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United States v. Bodden

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

November 14, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
LEIGH E. BODDEN, Appellant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GERALD BRUCE LEE, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Appellant Leigh E. Bodden's Motion for Appeal of Magistrate Judge's Decision (Doc. 1). This case involves a traffic violation which subsequently lead to the Appellant being convicted of reckless driving, driving under the influence, refusal (to submit to a blood alcohol content test), and failure to carry a driver's license. The case was heard by Magistrate Judge John Anderson. Mr. Bodden now appeals the Magistrate Judge's findings and subsequent sentence. The issue before the Court is whether the Court should reverse the Magistrate Judge's decision on the charges of driving under the influence, refusal, and failure to carry a driver's license as well as the Magistrate Judge's sentencing on the charge of reckless driving, where Defendant argues that the evidence did not support the conviction and that the sentence was excessive. The Court AFFIRMS the judgment because taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, a reasonable trier of fact could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the Appellant was guilty. Additionally, because the Magistrate Judge's sentence was well within the statutory guidelines, based on the consideration of relevant factors, and there was no significant procedural error, Mr. Bodden has not met the heavy burden required to overturn a sentence imposed by magistrate judge.

I. BACKGROUND

A short recitation of the facts will suffice, as the parties are both familiar with the detailed circumstances surrounding the case. Appellant, Mr. Leigh E. Bodden, was stopped on August 24, 2013 at 4:24 AM by the Pentagon Police on Boundry Channel Drive. Officer John Harmer, the arresting officer, stopped Mr. Bodden after observing him trying to pass a vehicle, whereby he crossed the solid double yellow line on a portion of the highway where the lanes narrow from four lanes to two. Officer Harmer observed Mr. Bodden pass a vehicle by traveling into oncoming traffic. The oncoming traffic included Officer Harmer, who testified that he had to use evasive maneuvers in order to avoid a head-on collision with Mr. Bodden. Immediately after Mr. Bodden passed, Officer Harmer activated his emergency lights, turned his cruiser around and initiated a traffic stop.

Mr. Bodden was seemingly cooperative at the outset of the traffic stop. Although Mr. Bodden held a valid driver's license at the time of the incident, he did not have it in his possession. Instead, Mr. Bodden presented a copy of his passport to Officer Harmer. Officer Harmer testified that at this point he smelled alcohol on Mr. Bodden's breath and also noticed that his eyes were red, watery, and bloodshot.[1] Officer Harmer then asked Mr. Bodden if he had consumed any alcoholic beverages. Officer Harmer's testified that Mr. Bodden initially answered that he had not had any alcohol, but later responded that he had consumed "two or three." Officer Harmer then called for the assistance of an officer certified to conduct field sobriety tests (FST). Officers John Coffman and Demetrius Owens, both FST certified, arrived on the scene. Officer Coffman made similar observations as to the presence of the smell of alcohol on Mr. Bodden's breath as well as observing that Mr. Bodden's eyes were red, watery, and bloodshot.

Officer Coffman asked Mr. Bodden to get out of his car, to which Mr. Bodden did not immediately agree. Mr. Bodden later got out of his car and agreed to perform the standardized field sobriety tests. Officer Coffman administered the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN), the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand test. Officer Coffman testified that Mr. Bodden's performance on the HGN and walk and turn tests was unsatisfactory. Officer Coffman testified that Mr. Bodden satisfactorily completed the first portion of the walk and turn test by taking nine heel to toe steps, but that Mr. Bodden failed to turn correctly and missed a heel to toe on the second step during the second portion of the test. Mr. Bodden, however, successfully completed the one leg stand test by standing on one leg and counting to thirty (30).[2] Officer Coffman testified that based on Mr. Bodden's performance on the HGN and walk and turn test that there was an eighty percent (80%) chance that Mr. Bodden's blood alcohol level was.10% or greater. Officers later offered Mr. Bodden the opportunity to blow into a portable breath alcohol testing device, he refused. Officer Coffman informed Officer Harman of the results of the FST. Officer Coffman arrested Mr. Bodden.

