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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

Opinion

 [*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)

Disposition: VACATED AND REMANDED IN PART; AFFIRMED IN PART.

CORE TERMS

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