US v. David Diaz
AMENDED OPINION filed amending and superseding opinion dated 07/26/2017. Originating case number: 1:15-cr-00324-AJT-1 Copies to all parties.. [16-4226]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
DAVID PATRICK DIAZ,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at
Alexandria. Anthony J. Trenga, District Judge. (1:15-cr-00324-AJT-1)
Argued: March 24, 2017
Decided: July 26, 2017
Amended: July 31, 2017
Before FLOYD and HARRIS, Circuit Judges, and John Preston BAILEY, United States
District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.
Vacated and remanded by published opinion. Judge Floyd wrote the opinion, in which
Judge Harris and Judge Bailey joined.
ARGUED: Patrick L. Bryant, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER,
Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Jon Tyler McGaughey, OFFICE OF THE UNITED
STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Geremy C.
Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Brooke S. Rupert, Assistant Federal Public Defender,
OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Alexandria, Virginia, for
Appellant. Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
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FLOYD, Circuit Judge:
Appellant David Diaz rushed the cockpit of a flight approximately 45 seconds
after takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. After pleading guilty in an
open plea to violating 49 U.S.C. § 46504, interference with flight crew members and
attendants, the district court was tasked with deciding whether to impose restitution, and,
if imposed, how much restitution would be appropriate. The government argued that this
offense fell within the scope of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), 18
U.S.C. § 3663A, such that Diaz was required to pay the full amount of restitution
calculated in his presentence report. Diaz argued instead that his crime was covered by
the Victim and Witness Protection Act (VWPA), 18 U.S.C. § 3663, and thus the district
court retained discretion in deciding whether to impose restitution and the amount of
restitution it would require Diaz to pay. The district court agreed with the government,
found that the MVRA applied, and ordered Diaz to pay the full amount of restitution.
Diaz appealed, and we now vacate the order of restitution, finding that the VWPA applies
because interference with a flight crew is not categorically a crime of violence as defined
by 18 U.S.C. § 16.
In early 2015, David Diaz was living in Northern Virginia with his father and
suffering from a declining mental state. Deciding that it would be best to send Diaz to
live with his mother in Texas, Diaz’s father bought him a plane ticket to depart on March
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15, 2015, from Washington Reagan National Airport. Diaz felt extreme anxiety and
paranoia about flying, and would self-medicate with alcohol. Diaz boarded the flight, but
was too nervous to stay in his seat and remain on the plane, and so he voluntarily
deplaned. Diaz tried again to fly on the morning of March 16, 2015, from Reagan
National Airport, but again was too nervous and again voluntarily deplaned after
Determined to reach his mother in Texas who was expecting him, Diaz boarded a
third flight on March 16, 2015, operated by United Airlines, departing from Washington
Dulles International Airport bound for Denver, Colorado. At the time he boarded the
flight, Diaz was intoxicated. Approximately 45 seconds after takeoff, Diaz left his seat
and rushed toward the cockpit. According to witnesses, he yelled that the plane was
going too slowly, was going down, and was shooting flames. Diaz also reportedly
shouted about jihad, a bomb, and that there was “something in the belly of the plane.”
J.A. 28–29. Other passengers tackled Diaz and attempted to restrain him, but he resisted.
The pilots returned the flight to Dulles approximately thirteen minutes after takeoff.
Feeling too upset to continue working, the flight attendants would not re-board the plane.
As a result, the flight was canceled and passengers were re-booked onto other flights.
Diaz has no independent recollection of the incident due to his intoxication, but does not
dispute the statements or their effect on passengers and crew.
A grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia indicted Diaz on one count of
interference with flight crew members and attendants, in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504.
Diaz then pleaded guilty to the offense without having a plea agreement in place.
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Before discussing the proceedings below imposing restitution, a brief discussion
of the restitution scheme in criminal offenses is necessary to understand the issues in this
appeal. Two different statutes are relevant here: 18 U.S.C. § 3663, which we refer to as
the Victim and Witness Protection Act (VWPA), and 18 U.S.C. § 3663A, which we refer
to as the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA).
Under the VWPA, restitution is discretionary. 18 U.S.C. § 3663(a)(1)(A). The
VWPA requires that the court consider “the financial resources of the defendant, the
financial needs and earning ability of the defendant and the defendant’s dependents, and
such other factors as the court deems appropriate” in determining whether to order
Id. § 3663(a)(1)(B)(i)(II).
