Decided: April 12, 2016
The Fourth Circuit vacated the lower courts carjacking conviction and remanded with instructions that a judgement of acquittal be entered forthwith.
On April 17, 2014, Defendant, Kenneth Lee Bailey crashed head-on into a stone wall after attempting to flee an attempted traffic stop. The officer who pursued the chase arrived at the scene and, with her gun drawn, ordered Bailey to raise his hands. Hearing cries of a child coming from the crashed vehicle, the officer holstered her weapon and approached the car to see if the child was injured. At that moment Bailey fled on foot to a nearby McDonalds. Bailey, panicked and bloodied, approached Devin Watkins while sitting in his truck and told Watkins that he would pay him for a ride. After refusing Baileys request multiple times and attempting to lock his doors and put the car in reverse, Watkins accidently unlocked the doors and Bailey was able to open the driver’s side back door. Eventually Bailey climbed inside the truck behind Watkins. Bailey told Watkins to “drive, drive, drive, drive,” then placed something “hard and cold” to the back of Watkin’s neck. Believing that Bailey was about to kill him, Watkins placed the truck in park and jumped from the vehicle into some nearby bushes. Bailey eventually abandoned the truck and continued to flee on foot until he was apprehended. On August 27, 2014, after the district court denied Bailey’s motion for judgement of acquittal, the jury found Bailey guilty of carjacking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119. Bailey appealed.
To satisfy the intent element necessary in a charge of carjacking, the government must show that the defendant unconditionally intended to kill or seriously injure the car’s driver or that the defendant possessed a conditional intent to kill or seriously injure the car’s driver should such violence become necessary. Bailey argued that the government failed to present sufficient evidence that he intended to seriously harm or kill Watkins if necessary to take the truck. Citing case from the Fourth Circuit and sister jurisdictions on the matter of sufficiency of evidence challenges, the Court noted that in each case, the evidence of intent was much stronger than the evidence presented to the jury regarding Bailey’s state of mind. Where the defendants in the referenced cases had evidence showing that they threatened their victims with actual weapons, made affirmative threatening statements, and/or physically assaulted their victims, Bailey initially suggested that he would pay Watkins for a ride, and only when Watkins refused did Bailey enter the vehicle, place a “cold and hard” item to Watkins’s neck, and tell him to drive. Furthermore, there was no testimony that Bailey ever had a weapon.
In Holloway v. United States, the Supreme Court explained that “an empty threat, or intimidating bluff, . . . standing on its own, is not enough to satisfy § 2119’s specific intent element.” 526 U.S. 1, 11 (1999). There was no evidence of an actual threat to inflict harm on Watkins. Additionally, Holloway requires factfinders to look “to the defendant’s state of mind at the precise moment he demanded or took control over the car” and instructs that proof of the requisite mens rea can only be satisfied if, at that precise moment, “the defendant possessed the intent to seriously harm or kill the driver if necessary to steal the car.” Id. at 8, 12 (emphasis added). Considering all the testimony, the Court determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Bailey possessed the specific intent to kill or seriously harm Watkins when he took control over Watkin’s truck.
Therefore the Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for entry of a judgment of acquittal.
Aleia M. Hornsby