possession of a firearm.

The Court agreed, noting that there were several factors against finding that the defendant was motivated by trying to stop a communication from the officer to other officers–the defendant was trapped in a van surrounded by officers, he only shot the officer after the officer shot him first, and the defendant screamed that “Y’all are going to have to kill me,” ordered the officers to shoot him, and told him girlfriend “goodbye.” Clearly, the Court held, the defendant shot the officer “out of frustration and retaliation,” not to prevent him from communicating to other officers that the defendant was a felon in possession of a firearm.

Appeal from the Northern District of Oklahoma

Opinion by Kelly, joined by Lucero and Phillips

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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