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United States v. Gangasani

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 28, 2016

United States of America
v.
karthik Gangasani

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendant 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.]

         The 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.

         As a threshold matter, Defendant argues that he cannot be charged through a violation notice for a Class B misdemeanor. He is mistaken.

         Defendant 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.[1]

         B.

         Defendant 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.

         1.

         A 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).

         The 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).

         Defendant 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.

         In 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.

         Defendant 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.

         2.

         The 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 ...


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