United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION (AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S
CONVICTION FOR SIMPLE ASSAULT)
E. Hudson United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on appeal from the magistrate
judge. Defendant Cornelius Johnson ("Defendant")
was charged in a single-count Criminal Information alleging
that he committed a simple assault within the special
territorial jurisdiction of the United States, in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5). On August 3, 2017, Defendant was
convicted of the charged offense after a one-day bench trial
and remanded to custody. On October 17, 2017, Defendant was
released from custody after being sentenced to time served
and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Defendant filed Notice of
Appeal on October 25, 2017, and subsequently all parties
filed memoranda supporting their respective positions.
appeal challenged the sufficiency of the evidence with regard
to both the substantive elements of simple assault and the
jurisdictional element-that the assault occurred within the
special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United
hearing in open court on January 31, 2018, this Court
affirmed Defendant's conviction for simple assault. This
Court announced its reasoning as to the sufficiency of the
evidence to convict Defendant for simple assault from the
bench, while reserving its reasoning with regard to the
jurisdictional issue for a more thorough articulation in a
reasons that follow, the Court finds that the United States
District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has
jurisdiction over the underlying crime in this case.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of an appeal to this Court from the magistrate court is
the same as an appeal to the Court of Appeals from a judgment
entered by the district court. See Fed. R. Crim. P.
58(g)(2)(D). Accordingly, when a defendant challenges the
sufficiency of the evidence, the district court must view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the government.
United States v. Bursey, 416 F.3d 301, 306 (4th Cir.
2005). The magistrate judge's conclusions of law are
reviewed de novo, and his findings of fact are reviewed for
clear error. United States v. Smith, 395 F.3d 516,
519 (4th Cir. 2005).
record adduced at trial clearly shows that the assault
occurred at McGuire VA Medical Center ("MVMC"),
which is a federal facility located within the Eastern
District of Virginia. Defendant does not contest the fact
that the assault occurred at this location, but instead
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence produced at trial
to support this Court's territorial jurisdiction over
MVMC. The Government counters that federal jurisdiction over
MVMC is commonly known and that the Court can properly take
judicial notice of such jurisdiction on appeal.
Review of the Jurisdictional Element on
is well established that a court may determine, as a matter
of law, 'the existence of federal jurisdiction over the
geographic area, but the locus of the offense within that
area is an issue for the trier of fact."' United
States v. Bridges, No. 94-5130, 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS
34616, at *3 (4th Cir. Dec. 9, 1994) (unpublished opinion)
(quoting United States v. Warren, 984 F.2d 325, 327
(9th Cir. 1993)); see United States v. Davis, 726
F.3d 357, 368 (2d Cir. 2013); Bryant v. Taylor, 797
F.Supp. 456, 461 n. 3 (D. Md. 1992) (collecting cases);
see also United States v. Beyle, 782 F.3d 159, 166
(4th Cir. 2015) (holding that whether a specific physical
location constitutes "on the high seas, " and
therefore within the special maritime and territorial
jurisdiction of the United States, is a question of law).
Defendant, however, contends that the Supreme Court's
recent decision in Torres v. Lynch, 136 S.Ct. 1619
(2016), mandates that the entire jurisdictional element be
decided by the trier of fact and subject to proof beyond a
reasonable doubt. The Court disagrees.
Torres, the Supreme Court determined that a state
offense qualified as an "aggravated felony" within
the meaning of § 1101(a)(43) of the Immigration and
Nationality Act because it included all the elements of the
federal statute except the interstate commerce element.
Id. While differentiating between substantive and
jurisdictional elements of an offense, the Court noted the
similarity that "[b]oth kinds of elements must be proved
to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt; and because that is so,
both play a real role in a criminal case." Id. at
1630. Defendant seizes on this single sentence and concludes
that it requires that both the physical location where a
crime occurred as well as the court's jurisdiction over
that location be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
with the most favorable of constructions, Torres
cannot be read to uproot the deeply entrenched distinction
between law and fact,  and a search of its progeny yields no
cases that apply Torres in this fashion.
Defendant's position would require this Court to
disregard Fourth Circuit precedent, as well as persuasive
authority from sister circuits, and require the trier of fact
to determine the validity of the United States' title in
every case involving federal maritime and territorial
jurisdiction. Entrusting such a nuanced and cumbersome legal
exercise to the trier of fact would leave open the distinct
possibility of conflicting decisions as to federal
jurisdiction over an identical parcel of property-a status
which by its nature either exists or doesn't exist. The
Court is unwilling to adopt such an unorthodox view of the
law based upon a narrow construction of a single sentence
that is not central to the holding of an otherwise unrelated
Supreme Court decision.
magistrate judge's decision was not deficient with regard
to the jurisdictional element. Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 23(c) provides for "specific findings of
fact" upon request but contains no similar requirement
as to conclusions of law. Cf. Fed. R. Civ. P.
52(a)(1) (explaining the treatment required of both findings
of fact and conclusions of law in a civil bench trial). The
testimony credited by the magistrate judge clearly
established the physical location of the assault-a fact which
the Defendant does not contest. The determination of whether
this specific location falls within federal jurisdiction is a
question of law. The magistrate judge found that Defendant
was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of simple assault in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5), and an element of
that crime is that the assault occurred within the special
maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Therefore, the ...