By Griffin Finan
On November 15th, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the case of Fowler v. United States. http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/11/15/31854.htm The defendant Charles Andrew Fowler was convicted of killing Todd Horner, a Haines City (Florida) Police Officer, with the intent to prevent him from communicating information about a federal offense. Fowler and four others were planning to rob a bank when Fowler stepped out of the car shooting and killing Horner for trying to interfere with his plan to rob a bank with four other men.
The basis of Fowler’s appeal is that the government failed to prove the federal nexus to the murder, that a federal investigation would have been likely and that Horner would have transferred the information to a federal officer or judge. The federal nexus to the murder is an essential element of the statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C).
The Eleventh Circuit held that nothing in the statute requires proof that a federal investigation is ongoing, imminent, or likely. The statute provides that the murder must have been intended to prevent communication relating to the “possible commission” of a federal offense. Fowler’s sufficiency argument is based on an incorrect assertion that the statute requires proof that the victim would have likely communicated information relating to the possible commission of a federal offense to federal authorities. The court also pointed to the fact that eight other circuits have all held under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C) that the government needs to prove only that the defendant intended to prevent the murder victim from potentially communicating with federal law enforcement officials generally about a possible federal offense. It is the defendant’s intent that the court has focused on, not the victim’s.