Oral argument: Mar. 29, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Apr. 14, 2010)
FEDERAL TAMPERING LAW, FEDERALISM, CRIMINAL LAW, FEDERAL CRIMINAL JURISDICTION
Petitioner Charles Fowler murdered a local police officer after the officer approached him and his associates, who were preparing to rob a bank. Fowler was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C), which makes it a federal crime to murder a witness to a federal crime with the intent of preventing that witness from communicating with federal law enforcement officials. Fowler challenged his conviction, arguing that the government did not show with sufficient certainty that the officer he murdered was reasonably likely to communicate with federal authorities, had he not been killed. Fowler asserts that failing to require the government to show at least a reasonable likelihood of such communication is inconsistent with the statutory language, and would disrupt the balance between state and federal criminal jurisdiction. The United States responds that requiring such a standard would undermine the statute’s purpose of maintaining the integrity of the federal justice system, and that allowing a lower standard will not disrupt the state-federal balance. The Supreme Court’s decision will clarify the standard the government must meet in prosecuting Section 1512(a)(1)(C) violations, and resolve uncertainty among the circuit courts on this point.