Law School Case Brief
United States v. Cueto - 151 F.3d 620 (7th Cir. 1998)
In order to establish a violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1503, the government must demonstrate that: (1) there was a pending judicial proceeding; (2) the defendant knew of the proceeding; (3) he influenced, obstructed, or impeded, or endeavored to influence, obstruct or impede the due administration of justice; and (4) he did so corruptly. There must be a nexus between the defendant's efforts and the judicial proceeding sought to be corruptly influenced. However, a defendant's actions need not be successful in order to be prosecuted under the statute. All that is required is that the defendant has knowledge or notice that his actions are likely to affect the just administration of the subject proceedings.
Defendant Amiel Cueto, a lawyer, requested a state court to issue an injunction that effectively stalled a federal gambling and racketeering investigation. A federal court intervened, and the lawyer was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C.S. § 371 and three counts of obstruction of justice under the omnibus clause of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1503. A jury convicted Cueto on all counts, and the district court sentenced Cueto to 87 months' imprisonment and imposed monetary penalties. Cueto appealed his convictions and sentence, arguing that: (1) the conviction for conspiracy to defraud is invalid because of constitutional infirmities as well as insufficiency of the evidence; (2) the convictions for obstruction of justice are also invalid because of constitutional infirmities and insufficiency of the evidence; (3) he is entitled to a new trial because the district court erroneously excluded certain defense evidence; and (4) his sentence should be vacated and remanded because the district court erroneously calculated his sentence.
Was Cueto’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1503 proper?
The appellate court affirmed the convictions because Cueto was not exempt from the law. The court held that a zealous litigator was not protected from criminal prosecution. The court found that Cueto acted intentionally with a corrupt motive to hinder the administration of justice. The court held that the district court correctly applied the sentencing guidelines to impose a stiffer sentence by refusing to group the three offenses of § 1503.
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