Friday, April 11, 2014

US v. Villalobos, No. 12-50300 (4-11-14)(M. Smith with Fletcher; concurrence by Watford). 

What is weirder than Rabbis gone bad?  A lawyer extorting a Rabbi allegedly gone bad (immigration fraud).  In this case, the 9th affirms a conviction for extortion when a lawyer threatened to have his client either help or impede an ongoing investigation of Los Angeles Chabad Center for visa fraud, if not paid.  The issue was whether the jury instruction was overbroad.  The majority found it was, with the definition of "threat" in the instruction making any nonviolent threat inherently wrongful.  Not all threats are criminal or even actionable.    Here, the court should have defined whether the threat (the means) was wrongful under the circumstances irrespective of the ends (demand by the defendant).  The threat here, to cooperate, is not inherently wrongful.  The court erred by defining threat as causing fear, rather than, being wrongful means under the circumstances.  The error though was harmless given the overwhelming evidence. The 9th did not have to reach whether a claim of right (owed funds) was appropriate as a defense.   Concurring, Watford would find no error under the circumstances.


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