January 31, 2015

Tenth Circuit: Insurance Requirement for Parade Not Narrowly Tailored to Serve Government Interest

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in iMatter Utah v. Njord on Monday, December 22, 2014.

iMatter Utah is a voluntary association concerned with climate change that sought to have a parade on State Street in Salt Lake City. The city granted iMatter a permit for the event, conditioned on the group’s ability to obtain an additional permit from the Utah Department of Transportation. Before granting a permit for a parade on a state highway (State Street is considered a state highway for this purpose), the Utah DOT requires applicants to obtain liability insurance coverage with minimums of $1,000,000 per occurrence and $2,000,000 aggregate, and also to sign a waiver of indemnity. iMatter claimed it could not afford the insurance and sought a waiver of the requirement, which the Utah DOT denied. iMatter then sought a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, which was denied. iMatter held its parade anyway, but because it failed to obtain the permit, it could only march on the sidewalks. iMatter held a second parade later that year, again refusing to comply with the insurance and indemnity requirements and again marching on the sidewalks. Another environmental group also held a parade on the sidewalks because it could not afford the cost of insurance. Both groups sued Utah in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, naming several individual defendants and alleging constitutional violations. All parties moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion. Utah appealed on a single question: whether its insurance and indemnification requirements violate the First Amendment.

The Tenth Circuit discussed the First Amendment’s mandate of free speech and the balance allowed for protecting government interests. The parties agreed that State Street is a traditional public forum, and in order for the government to impose restrictions on free speech in a traditional public forum, those restrictions must (1) be justified without reference to the content of the speech, (2) be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, (3) leave open ample alternative channels for the communication, and (4) not delegate overly broad licensing discretion to a government official. iMatter brought facial and as-applied challenges to Utah’s insurance and indemnity requirements. The Tenth Circuit addressed the as-applied challenge first.

iMatter argued Utah’s requirements were unconstitutional as applied to its permit application because indigent applicants were not exempt from the requirements. The Tenth Circuit noted a circuit split regarding whether the government must exempt indigent applicants from otherwise constitutional permit requirements, and agreed with the First and Sixth Circuits that the constitution does not require indigency exemptions as long as there are suitable alternative forums for the speech. In the instant case, there was a suitable alternative that iMatter utilized—the sidewalk. Therefore, the as-applied challenge failed.

Turning to the facial challenge, the Tenth Circuit examined Utah’s insurance and indemnification requirements under the four criteria for restrictions on free speech in a traditional public forum. The parties agreed that the restrictions are content-neutral, satisfying the first prong. However, the Tenth Circuit found that Utah could not explain how the requirements were narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. Utah asserted that its insurance and indemnity requirements were necessary to maintain public order and safety, but the Tenth Circuit found no connection between the insurance and maintaining order and safety. As for Utah’s interest in protecting itself from liability, the Tenth Circuit found very little possibility that Utah would be liable for any activity connected with a parade, given the broad scope of Utah’s Governmental Immunity Act. Utah’s insurance requirement is not narrowly tailored to any objective characteristic of a parade, and as such is unconstitutional. The Tenth Circuit next examined Utah’s indemnity requirement and likewise found that it was not narrowly tailored to protect the state from financial liability.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Allowing Recovery for Lost Horses Would Effectively Nullify State Forfeiture Proceeding

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Campbell v. City of Spencer on Tuesday, December 16, 2014.

The City of Spencer, Oklahoma, along with the Town of Forest Park and Blaze Equine Rescue seized 44 emaciated and malnourished horses from Ann Campbell’s three properties pursuant to a search warrant issued for one of the properties. The City and Town filed a joint petition in Oklahoma County District Court for forfeiture of the horses as a remedy for animal abuse. During the forfeiture proceeding, Campbell did not raise any argument regarding the scope of the search warrant. The court granted the forfeiture petition, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Campbell subsequently filed a § 1983 action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, claiming that the municipalities and Blaze had violated the Fourth Amendment in two ways: (1) by withholding from the search warrant information about Campbell’s plan to reduce the number of horses, and (2) by searching the two locations not listed on the warrant. The municipalities filed motions to dismiss on preclusion grounds, since Campbell did not raise her arguments in the state forfeiture proceeding. Blaze filed a motion for summary judgment on preclusion grounds. The district court granted the motions. Campbell appealed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding the exclusionary rule applied in Oklahoma state forfeiture proceedings and Campbell could have raised her claims in that proceeding. Campbell asserted that the state court judge refused to consider the legality of the evidence, but the Tenth Circuit reviewed the record and  found no evidence of such refusal. Campbell also suggested that suppression issues could not be raised in state court proceedings, which was an incorrect understanding of the law. Because of its conclusion that Campbell could have raised her claims in state court, the Tenth Circuit next considered whether allowing her to pursue the claims in federal court would nullify the original proceeding. The Tenth Circuit could not state with certainty whether barring the suppression would nullify the forfeiture proceeding, but found that allowing Campbell to pursue her claims would impermissibly impair the municipalities’ rights as established in the state court. The Tenth Circuit noted that allowing Campbell to recover the value of the lost horses would suggest the invalidity of the state court’s forfeiture order, and declined to allow recovery.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal as to the municipalities and grant of summary judgment as to Blaze.