Upon arrest, Mr. Bodden became increasingly agitated and aggressive, and directed numerous expletives at the arresting officers. Officer Harmer testified that Mr. Bodden called him names, used profanity, and directed racial slurs at the officers. After transporting Mr. Bodden to the Court Liaison Office, Mr. Bodden was placed in a holding cell. While in the cell Mr. Bodden continued his aggressive behavior, repeatedly kicking the holding cell door. Mr. Bodden was then read an implied consent form, which explained that refusal to submit to a breath alcohol test was grounds to be charged with "refusal." Officer Coffman testified that Mr. Bodden initially agreed to the Intoximeter breath alcohol testing, but during the required 20-minute observation period, Mr. Bodden later refused the test. There is no conclusive evidence that Mr. Bodden verbally refused the test, however, Officer Coffman testified that by his conduct Mr. Bodden refused.

Thereafter, Mr. Bodden was formally charged and given copies of the applicable citations. Typically upon the issuance of the citations, defendants are released to the Pentagon taxi stand; however, in this instance, Officers thought Mr. Bodden's behavior was so aggressive that they placed him back in the holding cell. Mr. Bodden eventually fell asleep in the cell. He was driven to the taxi stand later that morning around 6:00 AM and released from police custody.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(g)(2)(B), a defendant may appeal a magistrate judge's judgment to a district judge. The Rule mandates that "[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." Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D). Where the issue presented on appeal is purely a question of law, the district judge reviews the Magistrate Judge's decision de novo. United States v. Smith, 115 F.3d 241, 244 (4th Cir. 1997). Credibility determinations are not susceptible to judicial review but rather are the sole province of the fact finder. United States v. Lomax, 293 F.3d 701, 705 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 863 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc)).

When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence following a conviction, the Court views the evidence and the inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the Government. Id. The Court will sustain the verdict where "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. (citing United States v. Myers, 280 F.3d 407, 415 (4th Cir. 2002)); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979) (emphasis in original).

Similarly, an appeal of an otherwise final sentence imposed by a United States magistrate judge may also be taken to a judge of the district court, as though the appeal were to a court of appeals from a sentence imposed by a district court. Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D); 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a)(4) (A defendant may file a notice of appeal in the district court for review of an otherwise final sentence if the sentence-was imposed for an offense for which there is no sentencing guideline and is plainly unreasonable.) A district judge should affirm a sentence imposed by a magistrate judge unless it is unreasonable or resulted from a significant procedural error. See Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38 (2007) (describing the standard of review by a court of appeals of a sentence by a district judge); United States v. Riley, 991 F.2d 120, 126 (4th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 114 S.Ct. 392 (1993). The clear error standard "does not entitle a reviewing court to reverse the finding of the trier of fact simply because it is convinced that it would have decided the case differently." Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985).

The United States Sentencing Guidelines do not apply to Class B misdemeanors. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.9. Reckless driving is a violation of 32 C.F.R. § 234.17 which is punishable by imprisonment for up to six months. A violation of 32 C.F.R. § 234.17 is a federal Class B misdemeanor. 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a)(7). Thus, while an application of law in sentencing would normally be reviewed de novo, because the sentencing guidelines do not apply to this case, the Court reviews the decision to determine if the sentence was "plainly unreasonable." 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a)(4); United States v. Chavez, 204 F.3d 1305 (11th Cir. 2000); United States v. Floresdelgado, 131 F.Appx. 28 (4th Cir. 2005). In determining whether a sentence is "plainly unreasonable, " the Court must first determine whether the sentence is simply unreasonable. United States v. Moulden, 478 F.3d 652, 656 (4th Cir. 2007). The sentencing court must consider the applicable § 3553 factors and provide a statement of reasons. Id. at 657. "Only if this modified reasonableness' analysis leads [the court] to conclude ...


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