The VWPA states that it will apply “when
sentencing a defendant convicted of an offense under . . . section . . . 46504 of title 49”
unless the offense is “an offense described in section 3663A(c).” Id. § 3663(a)(1)(A).
In contrast, the MVRA requires—as its name implies—mandatory restitution. Id.
§ 3663A(a)(1). As relevant to this appeal, the MVRA applies for any offense “(A) that is
(i) a crime of violence, as defined in section 16 [of title 18] . . . and (B) in which an
identifiable victim or victims has suffered a physical injury or pecuniary loss.” Id.
§ 3663A(c)(1) (emphasis added).
U.S. Probation Services determined in Diaz’s presentence report (PSR) that United
Airlines suffered a loss of $22,151.77 as a result of Diaz’s criminal conduct, and
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recommended an order of restitution in that amount. The PSR also noted that Diaz’s
financial condition made him unable to pay a fine or costs. See Appellant’s Br. at 5.
However, the PSR did not indicate the statutory basis for restitution.
The government in its sentencing position paper did not mention restitution, only
requesting that Diaz receive a guidelines range sentence. Diaz submitted that the offense
fell within the scope of the VWPA. As such, Diaz argued restitution was not mandatory,
and requested the court consider his financial situation under the VWPA.
“suggested that a restitution amount of $10,869 was more appropriate in light of United’s
direct costs and Mr. Diaz’s financial condition” if the court determined to order
restitution. Appellant’s Br. at 5.
At the sentencing hearing, for the first time, the government argued that the
MVRA applied instead of the VWPA. The government first argued that flight crew
interference in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 was a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C.
§ 3663A(c)(1)(A)(i). However, the government then argued: “But it doesn’t even matter
because Your Honor doesn’t even have to find that because under 3663A(c)(1)(B), the
Mandatory Victims Restitution Act applies to any offense in which an identifiable victim
has suffered pecuniary loss.” J.A. 53.
The court agreed with the government’s argument and held, “it appears to the
Court that restitution is mandatory in this case under 3663A(c)(1)(B), which requires
restitution whenever there’s an identifiable victim that suffered a pecuniary loss.” J.A.
56–57. The court never ruled on the issue of whether flight crew interference was a
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crime of violence as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 16. As a result, the court ordered Diaz to pay
the full amount of $22,151.77 as restitution as part of Diaz’s sentence.
Diaz timely noted this appeal, and appeals only the restitution order. We have
jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
We review restitution ordered generally for abuse of discretion, but “assess de
novo any legal questions raised with respect to restitution issues, including matters of
statutory interpretation.” United States v. Ocasio, 750 F.3d 399, 412 (4th Cir. 2014)
Diaz raises a threshold question that we must answer before reaching further
questions in this appeal: whether it is possible for a crime presumptively covered by the
VWPA to instead fall within the scope of the MVRA. This is a straightforward question
of statutory interpretation with a clear answer—yes.
Diaz’s sole argument is that Congress placed flight crew interference within the
VWPA when it was first enacted, and did not indicate that flight crew interference should
fall under the MVRA when passing the legislation later creating the MVRA. He submits
that “[t]his deliberate placement of § 46504 into the VWPA and not the MVRA is the
best indication that Congress intended the VWPA to apply to convictions under
§ 46504.” Appellant’s Br. at 12. However, this argument flies in the face of the actual
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statutory language. Diaz is correct that flight crew interference is an enumerated offense
to which the VWPA presumptively applies; however, the VWPA also clearly provides
that if the offense is covered by 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c), then the MVRA will apply. See
18 U.S.C. § 3663(a)(1)(A). 1
Thus, it is clear that the MVRA may apply in determining restitution for a
defendant who interferes with a flight crew in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504, but only if
it is determined that flight crew interference falls within the scope of 18 U.S.C.
Accordingly, the next issue is how to interpret 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c).
question presented to us is whether this section of the MVRA, specifically § 3663A(c)(1),
is disjunctive or conjunctive.
Again, this is a straightforward question of statutory
interpretation with a clear answer—conjunctive.
The district court below erred in
interpreting the statute as disjunctive.
