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U.S. v. BAREFOOT, NO. 13-4108

Decided: June 9, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decisions to deny Charles Barefoot’s motion to represent himself at trial; to admit into evidence proof of Barefoot’s involvement in a previous murder; and to uphold Barefoot’s convictions for receiving explosives, and soliciting an associate to help use those explosives to blow up a courthouse, because the government presented sufficient evidence to support those convictions.  Conversely, the Court reversed the district court’s decisions to deny Barefoot’s motion to dismiss charges for improperly storing explosives (Count Five), and providing explosives to a minor (Count Six), which the Government had brought in violation of Barefoot’s plea agreement.  However, these dismissals, the Court ultimately denied Barefoot’s appeal for resentencing.

Based on a tip from an informant, police stopped and searched Barefoot’s van for weapons.  Inside the van, police found two handguns, and later they found more guns, Ku Klux Klan material, and material used for making explosives at Barefoot’s home.  Police also searched the home of Barefoot’s son, Daniel, where they found more explosives, which Daniel said Barefoot had given him.  Barefoot was indicted on one count for his possession of a firearm, and subsequently entered into a plea agreement with the Government whereby he pled guilty to that charge in exchange for the Government’s agreement “not to use any information provided by [Barefoot] . . . to prosecute him for additional crimes, except for crimes of violence[.]”  However, based on police discussions with Barefoot, and upon further investigation, the Government learned about Barefoot’s involvement in several other crimes of violence.  The Government found evidence that Barefoot had been involved in the murder of a fellow clansman, the theft of over thirty weapons, the receipt of explosives with the intent to use them to bomb a courthouse, and the solicitation of an associate to help bomb the local courthouse.

The Court reasoned that the district court did not abuse its discretion by ruling that, given all of the circumstances, Barefoot was not mentally competent to represent himself at trial.  The district court did not err when it considered a psychiatric evaluation from the prior year because, even if that report alone was not enough to prove Barefoot’s competency, the district court also relied on its personal observations of Barefoot, and the lack of evidence Barefoot presented to prove his competency.

The Court also reasoned that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of Barefoot’s involvement in a discussion that led to the murder of a fellow clansman as a “prior bad act.”  Barefoot’s prior bad act showed his intent to kill a fellow clansmen, and because that plan was executed, it increased the likelihood that in the “analogous situation” where Barefoot solicited an associate to help him bomb a courthouse, he actually had the intent to follow through with the bombing.  Additionally, the district court on multiple occasions gave the jury limiting instructions on the purpose of the murder evidence.

Finally, the Court agreed with the district court that the Government had presented sufficient evidence to prove Barefoot had received explosives with the intent “to use [them] for prohibited purposes[,]” and that the Government had presented sufficient evidence to prove Barefoot had actually solicited his associate to help him use the explosives to blow up the courthouse.  Based on the timeframe that Barefoot acquired the explosives, and then solicited his associate, the Government was able to prove his mal intent.  Although Barefoot never solicited his associate by “just ask[ing]” for help with the bombing, ample testimony existed to prove he “endeavored to persuade” his associate throughout the conversation.  Further, even if Barefoot only requested help with transportation to the courthouse, and not actually setting off the bomb, his associate would still have been liable as a principal for “aid[ing] and abet[ing]” in the crime.

The Court reversed the district court’s verdicts on Counts Five and Six because those charges violated the “use immunity” the Government agreed to grant Barefoot in his plea agreement.  The Court interpreted use immunity to include direct, and “derivative use immunity[,]” so that the Government should not have been allowed to make indirect use of Barefoot’s statements in connection to his plea agreement to charge him with other related non-violent crimes.  The Government violated the plea agreement with the Count Five conviction, which was a non-violent misdemeanor.  The Court declined to definitively rule whether the Count Six conviction constituted a violent crime, but reasoned that the ambiguity should favor Barefoot, and so it reversed the Count Six conviction as well.

Although the Court reversed Barefoot’s convictions for Counts Fix and Six, it denied his appeal for resentencing because the convictions “had no material effect on his sentence.”  The Court noted that the Count Six conviction ran concurrently with other convictions, and the Count Fix conviction was for a misdemeanor offense.

Full Opinion

James Bull Sterling