FOWLER v. U.S.
131 S.Ct. 2045 (2011)
Charles Andrew FOWLER, aka Man, Petitioner,
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued March 29, 2011.
Decided May 26, 2011.
Neal Kumar Katyal, Acting Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Sarah E. Harrington, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Kirby A. Heller, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for United States.
Justice BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.
The federal witness tampering statute makes it a crime "to kill another person, with intent to . . . prevent the communication by any person to a law enforcement officer . . . of the United States" of "information relating to the . . . possible commission of a Federal offense." 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C). We focus on instances where a defendant killed a person with an intent to prevent that person from communicating with law enforcement officers in general but where the defendant did not have federal law enforcement officers (or any specific individuals) particularly in mind. The question before us concerns what, if anything, the Government must show beyond this broad in-definite intent in order to show that the defendant more particularly intended to prevent communication with federal officers as well. We hold that, in such circumstances, the Government must show that there was a reasonable likelihood that a relevant communication would have been made to a federal officer.I
In the early morning hours of March 3, 1998, Charles Fowler and several other men prepared to rob a Florida bank. They met in a cemetery, put on black clothes and gloves, began to drink and use drugs, and discussed the proposed crime. Shortly before daybreak a local police officer, Todd Horner, came upon the group. He pulled out his gun and asked the men to identify themselves. Fowler and some of the others managed to overcome Horner and take his gun. After Horner spoke to one of the men by name, Fowler said, "Now we can't walk away from this thing." App. 38 (internal quotation marks omitted). And he shot and killed Horner.
Federal authorities charged Fowler with violating the federal witness tampering statute. He was convicted. On appeal, Fowler argued that the evidence was insufficient to show that he had killed Horner intending to prevent Horner from communicating with a federal officer. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. It held that a showing of a "possible or potential communication to federal authorities" was sufficient. 603 F.3d 883, 888 (2010). Fowler sought certiorari. And because the Circuits have disagreed about this last-mentioned matter, we granted Fowler's petition for certiorari. Compare United States v. Harris, 498 F.3d 278, 286 (C.A.4 2007) ("So long as the information the defendant seeks to suppress actually relates to the commission or possible commission of a federal offense, the federal nexus requirement is established"), with United States v. Lopez, 372 F.3d 86, 91-92 (C.A.2 2004), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 544 U.S. 902, 125 S.Ct. 1613, 161 L.Ed.2d 273 (2005) (requiring Government to show federal crime along with "`additional appropriate evidence'" that "the victim plausibly might have II
turned to federal officials"); see also United States v. Bell, 113 F.3d 1345, 1349 (C.A.3 1997); United States v. Causey, 185 F.3d 407, 422-423 (C.A.5 1999); United States v. Wright, 536 F.3d 819, 824-825 (C.A.8 2008).