[ Rehnquist ]
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
ARTHUR ANDERSEN LLP v. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
As Enron Corporations financial difficulties became public, petitioner, Enrons auditor, instructed its employees to destroy documents pursuant to its document retention policy. Petitioner was indicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(2)(A) and (B), which make it a crime to knowingly corruptly persuad[e] another person with intent to cause that person to withhold documents from, or alter documents for use in, an official proceeding. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the District Courts jury instructions properly conveyed the meaning of corruptly persuades and official proceeding in §1512(b); that the jury need not find any consciousness of wrongdoing in order to convict; and that there was no reversible error.
Held: The jury instructions failed to convey properly the elements of a corrup[t] persuas[ion] conviction under §1512(b). Pp. 612.
(a) This Courts traditional restraint in assessing federal criminal statutes reach, see, e.g., United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593, 600, is particularly appropriate here, where the act underlying the convictionpersua[sion]is by itself innocuous. Even persuad[ing] a person with intent to cause that person to withhold testimony or documents from the Government is not inherently malign. Under ordinary circumstances, it is not wrongful for a manager to instruct his employees to comply with a valid document retention policy, even though the policy, in part, is created to keep certain information from others, including the Government. Thus, §1512(b)s knowingly corruptly persuades phrase is key to what may or may not lawfully be done in the situation presented here. The Government suggests that knowingly does not modify corruptly persuades, but that is not how the statute most naturally reads. [K]nowledge and knowingly are normally associated with awareness, understanding, or consciousness, and corrupt and corruptly with wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil. Joining these meanings together makes sense both linguistically and in the statutory scheme. Only persons conscious of wrongdoing can be said to knowingly corruptly persuad[e]. And limiting criminality to persuaders conscious of their wrongdoing sensibly allows §1512(b) to reach only those with the level of culpability usually required to impose criminal liability. See Aguilar, supra, at 602. Pp. 69.
(b) The jury instructions failed to convey the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing. Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the instructions required. For example, the jury was told that, even if petitioner honestly and sincerely believed its conduct was lawful, the jury could convict. The instructions also diluted the meaning of corruptly such that it covered innocent conduct. The District Court based its instruction on the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction for §1503, which defined corruptly as knowingly and dishonestly, with the specific intent to subvert or undermine the integrity of a proceeding. However, the court agreed with the Governments insistence on excluding dishonestly and adding the term impede to the phrase subvert or undermine, so the jury was told to convict if it found petitioner intended to subvert, undermine, or impede governmental factfinding by suggesting to its employees that they enforce the document retention policy. These changes were significant. [D]ishonest[y] was no longer necessary to a finding of guilt, and it was enough for petitioner to have simply impede[d] the Governments factfinding ability. Impede has broader connotations than subvert or even undermine, and many of these connotations do not incorporate any corrupt[ness] at all. Under the dictionary definition of impede, anyone who innocently persuades another to withhold information from the Government get[s] in the way of the progress of the Government. With regard to such innocent conduct, the corruptly instructions did no limiting work whatsoever. The instructions also led the jury to believe that it did not have to find any nexus between the persua[sion] to destroy documents and any particular proceeding. In resisting any nexus element, the Government relies on §1512(e)(1), which states that an official proceeding need not be pending or about to be instituted at the time of the offense. It is, however, quite another thing to say a proceeding need not even be foreseen. A knowingly corrup[t] persaude[r] cannot be someone who persuades others to shred documents under a document retention policy when he does not have in contemplation any particular official proceeding in which those documents might be material. Cf. Aguilar, supra, at 599600. Pp. 912.
374 F.3d 281, reversed and remanded.
Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.