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United States v. Pinchotti

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 9, 2019




         On April 11, 2018, Defendant David J. Pinchotti was convicted of failing to stop at a stop sign, in violation of the Transportation Article of the Maryland Code, Md. Code Ann., Transp. 9 27-707(c) (2010), after a bench trial on Joint Base Andrews before a United States Magistrate Judge. Pinchotti now appeals on the basis that the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain the conviction and on other grounds. For the reasons set forth below, the conviction is affirmed.


         The following facts were presented at trial before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas M. DiGirolamo on April 10, 2018 in a courtroom on Joint Base Andrews. On the evening of January 22, 2018, Officer Aaron Moss, a Response Force Leader on Joint Base Andrews, was parked at the intersection of F Street and Alabama Avenue on Joint Base Andrews. The United States Government has exclusive jurisdiction over Joint Base Andrews, which is located within the state of Maryland. Moss was parked between 25 and 50 meters away from the intersection to . monitor traffic, because many stop-sign violations had been reported at that intersection. At about 10:14 p.m., he saw a silver Honda Accord approach the intersection from F Street and turn onto Alabama Avenue without stopping at the stop sign and without using a turn signal. Moss stopped the Honda and issued two violation notices, for turning without using a turn signal, Md. Code Ann, Transp. S 21-604(c), and failure to stop at a stop sign, Md. Code Ann, . Transp. S 21-707(c).

         At trial, Moss testified, and Pinchotti had an opportunity to cross-examine him. Pinchotti also testified in his own defense. He testified that he did not fail to stop at the stop sign and had used his turn signal, that Moss was hostile to him and incompetent as a law enforcement official, and that, in his opinion, Moss had not acted in good faith. After hearing the testimony, the Magistrate Judge found Pinchotti guilty of failing to stop at a stop sign and not guilty of turning without using a turn signal because no other car had been affected by the lack of a turn signal. Pinchotti was ordered to pay a fine of$85.00 plus additional fees for a total of$12000.. Pinchotti timely appealed the conviction.


         Pinchotti appeals his conviction on five grounds. First, he argues that the officer did not have the authority to charge Pinchotti with a violation of Maryland law. Second, he argues that the Magistrate Judge erred by limiting his cross-examination of Moss regarding the Posse Comitatus Act. Third, he argues that the Government did not present sufficient evidence to support his conviction. Fourth, he argues that Moss's testimony must be excluded pursuant to Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128 (1990). Finally, he asserts that his right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution was infringed.

         I. Standard of Review

         "In all cases of conviction by a United States magistrate judge an appeal of right shall lie from the judgment of the magistrate judge to a judge of the district court of the district in which the offense was committed." 18 U.S.C. S 3402 (2012). An appeal to a district judge is not a "trial de novo." Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D). Instead, "[t]he scope of the appeal is the same as in an appeal to the court of appeals from a judgment entered by a district judge." Id; see also United States v. Bursey, 416 F.3d 301, 305-06 (4th Cir. 2005); United States v. Lofton, 233 F.3d 313, 317 (4th Cir. 2000).

         In conducting review on the issue of sufficiency of the evidence, the Court does not "weigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses." United States v. Kelly, 510 F.3d 433, 440 (4th Cir. 2007). The Court must sustain a guilty verdict if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, and drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all contradictions in the testimony in the Government's favor, the verdict is supported by "substantial evidence." United States v. Moye, 454 F.3d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 2006); United States v. Smith, 451 F.3d 209, 216 (4th Cir. 2006). "Substantial evidence" is "evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Smith, 451 F.3d at 216; see also United States v. Strayhorn, 743 F.3d 917, 921 (4th Cir. 2014). A conviction may be reversed based on insufficient evidence only when "the prosecution's failure is clear." Moye, 454 F.3d at 394 (quoting United States v. Jones, 735 F.2d 785, 791 (4thCir. 1984)).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of evidence presented at a bench trial, a reviewing court must be mindful of the "great discretion accorded to the trial judge," who "weighs the evidence, determines the credibility of the witnesses, and finds the facts." United States v. Bales, 813 F.2d 1289, 1293 (4th Cir. 1987). A reviewing court may reverse a trial judge's factual finding only if it is "clearly erroneous." Id. "A finding is 'clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Hall, 664 F.3d 456, 462 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).

         The court reviews "rulings on matters of trial management," United States v. Beckon, 740 F.3d 303, 306 (4th Cir. 2014), and "limitations on a defendant's cross-examination of a prosecution witness," Smith, 451 F.3d at 220, for abuse of discretion. Rulings regarding questions of law are reviewed de novo. Bursey, 416 F.3d at 306. A claim that the defendant's right to a public trial was violated is also reviewed de novo. United States v. Shryock, 342 F.3d 948, 974 (9th Cir. 2003).

         II. Assimilative Crimes Act

         Pinchotti argues that the violation notice was improper because it charged him with a violation of Maryland state law, rather than the Assimilative Crimes Act ("ACA"), 18 U.S.C. § 13(a), and made no mention of the ACA. Under the ACA, on lands that are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States and also wholly within a state, a person who commits an offense that would be punishable by that state if the offense took place within the state's jurisdiction "shall be guilty of a like offense and subject to a like punishment." 18 U.S.C. § 13(a). The ACA therefore makes state criminal violations "federal crimes when they occur on" land within federal jurisdiction. United States v. Raffield,82 F.3d 611, 613 (4th Cir. 1996). Since the ACA, "not the charging document, makes a violation of certain Maryland laws on federal land under federal jurisdiction a federal crime," the ...

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