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U.S. v. BRILEY, NO. 13-4831

Decided: October 22, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed Jay Briley’s (“Briley”) conviction on two felony counts and one misdemeanor count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 111(a) by causing injury to Federal Park Officers (“Officers”) during their official duties. The Court held that the Government did not have to prove an “assault” occurred to obtain a conviction under § 111(a). The Court also held that the district court erred when it allowed the introduction of evidence of Briley’s “other bad acts” to convict him for misdemeanor disorderly conduct. However, the Court found that the error was harmless, and affirmed that conviction as well.

In January 2012, two Officers who were patrolling a national park in Virginia discovered Briley and another man in Briley’s car about to engage in “sexual relations.” The two Officers asked Briley to exit the vehicle but he refused, which led to a struggle between Briley and the Officers. Finally, with the help of two other Park Officers, who arrived during the struggle, Briley was removed from the car and placed under arrest. After a trial, Briley was convicted on three counts of injuring various Park Officers, and one count of disorderly conduct. On the disorderly conduct charge, the district court allowed the Government to introduce evidence of a subsequent incident where Park Officers arrested Briley under similar circumstances. During this subsequent arrest, however, Briley did not act violently.

The Court first reasoned that the Government was not required to prove an “assault” occurred to obtain a conviction under § 111(a) because doing so would render the statute superfluous. Section 111 imposes penalties in varying degrees for a person who “forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with” a federal officer. While the specific penalty depends on the severity of the crime committed, each penalty referred back to these previously mentioned “violative acts.” Therefore, Briley could be held liable under § 111(a) for committing any of the six violative acts, including, but not limited to, an assault.

The Court also reasoned that Briley’s subsequent arrest was improperly admitted into evidence by the district court, under Federal Rule of Evidence (F.R.E.) 404(b), to support the disorderly conduct charge because Briley did not act violently during the subsequent arrest. F.R.E. Rule 404(b) evidence can be introduced as evidence of other bad acts but not to show that the defendant has a “propensity” to break the law. In this case, there was no evidence that Briley was violent during the subsequent arrest. The error in admitting this subsequent arrest was harmless, however, because the Government only needed to prove to the jury that Briley knew his conduct was “inappropriate.” Other evidence that the Government introduced at trial satisfied this “modest bar[,]” and so the Court affirmed Briley’s convictions.

Full Opinion

James Bull Sterling