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United States v. Lynch

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 5, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH WAYNE LYNCH, II, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO(D.C. No. 1:15-CR-00320-RM-1)

          Lynn C. Hartfield, Law Office of Lynn C. Hartfield, LLC, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Jason St. Julien, Assistant United States Attorney (Robert C. Troyer, Acting United States Attorney, with him on the brief), Office of the United States Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before KELLY, McKAY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

          McKAY, Circuit Judge.

         A jury found Defendant Joseph Wayne Lynch II guilty of violating 49 U.S.C. § 46504, which prohibits the in-flight assault or intimidation of a flight crew member or flight attendant that interferes with his or her duties. He received a sentence of four months, followed by a three-year term of supervised release. On appeal, Defendant challenges the district court's interpretation of the statute, the constitutionality of the statute, and the length of his sentence.

         I.

         The conduct at issue occurred in 2015 when Defendant was a first-class passenger on a flight from Philadelphia to Denver. Defendant, who had consumed at least six beers prior to boarding, began behaving in a loud, unruly manner. He repeatedly placed his hands on first-class flight attendant Kimberly Ander's lower back as she was serving him beverages, which made her feel "very uncomfortable, " and she tried to move out of his reach each time. (Appellant's App. Vol. IV at 181.) Later in the flight, Defendant "hugged [Attendant Ander] and kissed [her] on the neck" on his way back from the bathroom, causing her to push him away and ask him not to do that. (Id. at 181-82, 184.) Even after Attendant Ander verbally asked Defendant not to place his hand on her lower back, he continued to do so. She testified that this unwanted touching emotionally impacted her ability to do her duties.

         Defendant's behavior led Attendant Ander to refuse to serve him a third in-flight drink, at which point he became "irate, " started yelling at her, stood up from his seat, and shouted profanities such as "f*** this airline." (Id. at 184-85.) Fearful that the situation was "going to go over the edge and become physical or violent at any moment, " Attendant Ander called one of the other flight attendants to come help her in first-class. (Id. at 184-85, 194.) She also prepared a rubber ice mallet, handcuffs, and a pot of hot coffee to use in case Defendant became violent. Main cabin flight attendant Carolyn Scott then came to assist Attendant Ander in attempting to calm Defendant, leaving the third flight attendant in charge of the remaining 138 main cabin passengers, including an unaccompanied minor who had been in Attendant Scott's care. Attendant Scott asked Defendant to calm down, at which point he repeatedly yelled, "F*** you, c***." (Id. at 230.) Defendant also shouted "let's go" at Attendant Scott and threatened to "take this airline down" through a lawsuit and negative social media. (Id. at 186.)

         The attendants stayed in communication with the flight crew throughout Defendant's tirade, which the pilots could hear over the ambient noise of the slipstream and engine, even with their headphones on. As Defendant's behavior escalated, the captain gave the radios to his co-pilot so he could call ahead to dispatch and apprise them of the situation-an action that "[took] one half of the safety margin away" since the copilot had to fly the plane, man the radios, and receive weather updates without assistance during that period. (Id. at 293-94.) Defendant's volatile behavior lasted for roughly the last hour and a half of the flight. Attendant Scott testified that she never returned to the main cabin to help the third attendant with the main cabin duties because she was afraid to leave Attendant Ander alone with Defendant in first class. Likewise, because of Defendant's behavior, Attendant Ander was not able to perform all her duties as the lead flight attendant.

         Defendant was arrested upon landing. While in custody, he continued his vulgar exclamations and verbal attacks on the authorities. Defendant was prosecuted for violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 and found guilty after a jury trial. The district court denied Defendant's request for reduced sentencing based on acceptance of responsibility. Defendant now appeals.

         II.

         Defendant contends that the district court erred in finding that 49 U.S.C. § 46504 does not require specific intent, and in instructing the jury to that effect. Issues of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo, United States v. Jackson, 248 F.3d 1028, 1029-30 (10th Cir. 2001), as are questions as to whether jury instructions correctly stated the law, United States v. Sharp, 749 F.3d 1267, 1280 (10th Cir. 2014).

         In determining whether § 46504 is a general or specific intent statute, we look first to the plain language of the statute. See, e.g., United States v. Saenz-Gomez, 472 F.3d 791, 793-94 (10th Cir. 2007); United States v. Morgan, 922 F.2d 1495, 1496 (10th Cir. 1991). "If the statutory language is clear, our analysis ...


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