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United States v. Doggart

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

November 3, 2016




         Before the Court is a motion to compel discovery, with a supporting memorandum, filed by Defendant Robert R. Doggart (“Defendant”) [Docs. 137 & 138]. Defendant asks the Court to compel the following discovery pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(E)(i): (1) any report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) or other government agency addressing allegations that the community of Islamberg near Hancock, New York, poses a possible threat of terrorism, and (2) the discovery materials provided to defendant William Tint in Case No. 6:15-cr-368 in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina [Doc. 137 at Page ID # 951]. The United States of America (“Government”) filed a response in opposition to the motion [Doc. 140]. Defendant filed a reply [Doc. 143], and this matter is now ripe.

         I. STANDARDS

         There is no general constitutional right to discovery in a criminal case, and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), did not create one. Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U.S. 545, 559 (1977). Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 provides a mechanism for pretrial discovery and inspection. See United States v. Turner, 274 F.Supp. 412, 417 (E.D. Tenn. 1967). Rule 16 provides in pertinent part that

[u]pon a defendant's request, the government must permit the defendant to inspect and to copy or photograph books, papers, documents, data, photographs, tangible objects, buildings or places, or copies or portions of any of these items, if the item is within the government's possession, custody, or control and . . . the item is material to preparing the defense.

Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(E)(i).

         To obtain requested discovery under Rule 16, the defendant must make a prima facie showing of materiality. United States v. Gibbs, 646 F. App'x 403, 412 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Lykins, 428 F. App'x 621, 624 (6th Cir. 2011); United States v. Phillip, 948 F.2d 241, 250 (6th Cir. 1991). The United States Supreme Court has concluded that “defense” under Rule 16(a)(1)(E)(i) means “a defendant's response to the Government's case in chief.” Gibbs, 646 F. App'x at 412 (quoting United States v. Robinson, 503 F.3d 522, 531 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). “In assessing materiality, [the court] consider[s] the logical relationship between the information withheld and the issues in the case, as well as the importance of the information in light of the evidence as a whole.” Lykins, 428 F. App'x at 624. “A district court does not abuse its discretion in denying discovery when the discovery requested would be irrelevant[.]” United States v. Rankin, No. 16-3047, slip op. at 4 (6th Cir. Oct. 31, 2016) (quoting United States v. Dairy Farmers of Am., Inc., 426 F.3d 850, 862 (6th Cir. 2005)).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendant is charged in a four-count Superseding Indictment alleging solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and solicitation to commit arson of a building pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 373 and 247, plus communicating threats on two different dates in interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(e) [Doc. 84]. As pertinent, Count One charges Defendant with soliciting another person “to intentionally damage and destroy religious real property, and attempt to do so, because of the religious character of that property, that is, a mosque in the state of New York” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 247(a)(1) and § 373 [id. at Page ID # 437]. The “because of” language in the motive element of § 247(a)(1) requires a showing of but-for causation as to Defendant's motivation, meaning “the straw that broke the camel's back.” United States v. Miller, 767 F.3d 585, 591-592 (6th Cir. 2014); see also Burrage v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 881, 888 (2014). “The general rule in criminal cases is that ‘intent may be inferred from the totality of circumstances surrounding the commission of the prohibited act.'” United States v. Al-Zubaidy, 283 F.3d 804, 809 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Stagman, 446 F.2d 489, 493 (6th Cir. 1971)). Evidence is relevant if it tends to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 401.


         Defendant argues that evidence of any investigation of Islamberg as a possible terrorist location or threat by the FBI or other governmental agency is material to Defendant's defense because such evidence would support the reasonableness of his “concern about a possible link between Islamberg and terrorism” and that his “concern had to do with terrorism and not religion” [Doc. 138 at Page ID # 958]. The Government argues that any information unknown to Defendant at the time of the charged conduct is not relevant and thus not material to preparing his defense under Rule 16 [Doc. 140 at Page ID # 964].

         The Government contends that to prove Defendant solicited another person to destroy the mosque in Islamberg “because of” the mosque's religious character, it must prove the attack would not have occurred “but for” the mosque's religious character [Doc. 140 at Page ID # 966]. The Government explains that it will use Defendant's recorded statements (and social media posts) as evidence of Defendant's motive to target and burn down the mosque [id.].[1] The Government concedes that “Islamberg has been the subject of repeated internet rumors concerning allegations that the community is connected to terrorist activities” and that some of these internet sources “also reported that local, state and federal agencies have investigated the community for possible ties to terrorism” [id.]. The Government also agrees that any personal knowledge that Defendant had of such internet sources is relevant to Defendant's motivation. However, the Government argues that evidence from investigative agencies about whether they actually investigated Islamberg and the outcome of any such investigation that was unknown to Defendant at the time of his alleged criminal conduct, is not relevant to Defendant's belief, motivation, or intent at the time of the charged conduct [id. at Page ID # 967].

         In his reply, Defendant contends that any evidence of the Government's investigation of Islamberg is a “highly relevant circumstance” surrounding his conduct from which the jury could determine his intent [Doc. 143 at Page ID # 978]. Defendant argues that, if the circumstances surrounding his conduct show “widespread concern about the possibility that Islamberg was a terrorist front, ” then such circumstances would support a conclusion that Defendant's concerns pertained “to a building that was a possible source of terrorist activity.” [Id.].

         Defendant cites to Sixth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction 2.08 to support his contention that the alleged reports are relevant to his intent, but Instruction 2.08 is unavailing. This pattern jury instruction provides, in relevant part, that “a defendant's state of mind can be proved indirectly from the surrounding circumstances. . . . [which] includes things like what the defendant said, what the defendant did, how the defendant acted, and any other facts or circumstances in evidence that show what was in the defendant's mind.” Pattern Crim. Jury Instr. 6th Cir. 2.08 (2013 ed.). Contrary to Defendant's contention, Instruction 2.08 actually supports the Government's position that what is relevant and material to determine Defendant's ...

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