The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Kupfer on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.
Elizabeth Kupfer failed to report over $790,000 in gross income for joint tax returns filed from 2004 to 2006. She was charged with three counts of tax evasion, one for each year, and the jury found her guilty on each of the three counts. She was sentenced to three years in prison. She appealed, arguing (1) the district court’s jury instruction on willfulness was insufficient because it failed to describe particular mental states that did not constitute willfulness, such as negligence, inadvertence, mistake, or accident; (2) the trial court erroneously failed to conduct a hearing based on one juror’s affidavits averring improper conduct by another juror; and (3) the district court improperly increased the offense level based on obstruction of justice for Kupfer’s failure to disclose her crime.
The Tenth Circuit first addressed the jury instructions. The district court correctly instructed the jury that willfulness was required for a finding of guilt, and that willfulness referred to “the voluntary intent to violate a known legal duty.” Kupfer argued that although the instructions were correct as far as they went, they should have gone further and elucidated conduct that does not qualify as willfulness. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. Relying on circuit precedent, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the court’s failure to instruct on what conduct is not considered willful, and found that the district court’s decision was well within its discretion.
Next the Tenth Circuit evaluated the issue of whether the district court erred in failing to conduct a hearing on the juror’s affidavits of another juror’s misconduct. The district court received affidavits from the same juror from both the defense and prosecution, and declined Kupfer’s motions for a hearing and a mistrial. The district court could have reasonably concluded that the two affidavits relayed all the information it would have gleaned from the juror in a hearing, and it was a proper exercise of the court’s discretion to decline to hold a hearing.
The Tenth Circuit then addressed Kupfer’s argument that her sentence was improperly increased. The Tenth Circuit agreed. A defendant cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for failing to report her crime. The Tenth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court but remanded for resentencing.