Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(2) for Substantial Interference with Administration of Justice Applies for Destruction of Hard Drive during Child Porn Investigation

In United States v. Waterman, No. 13-3825, 2014 WL 2724131 (3d Cir., June 17, 2014), Defendant challenged the sentence imposed for his conviction for destruction of records, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519. Defendant, a police officer, destroyed a computer hard drive during a FBI investigation into his alleged possession of child pornography. Defendant initiated the investigation by informing his supervisor that he had in fact viewed child pornography on his personal home computer. Nonetheless, two years after his disclosure, Defendant attempted to destroy one of his personal computers. The court noted that Defendant actually destroyed the circuit board of the computer, but not the data platters which contained the data on the hard drive. Experts testified that the damage to the circuit board was extensive, and consequently, the data was irretrievable. During sentencing, the court adopted the probation office’s recommendation to apply the three-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(2) for substantial interference with the administration of justice. The court concluded that Defendant’s actions resulted in the early termination of the FBI’s investigation. The sentencing court reviewed the § 3553(a) factors and ultimately granted Defendant a six-month downward variance. Nonetheless, Defendant appealed the sentence, challenging the application of the enhancement under § 2J1.2(b)(2). Defendant claimed that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove that he had destroyed the hard drive as charged because no one witnessed him committing the act. The Third Circuit rejected Defendant’s argument, ruling that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support the lower court’s determination, based upon a preponderance of the evidence, that Defendant had in fact destroyed the hard drive. Note that the Third Circuit interpreted the enhancement, which mandates that the "offense resulted in substantial interference with the administration of justice," to impose a causation requirement. The timing of the offense in relation to the events which give rise to an assertion of substantial interference is a relevant factor for the sentencing court to consider when determining whether the offense caused substantial interference.

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