Tenth Circuit: § 1983 Challenges Unlikely to Succeed on Merits; Stay of Execution Denied

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Warner v. Gross on Monday, January 12, 2015.

In early 2014, Oklahoma changed its execution procedure for lethal injections due to the state’s inability to obtain two of the drugs previously used. In April 2014, Clayton Lockett was the first Oklahoma state prisoner to be executed using the new procedures, and his execution did not go smoothly. The IV used to deliver the lethal drug cocktail infiltrated, or leaked into his tissue instead of delivering the drugs to his veins. He experienced unusual effects from the lethal injection but eventually died anyway. After Lockett’s execution, the state developed new protocols for lethal injections, including establishing two viable IV sites and using various combinations of drugs, including midazolam, a sedative.

In November 2014, four inmates with scheduled execution dates as soon as January 15, 2015, among a group of twenty-one Oklahoma death row inmates, filed a § 1983 lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s new lethal injection procedure. Their complaint alleged eight counts, two of which are relevant to their appeal. Count 2 challenges the use of midazolam as violative of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Count 7 also raises an Eighth Amendment claim, asserting that the state is effectively experimenting on unwilling human subjects by using the untested procedure. After a three-day evidentiary hearing, the district court denied plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, concluding the inmates failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits. The plaintiffs appealed as to Count 2 and Count 7, and filed an emergency motion for stay of execution.

The Tenth Circuit conducted an abuse of discretion review and found none. The Tenth Circuit examined the long history of challenges to capital punishment, noting (1) the Supreme Court has never held that capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, (2) the Supreme Court has never invalidated a state’s chosen procedure for carrying out the sentence, (3) there must be some means of carrying out the death sentence, and the Constitution does not demand avoidance of all pain, and (4) a stay of execution may not be granted unless the prisoner demonstrates a substantial risk of severe pain from the state’s chosen lethal injection procedure.

The plaintiffs contested the district court’s finding that the testimony of the defendants’ expert witness, Dr. Roswell Lee Evans, the Dean of the School of Pharmacy at Auburn University, was persuasive. The Tenth Circuit examined Dr. Evans’s credentials and found him to be well-qualified to render an expert opinion on the effects of midazolam. The plaintiffs also argued that the district court misapplied Supreme Court precedent in Baze v. Rees, 533 U.S. 35 (2008). The Tenth Circuit disagreed, instead concluding that the plaintiffs failed to show that midazolam created a risk of extreme pain.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion for preliminary injunction. In a footnote, the Tenth Circuit added that, in “an abundance of caution,” the opinion was circulated to all the judges prior to publication, and no judge requested en banc review.

Tenth Circuit: Constitutional Claims Impermissible in Sentence Reduction Hearing

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Gay on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

In 1998, Alondo Gay was indicted on eight counts, including having distributed 245.3 grams of cocaine base. He pled guilty to that charge in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges. The probation office prepared a presentence report using the 1998 sentencing guidelines, which held Mr. Gay accountable for 9,636.88 grams of cocaine base. He qualified for a base offense level of 38. The final PSR added four additional levels for a total offense level of 42. Initially, Mr. Gay objected to several factual findings in the PSR, but withdrew his factual objections at the sentencing hearing for a 3-level reduction. His guidelines sentencing range was 262 to 327 months’ imprisonment, and he was sentenced to 262 months.

In 2007, the Sentencing Commission adopted Amendment 706, which reduced the sentencing disparity between cocaine base and cocaine powder from a 100:1 ratio to a 33:1 ratio. In 2008, Amendment 706 was made retroactively applicable. Then, in August 2010, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, which further reduced the sentencing disparity ratio to 18:1. The Sentencing Commission adopted another retroactive amendment in response to the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the offense levels for offenses involving between 2.8 and 8.4 kg of cocaine base from 38 to 36.

