Substantial Interference in a New Jersey Federal Criminal Investigation Will Lead to Sentencing Enhancements

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

In United States v. Waterman, a federal criminal case decided on June 17, 2014, the defendant challenged the sentence imposed upon him after being convicted of destruction of records, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1519.

The defendant, a police officer, destroyed a computer hard drive during an FBI investigation into his alleged possession of child pornography. The investigation began when the defendant informed his supervisor that he had viewed child pornography on his personal home computer. Two years after this disclosure, the defendant tried to destroy one of his personal computers. As noted by the court, the defendant merely destroyed the circuit board of the computer,  not the data platters which contained the information on the hard drive. However, because the damage to the circuit board was so great, the data could not be retrieved.

When the defendant was sentenced, the court applied a three level enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines 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 defendant, in his appeal, claimed that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove that he had destroyed the hard drive because no one witnessed him committing the act. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument, ruling that the evidence supported the lower court’s determination, based upon a preponderance of the evidence, that Defendant had destroyed the hard drive. The Court of Appeals interpreted the enhancement, which mandates that the “offense resulted in substantial interference with the administration of justice,” to impose a causation requirement. The Court found that the timing of the offense in relation to the events giving rise to an assertion of substantial interference is a relevant factor for the sentencing court to consider.

If you would like to consult with us with regard to trials, plea negotiations and sentencing in a federal criminal case, please call Schwartz & Posnock at our offices in Monmouth County (Eatontown); Middlesex County (East Brunswick); Union County (Linden), and Essex County (Livingston).

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