The MVRA in § 3663A(c)(1) makes clear that for an offense to fall within the
MVRA, the offense must satisfy § 3663A(c)(1)(A) and also satisfy the requirement of
§ 3663A(c)(1)(B) by using the word “and” to connect the provisions of § 3663A(c)(1)(A)
We have never addressed this specific issue; however, a decade before
The Seventh Circuit has also noted this in passing. See United States v. Frith,
461 F.3d 914, 919 (7th Cir. 2006) (noting that the VWPA “cover[s] restitution . . . for
offenses under . . . 49 U.S.C. §§ 46312, 46502 & 46504 except when the MVRA
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sentencing in this case, one of our sister circuits squarely rejected the argument accepted
by the district court:
Notwithstanding the word “and,” the government invites us to read
subsections (A) and (B) in the disjunctive; under the government’s theory,
restitution applies if the defendant committed an offense enumerated under
(A) or if “an identifiable victim or victims has suffered a physical injury or
pecuniary loss” under (B). The government’s interpretation does violence
to the statutory text. Under the plain terms of section 3663A, restitution is
available only if the defendant meets both (A) and (B).
United States v. Dorcely, 454 F.3d 366, 376 n.7 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citations omitted)
(emphases in original). The conclusion of the D.C. Circuit is sound, and we adopt it in
Finally, we reach the heart of the appeal, which requires us to determine whether
the MVRA or the VWPA applies to Diaz. We conclude that flight crew interference in
violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 is not a crime of violence, and thus cannot satisfy 18
U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(1)(A). Accordingly, the VWPA must apply here.
The parties dispute whether Diaz preserved this claim and therefore whether we
should review this issue of statutory interpretation de novo or under the plain error
standard. Because we would vacate under either standard, we need not decide whether
Diaz preserved this issue. We do note, however, that it was the government that
propounded this incorrect legal theory to the court below, raising it for the first time at
oral argument before the district court. It seems somewhat disingenuous for the
government to now argue that Diaz should have realized the government’s error in
misinterpreting the plain conjunctive meaning of the word “and” within § 3663A(c)(1).
We are reminded that “while [the prosecutor] may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty
to strike foul ones.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).
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As just explained, an offense must satisfy both 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(1)(A) and
(B) in order for the MVRA to apply. The district court found § 3663A(c)(1)(B) satisfied,
but made no ruling as to § 3663A(c)(1)(A). Diaz has not challenged the finding with
respect to § 3663A(c)(1)(B), but submits that as a matter of law, flight crew interference
cannot satisfy § 3663A(c)(1)(A).
An offense may satisfy § 3663A(c)(1)(A) in four different ways. As relevant here,
§ 3663A(c)(1)(A) is met when the offense of conviction is “a crime of violence as
defined in [18 U.S.C.] section 16.” 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(1)(A)(i). 3 Section 16 then
defines a “crime of violence” as:
“(a) an offense that has as an element the use,
attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of
another, or (b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a
substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used
in the course of committing the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 16. Section 16(a) is known as the
“force clause,” and § 16(b) is known as the “residual clause.”
In determining whether a crime constitutes a crime of violence, we employ the
categorical approach, “‘look[ing] only to the statutory definitions’—i.e., the elements—
of a defendant’s [crime] and not ‘to the particular facts underlying [that crime].”
Descamps v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2276, 2283 (2013) (quoting Taylor v. United
States, 495 U.S. 575, 600 (1990)). However, “in cases involving statutes that set out
The parties do not contend that any of the other options under 18 U.S.C.
§ 3663A(c)(1)(A)(ii)–(iv) could be applicable.
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elements in the alternative and thus create multiple versions of the crime,” we consider
the statute divisible and apply the modified categorical approach.
United States v.
Montes-Flores, 736 F.3d 357, 365 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). An
indivisible statute, on the other hand, “does not set out elements of the offense in the
alternative, but . . . may nevertheless broadly criminalize qualitatively different categories
of conduct.” United States v. Royal, 731 F.3d 333, 340 (4th Cir. 2013).
First, we must determine if the statute is divisible in order to decide whether we
use the strict categorical approach or the modified categorical approach. The statute in
An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United
States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight
attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the
member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to
perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be
fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.
49 U.S.C. § 46504 (emphasis added). The dispute between Diaz and the government is
whether the phrase “assaulting or intimidating” creates different elements or different
means. For the reasons that follow, the statute creates different means, making the statute
indivisible and the modified categorical approach inapplicable.
“[U]se of the word ‘or’ in the definition of a crime does not automatically render
the crime divisible.” Omargharib v. Holder, 775 F.3d 192, 198 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing
Royal, 731 F.3d at 341–42). Rather, “a crime is divisible under Descamps only if it is
defined to include multiple alternative elements (thus creating multiple versions of a
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crime), as opposed to multiple alternative means (of committing the same crime).” Id.
