July 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Special Conditions of Release that Affect Employment Require Specific Findings

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Rodebaugh on Tuesday, August 25, 2015.

Dennis Rodebaugh operated a hunting business in Colorado, where he would take mostly out-of-state clients on elk and deer hunting trips through the White River National Forest. Rodebaugh’s business had a high success rate for shooting animals, but at some point officials were tipped off that Rodebaugh was illegally baiting the animals by spreading salt below his deer stands. After a lengthy investigation, he was interviewed by authorities, to whom he eventually confessed that he was baiting the animals and knew it was illegal.

He was indicted on several counts of Lacey Act violations, which Act prohibits selling wildlife taken in violation of state law. Rodebaugh moved to suppress his confession, arguing it was involuntary, but the district court ultimately denied his motion. Rodebaugh also moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing the Colorado regulations against baiting were unconstitutionally vague. The district court denied his motion to dismiss without prejudice but granted leave for Rodebaugh to raise the vagueness issue at trial. During the multi-day trial, Rodebaugh again raised his vagueness argument, but he was ultimately convicted of six Lacey Act violations. The district court applied three sentencing enhancements to arrive at a Guidelines range of 41-51 months. It sentenced him to 41 months imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release, during which time he could not engage in or accompany others in any hunting or fishing activities. Rodebaugh appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Rodebaugh’s contention that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress, arguing that his confession was involuntary and that the district court erred by making him present first at the suppression hearing. The Tenth Circuit examined the circumstances under which Rodebaugh’s confession was obtained and found it fully voluntary. Rodebaugh contended that because he had only slept three hours in the past two days, he should have been allowed to take a nap before talking to the agents, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding record support that it was customary for Rodebaugh to receive little sleep and that he was coherent throughout the interview. The Tenth Circuit also evaluated the circumstances of the interview, including that it lasted only three hours, it was outdoors, and Rodebaugh was free to leave, and found that the circumstances did not support an inference of involuntariness. Next, Rodebaugh urged that his confession was involuntary because an agent told him that if he did not confess they would take his house and all his property away from him. The Tenth Circuit found this statement troubling, but not enough so to render the confession involuntary. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Rodebaugh’s motion to suppress. The Tenth Circuit also rejected Rodebaugh’s argument that the district court erred by making him present first at the suppression hearing, finding it well within the district court’s discretion to determine how best to run the courtroom.

The Tenth Circuit next evaluated and rejected Rodebaugh’s argument that the Colorado law prohibiting baiting was unconstitutionally vague, finding no support for either Rodebaugh’s facial or as-applied challenges. The Tenth Circuit also rejected Rodebaugh’s sufficiency of the evidence challenges, finding that Rodebaugh’s confession, specific testimony from an undercover agent and others, and evidence that he had salt in his home supported his convictions. Rodebaugh also challenged the procedural reasonableness of his sentence, but the Tenth Circuit found support for each of the enhancers applied by the district court.

The Tenth Circuit then turned from the majority opinion to Judge Matheson’s dissent regarding Rodebaugh’s appeal of the special condition of supervised release that prohibited him from any hunting or fishing activities. Judge Matheson noted that the district court failed to make any specific findings about imposing a restriction on Rodebaugh’s employment, which it was required to do. Judge Matheson’s dissent was well-reasoned, noting that although Rodebaugh failed to raise the argument in district court, the government failed to object when Rodebaugh raised it again, and therefore there was no prejudice in addressing the argument. Judge Matheson would have remanded to the district court for further findings on the issue of whether the employment restrictions were warranted. However, the majority opinion resumed, and the majority declined to apply the waiver-of-the-waiver argument championed by Judge Matheson. The majority decided that because Rodebaugh’s main argument against the hunting and fishing prohibition is that it deprived him pleasure, there was no need to discuss employment restrictions, and therefore the district court’s order was affirmed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all counts. Judge Matheson wrote a thoughtful dissent regarding the employment restrictions imposed by the district court.

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