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United States v. Van Buren

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

October 10, 2019, Decided

No. 18-12024


 [*1196]  ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judge:

Perhaps Dudley Field Malone said it best when he opined, "One good analogy is worth three hours' discussion."2 Or in this case, 15 pages of discussion. See infra at pp. 9-23.

Take, for example, this case.

"[A] lawsuit before a court" is a pretty big deal to most people. But a generic "question" or "matter," in common usage, maybe not so much.

That impression may change, though, if we clarify [**2]  what we mean by "question" or "matter" in a specific context by analogizing to something else. So if we say that, for our purposes, to qualify as a "question" or a "matter," the question or matter must be of the same significance or scope as "a lawsuit before a court," a person would understand that we are not talking about just any old question or matter; we are referring to only questions or matters on the same scale as "a lawsuit before a court." To use a metaphor, the analogy here is a bridge to understanding.

In this case, though, that bridge was never built. The government charged Nathan Van Buren with honest-services fraud (through bribery) for undertaking an "official act" in his capacity as a police officer, in exchange for money. At the close of the evidence, the district court instructed the  [*1197]  jury that an "official act" is a decision or action on a "question" or "matter." But it did not inform the jury that the "question" or "matter" in this context must be comparable in scope to a lawsuit, hearing, or administrative determination. The jury convicted Van Buren.

Since the jury was not instructed with the crucial analogy limiting the definition of "question" or "matter," and [**3]  because the government itself did not otherwise provide the missing bridge, we cannot be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury convicted Van Buren of the offense that Congress criminalized when it enacted the honest-services-fraud and bribery statutes. For this reason, we must vacate Van Buren's honest-services-fraud conviction and remand for a new trial on that count. Van Buren was also charged with and convicted of computer fraud, and we affirm that conviction.

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940 F.3d 1192 *; 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 30346 **; 28 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 455; 2019 WL 5078229

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, versus NATHAN VAN BUREN, Defendant - Appellant.

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court certiorari granted by Van Buren v. United States, 2020 U.S. LEXIS 2336 (U.S., Apr. 20, 2020)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. D.C. Docket No. 1:16-cr-00243-ODE-JFK-1.

United States v. Van Buren, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29024 (N.D. Ga., Mar. 1, 2017)



official act, lawsuit, convicted, district court, public official, computer fraud, bribery, tag, administrative determination, governmental powers, recordings, questions, database, requested instruction, computer-fraud, instructions, good-faith, qualify, instruct a jury, honest-services-fraud, honest-services, conversation, searched, jury instructions, financial gain, new trial, analogy, woman, plate number, misdemeanor

Criminal Law & Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, De Novo Review, Jury Instructions, Sufficiency of Evidence, Conclusions of Law, Bribery, Public Officials, Elements, Reversible Error, Harmless & Invited Error, Harmless Error, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Fraud, Computer Fraud, Jury Instructions, Particular Instructions, Lesser Included Offenses, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Right to Confrontation, Trials, Defendant's Rights