(citations omitted). “Alternative elements of a crime, as opposed to alternative means of
committing a crime, are ‘factual circumstances of the offense that the jury must find
unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt.’” United States v. Gardner, 823 F.3d 793,
802 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Omargharib, 775 F.3d at 198).
determining the divisibility of a crime, we may consider how ‘courts generally instruct
juries with respect to that offense.’” Id. (quoting Royal, 731 F.3d at 341).
Looking to model jury instructions, we have found three sources that include the
offense of flight crew interference in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504: (1) a national
treatise; (2) model instructions from a district court; and (3) model instructions from a
circuit court. First, the treatise Modern Federal Jury Instructions—Criminal sets out the
elements the government must prove as:
First, that at the time alleged in the Indictment, defendant was on an aircraft
in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States;
Second, that defendant knowingly assaulted or intimidated a flight crew
member or flight attendant of the aircraft; and
Third, that such assault or intimidation interfered with the performance of
the flight crew member or flight attendant or lessened the ability of the
crew member or attendant to perform his or her normal duties.
1-13 Modern Federal Jury Instructions—Criminal, ¶ 13.02, Instruction 13-9 (Matthew
Bender) [hereinafter Modern Instructions].
The District of South Carolina also provides a model jury instruction that includes
“assaulted or intimidated” in the second element. Eric Wm. Ruschky, Pattern Jury
Instructions for Federal Criminal Cases, District of South Carolina 600 (Emily Deck
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Harrill, ed., 2015 online ed.) [hereinafter D.S.C. Instructions], available at
Finally, only one circuit court offers a model instruction on this offense—the
Eleventh Circuit. The model instructions indicate that the jury should be charged that
“the Defendant knowingly [assaulted] [intimidated] a flight crew member or flight
attendant of the aircraft.” Comm. on Pattern Jury Instructions of the Jud. Council of the
Eleventh Circuit, Eleventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions (Criminal Cases), Instruction
Instruction.pdf (brackets indicate options, not alterations). Thus, the models are in minor
tension, with the treatise and D.S.C. Instructions indicating that both assault and
intimidation should be charged, and the 11th Circuit Instructions appearing to indicate
only one or the other should be charged.
Turning to case law interpreting the statute, in an unpublished opinion, we have
held that “to sustain a conviction under [49 U.S.C. § 46504], the government must prove
that [the defendant]: (1) interfered with, or lessened the ability of the . . . flight attendants
to perform their respective duties on the . . . flight by; (2) assaulting or intimidating
them.” United States v. Gilady, 62 F. App’x 481, 483 (4th Cir. 2003) (per curiam)
(emphasis added). 4 The Ninth Circuit has also utilized this formulation of the elements
The defendant’s argument related to restitution in Gilady was abandoned at oral
argument. 62 F. App’x at 482 n.*.
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of the offense in a published opinion. See United States v. Naghani, 361 F.3d 1255, 1262
(9th Cir. 2004) (“The elements of the offense of intimidation in violation of § 46504 are:
the defendant (1) was on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United
States; (2) assaulted or intimidated a flight attendant or flight crew member; and (3) in
doing so, interfered with the performance of the duties . . . .” (emphasis added)).
Additionally, in another unpublished case, we have cited favorably to the Ninth Circuit’s
recitation of the elements of flight crew interference. See United States v. Persing, 318 F.
App’x 152, 154 (4th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citing Naghani, 361 F.3d at 1262). Thus,
the case law dealing with the statute weighs in favor of treating the statute as indivisible,
and treating “assault or intimidation” as different means and not different elements.
The government argues that under Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243, 2256–
57 (2016), we should “peek at the record” to determine whether the statute is divisible.
However, the Supreme Court only recommends this in the absence of “clear answers”
from case law and other sources. Id. at 2256. The case law, national treatise, and D.S.C.
Instructions create sufficient consensus for us to find the “clear answer” is that assault
and intimidation are different means of accomplishing the same element of the offense,
such that we should not “peek at the record” under Mathis.
Finally, the government argues that it often does not charge both assault and
intimidation, only opting for one or the other, providing further proof that these are
elements and not means. The government also argues that in other cases, district courts
have instructed juries that they must unanimously find which of the two acts a defendant
has committed—intimidation or assault—when the government charges both. This, the
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government submits, is proof that intimidation or assault are different elements rather
than different means, otherwise the district courts would not instruct the jury to find one
or the other unanimously.
