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A Case of Dubious Federalization Reaches the Supreme Court

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Charles Andrew Fowler, a.k.a. "Man," is a murdering thug who thoroughly deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison or perhaps be executed.  Whether he should be punished by the federal government, rather than the state, is a closer question now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to the Eleventh Circuit opinion, Fowler and his cohorts planned to rob a bank.  They went the full ninja, donning black clothing and gloves.  (This is Florida in March; nobody wears gloves to keep their hands warm.)  They decided to park in a notorious high crime location to do drugs first.  Police Officer Todd Horner approached the suspicious car and recognized one of the robbers.  Fowler, who had left the group temporarily, sneaked up behind and was able to get Officer Horner's gun.  Then Fowler "stated that they would not be able to 'walk away from this thing.'"  One of the other robbers "yelled from the car, 'kill that cracker,' and Fowler shot Horner in the back of the head."

Under these facts, Fowler is guilty of the crime of murder in violation of Florida Statutes §782.04.  Because the crime was committed to avoid a lawful arrest and because the victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in his duties, the case was potentially capital.  See Florida Statutes §921.141(5)((e)&(j).  But Fowler was not prosecuted by the State of Florida.  He was prosecuted by the United States.

The federal witness tampering law, 18 U.S.C. §1512, applies to "Whoever kills or attempts to kill another person, with intent to ... prevent the communication by any person to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense ...."

The drug crimes and bank robbery that Fowler committed and conspired to commit prior to the killing are offenses under both state and federal law, so Officer Horner's report might or might not have been forwarded to federal authorities.  It is most unlikely that Fowler was pondering issues of federalism when he shot Officer Horner.  The evidence makes clear that he did commit the killing to prevent a report of his crimes and that it was possible (whether he knew it or not) that the report would go to federal authorities.  Is that sufficient evidence to support a verdict of guilt in this case?  The Supreme Court took up the question today, granting certiorari in Fowler v. United States, No. 10-5443.

I do not know the answer to the legal question.  As a matter of policy, I do not see any justification for charging this as a federal case.

2 Comments

Given the order by an accomplice to "kill the cracker", this could be prosecuted as a civil rights murder.

Additionally, from a policy perspective, if the issue is an overbearing federal government, why does the pruning back have to start with law enforcement?

I believe Federal authorities have always had the discretion(right of first refusal) to charge conspiracy/attempt to commit Bank Robbery as a federal offense. However, could the police officer be considered a "witness" to the crime at the time he was shot?

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