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United States v. Sager


decided: July 26, 1989.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP 88-71-CR -- Larry J. McKinney, Judge.

Cummings, Wood, Jr., and Ripple, Circuit Judges.

Author: Ripple

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge

The appellant, Donald Sager, appeals his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1071 for harboring or concealing Carlos Aubrey, whose apprehension had been ordered by the United States Parole Commission. In the district court, Mr. Sager argued that 18 U.S.C. § 1071 does not proscribe harboring or concealing a parole violator because the order issued by the Parole Commission was not an arrest warrant within the meaning of the statute. The district court rejected this argument and entered a judgment of conviction. We affirm.



Donald Sager and Carlos Aubrey had been codefendants in a bank robbery case. Both were convicted, imprisoned, and eventually released on parole. Both were subject to the standard condition that, while on parole, a parolee may not associate with any person who has a prior criminal record. Mr. Sager had requested, in April 1988, permission to see Mr. Aubrey but his request was denied by his parole officer.

In May 1988, the United States Parole Commission issued a warrant reciting that Carlos Aubrey had violated one or more conditions of his release*fn1 and requiring that he be taken into custody. The evidence at trial, which need not be set forth in detail here, established, to the satisfaction of the jury,*fn2 that, during June 1988, Mr. Sager assisted Mr. Aubrey in eluding detection.


Submission on Appeal

Mr. Sager's argument can be stated succinctly. The indictment charged him with harboring and concealing a person "for whose arrest a warrant had been issued by the United States Parole Commission." In Mr. Sager's view, section 1071*fn3 does not proscribe such conduct. Rather, he submits, the statute only proscribes harboring and concealing a person for whom a warrant has been issued pursuant to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure -- a person sought because there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime. In short, Mr. Sager argues that he harbored and concealed a person wanted for return to the custody of the Attorney General for service of an already existing sentence; the statute, on the other hand, only precludes harboring or concealing a person wanted to answer for a crime for which he has not yet been convicted.*fn4

In support of his position, Mr. Sager invites our attention to the statutory language. The statute dealing with parole violations, 18 U.S.C. § 4213, empowers the Parole Commission to "issue a warrant and retake the parolee." 18 U.S.C. § 4213(a)(2) (emphasis added). By contrast, Rule 4, dealing with the apprehension of a person wanted to answer a criminal charge, employs the word "arrest." Fed.R.Crim.P. 4. Similarly, 18 U.S.C. § 3606, dealing with the apprehension of probation violators and those on supervised release, speaks in terms of "arrest."*fn5 Therefore, Mr. Sager argues, section 1071 is not applicable be cause there was no outstanding arrest warrant for Carlos Aubrey at the time Mr. Sager allegedly concealed him.

Mr. Sager attempts to bolster the foregoing statutory argument by suggesting that the federal criminal code contains another section that would have been a more appropriate basis for any criminal prosecution. Specifically, he notes that 18 U.S.C. § 1072 punishes harboring "any prisoner after his escape from the custody of the Attorney General or from a Federal penal or correctional institution." He argues that prosecution under this statute, as opposed to section 1071, would be consistent with the significant body of case law that considers the parolee to be a person in "custody."

Finally, Mr. Sager invokes the so-called "rule of lenity" and submits that a criminal statute must be strictly construed in favor of the defendant.




As in any case of statutory interpretation, our task is to ascertain the intent of Congress and to apply it. In fulfilling this mandate, we must begin with the words of the statute. See United States v. Rosado, 866 F.2d 967, 969 (7th Cir. 1989), petition for cert. filed, June 12, 1989; see also Indiana Port Comm'n v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 835 F.2d 1207, 1210 (7th Cir. 1987). Furthermore, in our reading of the statute's text, we must assume that Congress intended those words to have their plain and ordinary meaning. See Rosado, 866 F.2d at 969; United States v. Rawlings, 821 F.2d 1543, 1545 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 979, 108 S. Ct. 494, 98 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1987); United States v. Yeatts, 639 F.2d 1186, 1189 (5th Cir. Unit B), cert. denied, 452 U.S. 964, 101 S. Ct. 3115, 69 L. Ed. 2d 976 (1981). If, upon such a reading, the intent of Congress is manifest, our task is complete. In reading a statute, it is, of course, important to remember that words and phrases of the text cannot be read in isolation. Congress intended that the entire section have a coherent meaning; each word and phrase is a building block to that end. In the task at hand, then, we must focus not only on the word "arrest" in section 1071 but also on the other words and phrases that accompany it.*fn6