While somewhat persuasive, we do not think the government’s choices in how it
charges the offense of flight crew interference should dictate our legal interpretation of
the statute. Further, without more context as to how the district courts have determined
to give a unanimity charge, we do not find those instructions helpful. Indeed, in direct
contrast to the government’s cited district court instructions, the Ninth Circuit has noted
with approval a district court charging a jury that “the government must prove that the
defendant knowingly and intentionally performed an act of assault, threat, or
intimidation.” United States v. Tabacca, 924 F.2d 906, 911 n.6 (9th Cir. 1991) (emphasis
added). 5 We instead find that the plain textual meaning of the statute, the case law, and
the secondary sources counsel finding the statute to be indivisible.
Additionally, recent precedent from this Court addressing the divisibility of
Virginia common law robbery supports a finding of indivisibility here. In United States
v. Winston, 850 F.3d 677 (4th Cir. 2017), we concluded that Virginia common law
robbery, which proscribes “taking, with intent to steal, of the personal property of
At the time of the Tabacca decision, the aircrew interference offense was
codified at 49 U.S.C. § 1472(j) (1988) and proscribed interference by one who “assaults,
intimidates, or threatens.” The “threatens” language was removed from the statute in
1994 when the offense was re-codified at 49 U.S.C. § 46504. See Act of July 5, 1994,
Pub. L. No. 103-272, § 1(e), 108 Stat. 745, 1244. The official U.S. Code published that
year explains, “[t]he words ‘or threatens’ are omitted as being included in ‘intimidating’.”
49 U.S.C. § 46504 note (1994) (historical and revision notes).
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another, from his person or his presence, against his will, by violence or intimidation,”
was indivisible. Winston, 850 F.3d at 683–84 (quoting Pierce v. Commonwealth, 138
S.E.2d 28, 31 (Va. 1964)) (emphasis added). We fail to see how the statute at issue here
is any different from the formulation of common law robbery in Virginia.
Therefore, we find flight crew interference in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 to be
an indivisible offense for the purposes of the categorical approach.
Having found the offense indivisible, we now evaluate whether it is a crime of
violence under 18 U.S.C. § 16. The government at sentencing argued only that flight
crew interference satisfied the force clause, and made no argument under the residual
clause. However, the government now argues that we can look to the residual clause and
affirm the district court on alternative grounds.
As explained below, we reject the
government’s position under the force clause, and find that the government has waived
the residual clause argument. We therefore find that the flight crew interference in
violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 is not a crime of violence as defined by the force clause of
18 U.S.C. § 16(a).
In order for a crime to qualify as a crime of violence under the force clause, it
must require “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the
person or property of another.” 18 U.S.C. § 16(a). The “physical force” contemplated by
18 U.S.C. § 16(a) has been defined by the Supreme Court to mean “violent force—that is,
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force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person.” Johnson v. United
States (Johnson I), 559 U.S. 133, 140 (2010). In making the determination of whether
the offense meets the requirements of the force clause, “we focus on ‘the minimum
conduct necessary for a violation.’” Gardner, 823 F.3d at 803 (quoting Castillo v.
Holder, 776 F.3d 262, 267 (4th Cir. 2015)). “Such minimum culpable conduct includes
any conduct to which there is a ‘realistic probability, not a theoretical possibility’”
against which the law would be enforced. Id. (quoting Moncrieffe v. Holder, 133 S. Ct.
1678, 1684–85 (2013)).
Having found flight crew interference to be indivisible, we can resolve this case by
analyzing only the “assault” means of the offense. 6 “Assault” as used in the flight crew
interference offense does not meet the requirement of Johnson I that it be accomplished
with violent force. Although the government argues that the “assault” contemplated by
§ 46504 “was only intended to criminalize serious assaults,” Appellee’s Br. at 35 n.5, this
argument is without merit. There is no evidence from the statute itself or the legislative
history that § 46504 is intended only for “serious assaults” as opposed to other ones.
Turning again to the three jury instruction sources, the two court-offered model
jury instructions are in agreement that an “assault” for the purposes of § 46504 need not
be by violent force, but only needs to be a forcible touching.
See 11th Circuit
Instructions, Instruction 118; D.S.C. Instructions, 601. The national treatise does indicate
We thus do not address whether “intimidation” as used in the statute would
involve the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force.