In light of the sentencing changes, Mr. Gay filed a motion under § 3582(c)(2) to reduce his sentence. The district court denied his motion, finding him ineligible for relief because his sentence was based on a greater quantity of cocaine base than was affected by the amendments. Mr. Gay appealed, contending the application of his sentence under the 100:1 ratio violated his Fifth Amendment Due Process rights, and that the length of his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Tenth Circuit characterized his appeal as an impermissible attempt to collaterally attack his sentence. The only relief allowed in a § 3582(c)(2) proceeding is sentence modification, not argument of constitutional claims. Mr. Gay should have raised his constitutional arguments in direct appeal. The Tenth Circuit conducted a plain error review and found none. Mr. Gay’s sentence was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: SOLSA Encompasses Single Subject of Sex Offender Supervision and is Constitutional

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Montgomery on Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998—Colorado Constitution—Subject Matter—Clear Express Requirement.

Montgomery pleaded guilty in three related criminal cases involving the sexual assault of three children. He was convicted of one count of sexual assault on a child and two counts of sexual assault on a child in a position of trust–pattern of abuse. The trial court sentenced Montgomery under the Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998 (SOLSA) to two consecutive sixteen-years-to-life terms and one consecutive six-years-to-life term, denying Montgomery’s motion for post-conviction relief filed under Crim.P. 35(a).

On appeal, Montgomery argued that his sentence was illegal because SOLSA violates Article V, § 21 of the Colorado Constitution. SOLSA’s single-subject matter is the lifetime treatment and supervision of persons who commit sex offenses. Its goal is to rehabilitate sex offenders while mitigating the dangers they pose to the public when released from incarceration. The matters of sentencing, parole, and probation are properly connected because they are all means of accomplishing SOLSA’s single objective of lifetime supervision of convicted sex offenders. Therefore, SOLSA contains only one subject and, for that reason, does not violate the single-subject requirement. SOLSA is not unconstitutional merely because the terms “sentencing,” “parole,” and “probation” are not mentioned in its title. Accordingly, SOLSA does not violate the clear expression requirement of the Colorado Constitution, and the judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Election Assistance Commission Not Required to Approve State Requests to Amend Voter Registration Form

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kobach v. United States Election Assistance Commission on Friday, November 7, 2014.

The secretaries of state from Arizona and Kansas, Ken Bennett and Kris Kobach, respectively, sought to have the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) add language requiring documentary proof of citizenship to each state’s instructions on the federal voter registration form. The EAC concluded the additional language was unnecessary and denied their requests. Kobach and Bennett filed suit in federal district court challenging the denial, and the district court held the EAC had a nondiscretionary duty to grant their requests.

The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s reasoning, holding that the district court’s decision is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2247 (2013) (ITCA). Justice Thomas’ dissent in ITCA endorsed the theory brought to the Tenth Circuit by Arizona and Kansas in this appeal, thus clearly explaining what the law does not provide. The EAC had valid authority to subdelegate decision-making authority to its Executive Director relating to the contents of the federal form. Under the unique circumstances of this case, an appeal from the Executive Director’s decision denying the requests to modify the federal form was impracticable, and consequently the decision qualifies as a final agency action, which was procedurally valid. The National Voter Registration Act’s requirements do not impose a ministerial duty on the EAC to approve state requests to change the form.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded with instructions for the district court to vacate its order mandating EAC modifications to the federal form.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Injury Sufficient to Establish Taxpayer Standing for “Colorado Day of Prayer” Suit

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. on Monday, November 24, 2014.

Preference Clause of Colorado Constitution—Taxpayer Standing—Individual Standing.

In this case, the Supreme Court determined whether respondents, Freedom from Religion Foundation and four of its Colorado members, have standing to sue Governor John Hickenlooper for issuing annual honorary proclamations recognizing a “Colorado Day of Prayer.” The Court held that the use of public funds to cover the incidental overhead costs associated with issuing the honorary proclamations does not, by itself, constitute an injury sufficient to establish taxpayer standing. Furthermore, the psychic harm endured by respondents as a result of media coverage revealing the existence of the honorary proclamations does not, by itself, constitute an injury sufficient to establish individual standing. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case with instructions to return the case to the trial court for dismissal.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Inmate’s Challenge to DOC Policies Not Barred by 30-Day Claims Limit

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Garcia v. Harms on Thursday, November 6, 2014.

Timely Filing—Code of Penal Discipline Claim.

Garcia was charged with assault under the Code of Penal Discipline (COPD) after a corrections officer accidentally pricked herself on a sewing needle he kept in his cell. Garcia was not present at the time, but he was charged and found culpable and disciplined. He was also required to pay restitution.

