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To sustain an aiding and abetting conviction, the court requires evidence showing that a principal offense has been committed - including requiring evidence that some principal had the requisite intent.
Defendant-appellant Ronald Fulbright ("Fulbright") is a Montana farmer who experienced some financial reverses. When his creditors sought foreclosure, he sought bankruptcy protection. When these efforts failed, Fulbright mailed a series of documents to United States Bankruptcy Judge John Peterson. Among the documents mailed by Fulbright was a "Notice and Demand for Declaration of Judge's Impartiality" and a "Citizens' Arrest Warrant for Citizens' Arrest." The notice "charged" Judge Peterson with numerous "crimes," including sedition, high treason, bank fraud, and armed robbery. The "warrant" purportedly authorized peace officers to somehow arrest Judge Peterson. Before Fulbright mailed either of these documents, Judge Peterson recused himself from further participation in Fulbright's bankruptcy matters. On April 16, 1993, shortly after the recusal, Fulbright mailed the "Notice" to Judge Peterson. Several weeks later, on June 2, 1993, Fulbright filed the "Warrant" in bankruptcy court. On May 10, 1993, after the "Notice" was mailed but before the "Warrant" was filed, Fulbright's bankruptcy case was dismissed. Fulbright was indicted for conspiracy to impede or injure federal officers under 18 U.S.C. § 372 (Count I) and for obstruction of justice by intimidating or injuring federal officers (Count II), and aiding and abetting the obstruction of justice (Count III), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503. At his jury trial, Fulbright took the stand in his own defense, admitted the mailings, but claimed that he had not intended to intimidate or harass Judge Peterson: "I was just trying to get a farm foreclosure action hopeful remedied." Fulbright was convicted and later sentenced to a 27-month prison term, and a 3-year period of supervised release. Fulbright appealed, claiming a series of errors in the conduct of his trial and the calculation of his sentence.
Was Fulbright’s conviction of aiding and abetting the obstruction of justice proper?
The court affirmed the conviction on count I, vacated count II, reversed on count III, and remanded for resentencing under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2A2.4. The court held that error in instructions given to the jury was harmless or not plainly erroneous. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the conspiracy conviction. The court held the jury could not have convicted Fulbright for obstruction of justice on the basis of the documents sent to the judge after the bankruptcy proceeding ended. The court also agreed that the district court erred in using U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2J1.2 to calculate sentence because Fulbright’s conduct was more analogous to impeding a federal officer than to obstructing justice.