August 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Obstruction of Justice Conviction Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Ahrensfield on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

The defendant, Brad Ahrensfield, was a former Albuquerque police officer who was convicted of obstructing justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). Ahrensfield’s teenage son worked for Car Shop, a business owned by Shawn Bryan. Car Shop and Bryan were the targets of an investigation by the FBI and Albuquerque police, following information from a confidential informant that Car Shop employees purchased stolen merchandise and sold drugs and that Bryan was the leader. An officer who was friends with Ahrensfield told him about the investigation because he was concerned about the son’s safety. Ahrensfield then told Bryan his shop was the target of an investigation and he was the suspected ringleader. Bryan then contacted the Albuquerque sheriff and police department commander to ask why he was under investigation and told them the defendant had told him about it. The investigation was dropped at that point.

The defendant was charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI. During his first trial, he was acquitted of making false statements but the jury did not reach a verdict on obstruction of justice. Before the second trial, Ahrensfield argued the Double Jeopardy Clause precluded the government from introducing any evidence regarding the false statements because he had been acquitted of that charge by the jury in the first trial. The district court denied his motion. The Tenth Circuit upheld the admission of testimony regarding his false statements because the evidence was admitted as proof of his guilty knowledge, not because it was a required element of the offense of obstruction of justice. “Where the government is not required to prove the offered evidence relating to the prior acquittal beyond a reasonable doubt, ‘the collateral-estoppel component of the Double Jeopardy Clause is inapposite.’”

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss during his second trial based on alleged Brady violations. During that trial, the government impeached Bryan through transcripts of an interview he gave the FBI after the first trial. Defense counsel said he had not been given the transcript or a copy of the recording and did not know Bryan had been interviewed after the first trial. The court gave him time to review the transcript and he extensively cross-examined Bryan. The next day, the government produced a transcript of a call between Bryan and the FBI. The district court denied his renewed motion to dismiss and instead allowed him to recall the FBI agent for further cross-examination as part of the government’s case. He did so and effectively cross-examined the FBI agent using the transcript. After the jury convicted the defendant, the defense discovered it had not received a laboratory report of analysis of the drugs purchased by the confidential informant from a Car Shop mechanic.

The Tenth Circuit found that while the transcripts were suppressed by the government and were favorable to the defendant, they were not material. The lab report was neither favorable nor material, so the court found no Brady violation.

The court affirmed the conviction as there was a nexus between the defendant’s conduct and interference with the official proceeding.

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