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that an assault under § 46504 is an act “with force and violence,” Modern Instructions,
Instruction 13-11, but also notes that “[t]he definition of assault is in general use, and is
similar to the charge used in cases involving assaults on federal officers,” id. at
Instruction 13-11 cmt. Looking at the statute prohibiting assaults on federal officers, that
statute authorizes conviction of anyone who “forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes,
intimidates, or interferes with [any federal official] while engaged in or on account of the
performance of official duties.” 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) (emphasis added). Multiple courts
after Johnson I have found that even this offense—which uses the word “forcibly”—is
categorically not a crime of violence because “the government need not prove, and an
adjudicator need not find, that the offense involved violent force capable of causing
physical pain or injury.” United States v. Dominguez-Maroyoqui, 748 F.3d 918, 921 (9th
Cir. 2014) (emphasis added); see also United States v. Taylor, 848 F.3d 476, 494 (1st Cir.
2017) (“It is possible to commit simple assault under § 111(a) without using violent
force.”), cert. denied, No. 16-9137, 2017 WL 2119452 (mem.) (U.S. June 12, 2017);
United States v. Hernandez-Hernandez, 817 F.3d 207, 213 (5th Cir. 2016) (explaining
that § 111(a) can be violated without any physical contact or contact that “does not
require a showing of bodily injury or use of a deadly weapon”); cf. United States v.
Hopkins, 310 F.3d 145, 152 (4th Cir. 2002) (discussing an argument that conviction
under 18 U.S.C. § 111(a) would not support a conviction for using a firearm in
connection with a crime of violence and appearing to accept that premise, but rejecting
the argument for other reasons).
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Thus, it is clear that “assault” need only be a forcible touching, and there is no
evidence that it needs to rise to the level of violent force as defined in Johnson I.
Because flight crew interference in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 criminalizes forcible
touching, it cannot categorically be a crime of violence under the force clause of 18
U.S.C. § 16(a). As such, we conclude that the MVRA is inapplicable here, and that any
restitution order should have been considered discretionary under the VWPA.
Nonetheless, the government urges us to rely on the residual clause of 18 U.S.C.
§ 16(b), even though it did not make this argument to the district court. We decline to do
Assuming without deciding that the residual clause is not unconstitutionally
vague, 7 the government has waived its right to rely on that clause. The government, as
conceded, did not rely on the residual clause below and put forth no evidence or
argument on the point. Further, the government dedicated precisely three-quarters of a
page in its brief on this argument, with the essential argument contained in one sentence:
“[A]ssaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or attendant during the course of a
We note that the majority of circuits to address this question have found 18
U.S.C. § 16(b) unconstitutional in light of Johnson v. United States (Johnson II), 135 S.
Ct. 2551 (2015). See Baptiste v. Att’y Gen., 841 F.3d 601 (3d Cir. 2016); Shuti v. Lynch,
828 F.3d 440 (6th Cir. 2016); United States v. Vivas-Ceja, 808 F.3d 719 (7th Cir. 2015);
Dimaya v. Lynch, 803 F.3d 1110 (9th Cir. 2015), cert. granted, 137 S. Ct. 31 (Sept. 29,
2016) (No. 15-1498). But see United States v. Gonzalez-Longoria, 831 F.3d 670, 674–79
(5th Cir. 2016) (en banc) (finding 18 U.S.C. § 16(b) constitutional). We need not weigh
into this debate in this case.
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flight, thereby interfering with the performance of their duties, is an offense that always
entails a ‘substantial risk’ that physical force will be used.” Appellee’s Br. at 36. 8
As correctly noted by Diaz, the government entirely fails to “conduct any sort of
‘substantial risk’ analysis” in this meager submission. See Appellant’s Reply Br. at 15.
We find this insufficient for the government to present the issue to us, and accordingly
find the government has waived reliance on the residual clause.
In sum, we find flight crew interference in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 is not a
crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 16(a), the force clause, and as such, the MVRA
should not have been applied to the government’s request for restitution in this case.
Rather, the appropriate statute to be applied here was the VWPA.
The district court viewed restitution as mandatory under the MVRA, and as such it
never endeavored to consider Diaz’s ability to pay restitution as required by the VWPA.
