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United States v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 28, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHANNON DALE SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before SMITH, OWEN, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

          JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge

         Shannon Smith pleaded guilty of interstate communications with intent to extort in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(b). A jury found him guilty of possession of firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence ("COV"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). He appeals the district court's inclusion of the government's requested jury instruction and challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. We affirm.

          I.

         Smith decided to extort money from the Boardmans, a local wealthy family. Smith called Boardman, told Boardman he was being watched, and directed him to a note on his door, instructing him to place $525, 000 in cash or gold coins in a duffel bag and await further instructions. The note warned that Boardman, his wife, and his granddaughter were being watched and that someone would be taken should he try to contact the police. Boardman informed his friend, a retired state trooper, who contacted law enforcement.

         Two days later, Smith called again, graphically threatening Boardman's granddaughter. That evening, Smith made two more threatening phone calls. Later, during the fourth call of the day, Smith directed Boardman to leave the duffel bag filled with money on the east side of a barn. The final call confirmed that Boardman had received the instructions and threatened that "there would be hell to pay" should there be a GPS tracker or a dye pack in the bag.

         That evening, officers drove Boardman's car to the drop site and placed the duffel bag at the barn per Smith's instructions. Six officers patrolled the area while others conducted aerial surveillance. Smith approached the barn in his vehicle and, exiting with his fourteen-year-old son, shined a spotlight in the area of the drop location, whereupon the officers arrested them.

         Smith informed the officers that he was armed, and they found a Glock, Model 23, .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol on his person. A Rock River Arms .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle and a Ruger .22 caliber rifle were in Smith's truck. Although Smith told the officers he was hunting coyotes and an owl with his son, he later confessed to the extortion and that he was at the barn to see whether Boardman had left the money. He stated, however, that his son did not know of the extortion and that he did not plan to retrieve the bag at that time.

          A federal indictment charged Smith under 18 U.S.C. § 875(b) for making threatening interstate communications with the intent to extort (Count One) and under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a COV (Count Two). Smith pleaded guilty to Count One and proceeded to trial on Count Two. After the government's case in chief, the court denied Smith's motion for judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a) that claimed there was no evidence demonstrating the firearms were used in furtherance of the extortion.

         Smith presented evidence that he frequently carried the Glock when he left the house and that he used it for personal protection, not for hunting. He did not renew his motion for acquittal at the close of all the evidence.

         The prosecution requested that a sentence be added to the end of the Fifth Circuit pattern jury instruction stating, "It is not necessary to prove that the defendant intended to possess the firearm in furtherance of the defendant's commission of the crime charged in Count One." The prosecution stated that that would clarify that the scienter requirement was knowledge, not intent. Smith objected that the government must show specific intent that the weapons further the crime, but the court included the sentence. The jury found Smith guilty on Count Two.

         II.

         The court charged the jury using the Fifth Circuit pattern jury instruction with the government's requested additional sentence. To prove the possession was "in furtherance, " the instructions directed the jury that "the government must prove that the defendant possessed a firearm that furthers, advances, or helps forward the crime of violence."[1] That was followed by the government's requested sentence: "It is not necessary ...


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