Garcia challenged his conviction, claiming: (1) his disciplinary hearing did not comply with constitutional due process requirements; (2) the COPD definition of “assault” was unconstitutionally vague on its face as applied to him; (3) the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) exceeded its authority when it ordered him to pay restitution; (4) CRS §17-1-111, which exempts CDOC from certain provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, violates constitutional separation of powers principles; and (5) the collection of restitution unjustly enriched CDOC. The district court dismissed Garcia’s complaint—filed nearly two years after his COPD conviction became final—as time-barred under CRCP 106.5.

Garcia challenged the dismissal, except as to claims one and five. He arguedthat claims two through four challenged “CDOC’s establishment of policies and general application of those policies” and not his disciplinary conviction and therefore were not barred under CRCP 106.5. The Court of Appeals agreed as to Garcia’s fourth claim and portions of his second and third claims.

Portions of Garcia’s second and third claims challenged only quasi-judicial action. However, the part of claim two asserting that the COPD definition of assault under which Garcia was convicted was unconstitutionally vague on its face, as well as the portion of claim three asserting the CDOC has adopted a monetary restitution policy that violates the Separation of Powers Clause, are not related to quasi-judicial actions. Also, claim four asserted that CRS §17-1-111 facially violates separation of powers principles. The Court held that these claims were covered by CRS §13-80-102(1)(h) as “actions against any public or governmental entity . . . ” insofar as defendants Governor Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado are concerned, and were subject to the one-year statute of limitations under the exceptions listed in CRS §13-80-103 insofar as CDOC officials and employees were concerned.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order dismissing Garcia’s as applied constitutional challenges in claims two and three and the remaining clams against the executive director of the CDOC, the warden of the Sterling Correctional Facility, the hearing officer who presided over his disciplinary hearing, and two unnamed correctional officers. It reversed the order dismissing Garcia’s fourth claim against Governor Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado. It also reversed the dismissal of Garcia’s facial constitutional challenge against those defendants in claim two and his facial constitutional challenge to CDOC policies in claim three. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of  The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Constitutional Violation for Potentially Traceable Ballots in 2012 Election

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Citizen Center v. Gessler on Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

After the 2012 election, election officials in six Colorado counties — Larimer, Jefferson, Boulder, Chaffee, Eagle, and Mesa — theoretically had the ability to trace votes to individual voters because each ballot had a unique barcode or number, some ballots may have been unique among ballots cast on an electronic voting machine, and some ballots may have been unique within a batch of ballots. Citizen Center, a Colorado nonprofit, sued the secretary of state and the county clerks for the six counties (collectively, “clerks”), asserting that the use of traceable ballots violated its members’ constitutional rights, including the rights to (1) vote, (2) free speech and association, (3) substantive due process, (4) equal protection, and (5) procedural due process. One of the clerks settled with Citizen Center. All clerks moved to dismiss for lack of standing, and the clerks included an alternative argument for dismissal under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). The district court dismissed the claims on standing without reaching the 12(b)(6) argument. Citizen Center appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the clerks’ argument that Citizen Centers’ appeal was moot because the election had already passed, and also because the secretary of state had adopted new regulations banning the challenged practices. The Tenth Circuit found that although the 2012 election had passed, and although the secretary of state had promulgated rules to prevent future traceable ballots, not every harm had been redressed. Next, the Tenth Circuit found that Citizen Center had standing on the parts of the claim related to denial of equal protection and procedural due process, but its alleged injury was too speculative to provide standing. Finally, the Tenth Circuit held that the first amendment complaint failed to state a valid claim against the clerks. These findings resulted in termination of all claims except those against the secretary of state for denial of equal protection and procedural due process.

Addressing the procedural due process claim first, the Tenth Circuit determined that Citizen Center’s claim was facially deficient. Citizen Center lacked a liberty interest in an untraceable ballot. Citizen Center claimed that the use of potentially unique ballots and the use of potentially unique ballots within a batch violated the Colorado Constitution. However, the Constitution only prohibits the use of unique numbers on ballots, and the use of batch numbers is not prohibited, so the secretary of state’s rules requiring numbers to be used on at least 10 ballots within a batch did not violate the Constitution. Because Citizen Center lacked a protected liberty interest, its claims for due process failed as a matter of law.

Next, the Tenth Circuit turned to the Equal Protection claims, which were based on different voting practices in different counties. The Tenth Circuit quickly disposed of this claim as well, finding that clerks within counties were allowed to develop different voting practices, and as long as there was no discrimination between voters in the same county, there was no Equal Protection violation.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claims involving denial of substantive due process, the right to vote, and the right to free speech. For the claims involving procedural due process and equal protection, the Tenth Circuit affirmed on the clerks’ alternate ground under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). However, the secretary of state did not move for dismissal under 12(b)(6), so for the claims against the secretary of state, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Supreme Court: PERA Members Have No Continual Right to Cost of Living Adjustments

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Justus v. State of Colorado on Monday, October 20, 2014.