18 U.S.C. § 3663(a)(1)(B)(i)(II). Therefore, the proper remedy is for us to vacate the
restitution order and remand this matter. See United States v. Leftwich, 628 F.3d 665,
668 (4th Cir. 2010) (explaining that under the VWPA “a necessary condition precedent to
an order of restitution under [the VWPA]” is that the court make findings about the
The government was not short on space in this brief; the entire brief was 9,078
words out of a possible 14,000 words. See Appellee’s Br. at 38 (certificate of
Pg: 20 of 22
defendant’s ability to pay); accord United States v. Doering, 759 F.3d 862, 867 (8th Cir.
2014) (vacating restitution and remanding for further proceedings where the court
incorrectly used the MVRA rather than the VWPA to determine restitution).
However, before disposing of this appeal, one final issue presents itself to us in
connection with this remedy. In addition to challenging the applicability of the MVRA,
Diaz also argued below that if he must pay restitution, he should only be ordered to pay
$10,869.00 rather than $22,151.77 to United Airlines based on both “United’s direct costs
and Mr. Diaz’s financial condition.” Appellant’s Br. at 5. However, an award of partial
restitution on the basis of Diaz’s financial condition is not permitted under the VWPA.
Although we have made this point clear for crimes that fall under the MVRA, see United
States v. Alalade, 204 F.3d 536, 540–41 (4th Cir. 2000), the language of our prior cases is
somewhat unclear as to crimes that fall under the VWPA, necessitating clarification here.
The VWPA provides that 18 U.S.C. § 3664 governs how orders of restitution are
issued and enforced. 18 U.S.C. § 3663(d). As we explained in Alalade, § 3664 was
amended at the time the MVRA was enacted to “completely delete the language of the
VWPA affording the district court discretion . . . to consider any factor it deemed
appropriate in determining the amount of restitution to be ordered, and replaced it with
language requiring the district court to order restitution in the full amount of loss to each
victim as determined by the district court.” 204 F.3d at 540 (citations omitted); compare
18 U.S.C. § 3664(a) (1994) (providing that “in determining whether to order restitution
under section 3663 of this title and the amount of such restitution,” the court “shall
consider . . . the financial resources of the defendant”) with 18 U.S.C. § 3664(f)(1)(A)
Pg: 21 of 22
(Supp. II 1997) (requiring that “the court shall order restitution to each victim in the full
amount of each victim’s losses as determined by the court and without consideration of
the economic circumstances of the defendant”). 9 Accordingly, we have held that a
district court lacks discretion to reduce the amount of restitution to anything “less than
the full amount of each [victim]’s loss.” Alalade, 204 F.3d at 540–41. This appropriately
applies the restitution scheme as enacted by Congress. Accord United States v. Sizemore,
850 F.3d 821, 827 (6th Cir. 2017) (“Courts consider the financial circumstances of the
defendant in deciding whether to order restitution and in setting the defendant’s payment
schedule, but not in setting the total amount of restitution due to the victims.” (emphases
Accordingly, on remand, should the district court determine that restitution is
proper, the district court must order the full amount of loss as determined by the district
In several of our cases, we have referred to 18 U.S.C. § 3664 as part of the
MVRA. See, e.g., Leftwich, 628 F.3d at 668; United States v. Roper, 462 F.3d 336, 338–
39 (4th Cir. 2006), Alalade, 204 F.3d at 540–41. This is accurate in the sense that the
same legislation which created the MVRA as codified in 18 U.S.C. § 3663A completely
changed the language of 18 U.S.C. § 3664. See Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of
1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, tit. II, subtit. A, § 206(a), 110 Stat. 1227, 1232–36. However,
as explained, the VWPA as codified in 18 U.S.C. § 3663 incorporates 18 U.S.C. § 3664
for the procedures in issuing an enforcing restitution orders. Thus, 18 U.S.C. § 3664
exists as a procedural statutory section, applying to both the VWPA and the MVRA. See
18 U.S.C. §§ 3663(d) and 3663A(d). As such, decisions of this Court interpreting 18
U.S.C. § 3664 apply in equal force to restitution orders arising under the VWPA or the
We note this does not preclude Diaz’s challenge that the amount recommended
by U.S. Probation Services does not accurately represent the direct costs to United
Pg: 22 of 22
For the reasons explained above, we vacate the order of restitution and remand for
redetermination of the issue of restitution.
VACATED AND REMANDED
Airlines; the statute simply mandates that the district court may not reduce the amount of
restitution due to Diaz’s alleged indigency.
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