United States District Court, N.D. California
(Docket Nos. 114-115)
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTS FOUR, FIVE AND SIX OF THE INDICTMENT
EDWARD M. CHEN, District Judge.
On September 10, 2008 Reetpaul Rana was shot to death during a drug transaction in Humboldt County, California. A five year investigation into the murder of Rana led to the arrest and indictment of codefendants Ryan Carroll and Robert Lee. In its August 22, 2013 indictment, the government alleges that after Rana was shot and killed by Carroll, Carroll and Lee drove Rana's 1996 Saab to a remote area and set it on fire. See Docket No. 1. This allegation forms the basis of counts four, five and six of the government's indictment. Id . Count five charges Carroll and Lee with the knowing destruction of a "tangible object" - i.e. a 1996 Saab - with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1519 ("Sarbanes-Oxley Act" or "SOX"). Id .
Counts four and six are both predicated on this alleged violation of §1519. Count four alleges that Carroll and Lee formed a conspiracy to violate § 1519. Count six alleges that Carroll and Lee "used fire" to achieve their violation of § 1519.
On February 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued Yates v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1074, 1079 (2015). In Yates, the Court applied a narrowing construction to the term "tangible object, " as it appears in § 1519. See id. Specifically, the Court instructed that "tangible object" is "appropriately read to refer, not to any tangible object, but specifically to the subset of tangible objects involving records and documents, i.e., objects used to record or preserve information."
In response, Carroll and Lee now move to dismiss counts four, five, and six of the indictment because a 1996 Saab does not fall within the Court's definition of "tangible object, " and thus the government's allegations of Saab-burning do not support a violation of § 1519.
A. Legal Standard
Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a defendant may "raise by pretrial motion any defense, objection, or request that the court can determine without a trial on the merits." That Rule "permits a defendant to move to quash an indictment for failure to state an offense." United States v. Ropp, 347 F.Supp.2d 831, 833 (C.D. Cal. 2004) (citing Ex Parte Parks, 93 U.S. 18, 20 (1876).
An indictment fails to state an offense if it does not allege facts which, if proven, would constitute a violation of "the statute, rule, regulation, or other provision of law that the defendant is alleged to have violated." Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1); see also United States v. Caperell, 938 F.2d 975, 979 (9th Cir. 1991) (rejecting a challenge to a criminal indictment because the conduct alleged satisfied each element of the offense charged). If the charges within the indictment fail to state a offense against the United States, a district court is deprived of jurisdiction and must dismiss the defective claims. See United States v. Broncheau, 597 F.2d 1260, 1262 n. 1 (9th Cir. 1979).
B. A Saab Is Not a Tangible Object
Defendants contend that a 1996 Saab sedan is used for transportation, and is not used to record or preserve information. Thus, according to Defendants, a Saab sedan is not a "tangible object" within the meaning of § 1519, as defined in Yates, 135 S.Ct. 1074. The Court agrees.
In Yates, federal authorities found a fisherman - John Yates - in the Gulf of Mexico with a catch of undersized red grouper. 135 S.Ct. at 1078. The federal agents instructed Yates to keep that undersized grouper on board until the ship returned to port. Id . Instead, after the agents departed, Yates told his crew to dispose of the telltale grouper. Id . For this offense, Yates ...