United States v. Rodriguez

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 06-24-2015
  • Case #: 14-10122
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Silverman for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Hurwitz
  • Full Text Opinion

In order to be convicted of a crime that has a requisite mental state of willfulness or reckless disregard for human life, the record must provide sufficient evidence that the defendant acted willfully or with reckless disregard for human life.

Sergio Rodriguez was sentenced to fourteen years in prison after he was convicted of two crimes. The first was for shinning a laser pointer at an aircraft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 39. The second was for attempting to interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft, under 18 U.S.C. §§ 32(a)(5) and (a)(8). This second crime’s mens rea requires either willfulness or a reckless disregard for human life to be proven. Rodriguez was subsequently convicted. Approximately one year later, the Ninth Circuit decided in United States v. Gardenhire, that because the record did not support a finding that Gardenshire acted willfully or recklessly, the panel did not uphold his conviction for attempting to interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed whether or not to overturn Rodriguez’s conviction. The panel held that while the district court did not have Gardenshire at the time they convicted Rodriguez, the conviction should be overturned. The panel reasoned that like Gardneshire, Rodriguez’s record did not provide sufficient evidence to prove that Rodriguez willfully attempted to interfere with the aircraft, or that he was aware of the risk his conduct created. Instead, the panel held that the defendant was simply attempting to see how far his laser would go at night and aimed it at a helicopter. Since there is no evidence that he was trying to interfere with the pilot, his second criminal charge is erroneous. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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