Colorado Public Employee’s Retirement Association Pension Plan (PERA)—Cost-of-Living Adjustment—Contracts Clauses of U.S. and Colorado Constitutions.

In this decision, the Colorado Supreme Court determined whether Colorado PERA members have contractual rights for life without change to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formulas in place at their respective retirements. On summary judgment, the district court ruled that PERA retirees had no such contract right to an unchangeable COLA formula.

The court of appeals disagreed. It determined that the retirees have a contract right, and remanded for further review to determine whether Senate Bill 10-001 violated the Contract Clauses of the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions.

The Court held that the 2010 PERA legislation did not establish any contract between PERA and its members entitling them to perpetual receipt of the specific COLA formula in place on the date each became eligible for retirement or on the date each actually retires. The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed and the trial court’s summary judgment order dismissing this case was upheld.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Sex Offender Registration Requirements are Necessary and Proper to Regulate Child Pornography

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Brune on Friday, September 19, 2014.

Gustave Wilhelm Brune pleaded guilty in 2001 to possession of child pornography. He served 27-months in federal prison, after which he was placed on supervised release. In 2004, he violated a condition of his release and was incarcerated for an additional 21 months. In 2006, he completed his sentence and was released without supervision but was required to register as a sex offender for life under the Kansas Offender Registration Act (KORA) and the national Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). He was required to keep his registration current under both Acts.

Between 2006 and 2011, Brune repeatedly failed to comply with the registration requirements. After an investigation, federal officials charged Brune with failure to register as a sex offender and obtained an arrest warrant. A search of his home incident to the arrest revealed child pornography images on Brune’s computer and that he had accessed a webpage containing child pornography. He was indicted for failing to register under SORNA and accessing with intent to view child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). He lodged unsuccessful constitutional objections to the charges and eventually pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal. On appeal, he argued (1) the Necessary and Proper clause cannot sustain Congress’s decision to enact SORNA; and (2) the conduct prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(A) is unconstitutionally overbroad.

Addressing the first argument, the Tenth Circuit analyzed the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Kebodeaux, 133 S. Ct. 2496 (2013). In Kebodeaux, the Supreme Court determined that sex offender registration requirements did not violate the Necessary and Proper clause because Congress has the authority to impose punishment for sex offenders and the sex offender registration is necessary and proper to carry out Congress’s power. Applying the Court’s rationale to Brune, the Tenth Circuit found that SORNA survives Brune’s challenge. Brune’s original statute of conviction “plainly withstands constitutional scrutiny as an exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate the interstate trafficking of child pornography. . . . And because the constitutionality of the underlying statute cannot be reasonably questioned, SORNA’s registration requirements are a limited and rational extension of congressional power, as permitted by the Necessary and Proper Clause.”

As to the second argument, Brune asserted that 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(A) is overbroad because it contains the phrase “or any other material that contains an image of child pornography.” Brune argues that anyone who accesses the internet could be subject to prosecution under § 2252A(a)(5)(A) because there is child pornography on the internet. The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument. Read contextually, the meaning of the statute is easy to ascertain. And, even if there were some ambiguity in the meaning of the statute, the court’s preference is always to support the constitutionality of a statute.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denials of Brune’s motions to dismiss.

Tenth Circuit: Threatening Intent Required for Conviction Under Interstate Threat Statute

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Heineman on Monday, September 15, 2014.

Defendant Aaron Heineman, a white supremacist, sent three emails to a professor at the University of Utah in 2010 and 2011. The third email was a poem that made the professor fear for his safety and that of his family. The professor contacted law enforcement, who traced the email to Heineman. When officers contacted Heineman in writing, he immediately responded, “Is this about the email?” He was charged with one count of sending an interstate threat in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Prior to trial, he requested an instruction that he must have intended his communication to be perceived as a threat in order to be convicted, but his request was denied. He then moved to dismiss the charge, arguing the statute was facially unconstitutional if it did not require proof that he intended the communication to place the hearer in fear of bodily harm or death. The court denied this motion. He reasserted his objections at trial, and the court again rejected them. The court concluded that Defendant had knowingly transmitted a communication that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or death. Defendant appealed.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the conviction. After a careful analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), the Tenth Circuit concluded as an issue of first impression that the defendant must intend the communication to be perceived as a threat, regardless of whether he actually carries out the threat. The Tenth Circuit reversed Defendant’s conviction and remanded for determination of intent.