A reading of section 1071 makes its significant breadth immediately apparent. It proscribes harboring or concealing "any person for whose arrest a warrant or process has been issued under the provisions of any law of the United States." 18 U.S.C. § 1701 (emphasis added). By these words, Congress plainly meant to proscribe one basic activity: harboring or concealing a person whose liberty has been ordered curtailed by the order of a tribunal acting under the authority of any federal law. The gravamen of the offense is defiance of a lawful governmental decision to restrain physically a person by concealing that person from the authorities. That authority is defied whether the order was directed at the capture of a felon still at large or a parolee whose limited liberty must be curtailed even further. If Congress had wished to limit the section's ambit to harboring those who flee initial criminal process, it would have been an easy matter to write such a narrow prohibition. However, Congress decided to proscribe a wider range of activity.


Mr. Sager's argument that a parolee is already "in custody" and therefore cannot be the subject of an arrest warrant does not shed much light on the precise issue of interpretation before us. Certainly, there cannot be any doubt that, throughout the period of parole, a parolee "[remains] in the legal custody and under the control of the Attorney General" -- the officer to whom he was committed by virtue of his sentence. 18 U.S.C. § 4210(a).*fn7 This preexisting limitation on a parolee's freedom undoubtedly places the parolee in a different situation than the ordinary citizen with respect to the rights he may assert when confronted by a governmental decision to take him into physical custody. See United States v. Polito, 583 F.2d 48, 55 (2d Cir. 1978). Here, however, our perspective must be decidedly different. We do not define "arrest" for purposes of delineating the rights of the parolee. Rather, we must interpret a statute that punishes those who interfere with lawful governmental process designed to bring another into physical custody. When viewed from this perspective, the fact that a parolee already enjoys diminished liberty hardly counsels against characterizing the taking of a parolee into custody as an arrest. Nor does it suggest that Congress wished to differentiate between those who frustrate the Parole Commission's lawful process to effect such an apprehension and those who frustrate the process of a court designed to require a person to answer a criminal charge or an allegation of probation violation.

While it is true that a parolee is "in custody," it is also true that he retains a legally cognizable liberty interest that is significantly greater than that enjoyed by one who is incarcerated. See Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 482, 33 L. Ed. 2d 484, 92 S. Ct. 2593 (1972). To deprive him of that liberty interest and place him in a custodial status is indeed to arrest him, as that term is usually understood.*fn8 We must assume that Congress intended the term to be given such a common-sense meaning. Certainly, this conclusion is not undercut simply because Congress did not use the term "arrest" in section 4213 when it was dealing exclusively with the process of parole revocation.*fn9 There, without unnecessarily limiting the ambit of the section, Congress was able to employ the more descriptive phrase "retake." However, even in that section, Congress manifested, in the later subsections of section 4213, its understanding that the execution of a "warrant to retake" effectuates an "arrest." The physical deprivation of liberty described in subsection (d) certainly constitutes a sufficient deprivation of liberty to constitute an "arrest." Indeed, the Parole Board*fn10 and other courts of appeals*fn11 have characterized this event as an arrest.

No other section of the federal criminal code explicitly punishes harboring a person for whom a warrant of retaking has issued. However, the fact that a parolee is already "in custody" hardly suggests that Congress would not intend to punish a person who frustrates an effort to increase further the level of that custody. Indeed, the contrary conclusion is the more logical one. The parolee is already under the special supervision of the government. Interference with the lawful efforts of those charged with the high responsibility of removing from society those parolees who abuse the trust placed in them is indeed a grave matter. Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that Congress did not mean to differentiate between a person who commits such an act and one who harbors a fleeing felon.*fn12


We conclude, therefore, that the plain wording of the statute prohibits Mr. Sager's actions. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is affirmed.


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