United States v. Shusta Gumbs (11th Cir. July 2020)

The Federal Docket

Jury Instructions – A jury instruction is proper if it covers the substance of a defendant’s proposed instruction, and words with common meanings, used in the common way, do not need to be specifically defined for the jury.

Jury Instructions/Lesser Included – A district court does not need to include a lesser included offense if a conviction for the lesser offense necessarily means a conviction for the greater offense.

Jury Instructions/Supplemental Instructions – A district court does not err if it repeats certain portions of of its jury instructions in response to a jury’s question.

Sufficiency of the Evidence – There is sufficient evidence to support a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 111(b) if a defendant speeds away in his car while officers are reaching into the car, if the car is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to another, if the car does in fact cause serious injury, and if there is evidence of obstruction and resisting arrest.

Shusta Gumbs was convicted of two counts of using a deadly weapon to forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with a federal officer under 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) and (b). Gumbs was a fugitive on the run. When U.S. Marshals caught up to him, he was able to escape them in his car, hitting one officer and nearly striking three others. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 235 months’ imprisonment.

Gumbs appealed, arguing that the district court erred when it refused to give his requested jury instructions, when it responded to the jury’s question, and when it denied his motion for judgment of acquittal.

The Government argued at trial that Gumbs forcibly assault the officer with a deadly weapon, namely his car. Gumbs argued that the district court should have included his requested instructions defining the term “forcibly” and “deadly weapon,” which the defendant argued did not include a car that was being used “simply as a mode of transportation.” The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to give the instructions because the subject matter of Gumbs’s proposed instruction “was substantially covered by other instructions.” The Court noted that the district court’s instruction “that a forcible assault ‘includes any intentional display of force’” was an adequate alternative to Gumbs’s proposed instruction “that ‘forcibly’ means the intentional use or threatened use of physical force.”

The Court also held that, because § 111 is a statute of general intent, the district court was under no obligation to give the jury Gumbs’s proposed instruction that “’the defendant must use [his car] as a deadly or dangerous weapon and not simply as a mode of transportation.’” The Court held that, under the common meanings of the words of the statute, there was no “need to give the separate definition proposed by Gumbs.” The Court further held that the substance of Gumbs’s instruction was covered by the district court’s instruction.

The Court also held that “the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing Gumbs’s lesser included offense instruction” of simple assault because, “if the jury were to find the elements of simple assault, then it would also have to find the elements of forcible assault with a deadly weapon.” The Court noted that, because Gumbs was either “guilty of the charged offense or not guilty at all,” Gumbs was not entitled to have a lesser included instruction.

Gumbs also challenged the district court’s response to a jury question regarding whether a car is a deadly weapon if it wasn’t intended to be used that way. The court declined to give Gumbs’ proposed responses, which addressed the the knowing and willful elements, and instead repeated its instruction on deadly weapons. The Court held that the district court did not err in its response to the jury’s question since it “simply reread the relevant portions of the jury instructions” and the response did not confuse the jury or misstate the law.

The Court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support Gumbs’s § 111(b) conviction. The Court noted that, not only did Gumbs admit his guilt of obstruction and resistance at trial, the evidence showed that Gumbs sped off as officers reached into his car to grab him, Gumbs’s car was capable of causing serious bodily injury or death, and Gumbs did in fact cause serious injury.

Appeal from the Northern District of Georgia

Opinion by Luck, joined by W. Pryor and J. Pryor

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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