United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.
Karthik Gangasani (“Defendant”) was charged with
assaulting a woman on an airplane flight from Phoenix,
Arizona, to Chicago, Illinois, in March 2016 in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5), which criminalizes simple assault
as a Class B misdemeanor when the offense is committed within
the maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United
States. Simple assault committed on an aircraft within the
special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States is
prosecuted under Title 18 of the United States Code pursuant
to 49 U.S.C. § 46506. The violation notice by which
Defendant was charged informed him that he either could pay a
fine of $525.00 or appear in court. [ECF No. 14.] Defendant
initially paid the fine amount, but then, after consulting an
attorney, learned that doing so amounted to a guilty plea
that could have adverse consequences for him. [ECF No. 2, at
1.] Defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea. [ECF No. 2.]
The Court granted his motion over the Government's
objection. [ECF No. 3.]
Court held a bench trial on June 22, 2016. [ECF No. 6.] At
the trial, the alleged victim, Sara Dunn, and her boyfriend,
Christopher Demos, testified. After the Government rested,
Defendant did not put on a case. Instead, Defendant moved to
dismiss the charges, for a judgment of acquittal, and for a
finding of not guilty. On September 14, 2016, after both
parties filed post-trial briefs [ECF Nos. 4, 5, 7, 10], the
Court ruled from the bench, denying all of Defendant's
motions and finding Defendant guilty of the charge against
him. [ECF No. 15.] This Memorandum Opinion and Order
memorializes that oral bench ruling.
threshold matter, Defendant argues that he cannot be charged
through a violation notice for a Class B misdemeanor. He is
is charged with simple assault under 18 U.S.C. §
113(a)(5). A violation of that statute carries a maximum term
of imprisonment of six months, unless the victim is under the
age of 16 which was not the case here. 18 U.S.C. §
113(a)(5). An offense for which the sentence is “six
months or less but more than thirty days” is a Class B
misdemeanor as classified by 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a)(7). A
Class B misdemeanor is deemed a “petty offense”
under 18 U.S.C. § 19. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure
58(b)(1) says that the “trial of a petty offense may .
. . proceed on a . . . violation notice.” Fed. R. Crim.
P. 58(b)(1). Therefore, the violation notice was a legally
appropriate charging document in this case.
also argues that the violation notice does not properly
notify him of the charges he faced and that the statute under
which he is charged is unconstitutionally vague. Neither
argument has merit.
defendant charged with a misdemeanor is not entitled to the
same procedural protections as a defendant charged with a
felony. But a defendant charged with a misdemeanor still is
entitled to be informed of the nature of the charge against
him. United States v. Kowallek, 438 F. App'x
889, 890 (11th Cir. 2011); United States v. Boyd,
214 F.3d 1052, 1056-57 (9th Cir. 2000).
violation notice in this case informs Defendant that he is
charged with simple assault in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
113(a)(5). [ECF No. 14.] The date and time of the offense is
stated as “3/27/16” in the violation notice.
Id. The attached probable cause statement describes
the offense as having “occurred on March 28, 2016,
while aboard American Airlines (AA) flight 415, outbound from
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (“PHX”)
to O'Hare International Airport (“ORD”),
Chicago, Illinois.” [ECF No. 14; ECF No. 14-1, at 1.]
There is no dispute in this case that the referenced American
Airlines flight was a “red-eye” flight that left
Phoenix late at night on March 27 or early in the morning on
March 28, 2016. The probable cause statement signed by an FBI
Special Agent, which runs five pages, is attached to and
incorporated into the violation notice. [ECF No. 14-1.] The
probable cause statement repeats the charge and details the
facts that underlie the charge against Defendant.
Id. at 1-4. Courts uniformly seem to consider the
matters set out in the attached probable cause statement when
they construe the charges being made against a defendant in a
violation notice. See United States v. Francisco,
413 F. App'x 216, 218-19 (11th Cir. 2011); Aycock v.
United States, 2016 WL 1459079, at *1 (N.D. Ala. Apr.
14, 2016); United States v. Christensen, 2015 WL
920581, at *3 (D. Or. Mar. 3, 2015); United States v.
Rife, 2010 WL 1948891, at *5 (E.D. Mich. May 13, 2010);
United States v. Nolder, 2006 WL 1686513, at *3-4
(E.D. Cal. June 19, 2006); United States v. Dubiel,
367 F.Supp.2d 822, 826-27 (D. Md. 2005).
acknowledges that, in determining whether a charging document
sufficiently informs a defendant of the offense charged,
courts use a common sense construction. [ECF No. 5, at 2]
(citing United States v. Drew, 722 F.2d 551, 552-53
(9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1216 (1984);
United States v. Reed, 21 F.2d 1059, 1061-62 (6th
Cir. 1983)). The violation notice statement with the
incorporated probable cause statement in this case adequately
informs Defendant of the “who, what, where, when, why,
and how” of the charges. That is a sufficient common
sense explanation of the charges.
addition, at Defendant's initial appearance, in answer to
the Court's questions about the elements of the charge of
simple assault, the Government went into detail as to what it
intended to prove and why the proof would show Defendant
violated the statute. The Government essentially said that
the statute under which Defendant is charged requires proof
of common law assault or battery, and that it intended to
prove battery. Defendant and his attorney were present for
that explanation. Neither questioned the Government's
description or claimed to be confused about what charge
Defendant was facing. Likewise, the Government provided a
similar explanation in its opening statement during the bench
trial in this case.
was adequately informed of the charge being made against him
in the violation notice and the attached and incorporated
probable cause statement. He was further informed of the
charge by the Government at his initial appearance and before
the introduction of any evidence.
statute under which Defendant is charged also is not
unconstitutionally vague. The statute adequately, if
minimally, provides notice of the prohibited conduct in
keeping with a rough idea of fairness. This is the standard
Defendant cites based on cases such as Colten v.
Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104 (1972); Rowan v. Post Office
Dept., 397 U.S. 728 ...