Whitfield v. United States

PETITIONER: Larry Whitfield
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Fort Financial Credit Union

DOCKET NO.: 13-9026
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 574 US (2015)
GRANTED: Jun 23, 2014
ARGUED: Dec 02, 2014
DECIDED: Jan 13, 2015

ADVOCATES:
Joshua B. Carpenter - for the petitioner
Brian H. Fletcher - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

On September 26, 2008, Larry Whitfield and Quanterrious McCoy attempted to rob the Fort Financial Credit Union in Gastonia, North Carolina. After their robbery attempt was foiled by the bank's security system, the two fled. McCoy was later found hiding under a van, while Whitfield entered the Parnell residence and attempted to contact a getaway vehicle. Mary Parnell was subsequently pronounced dead of a heart attack. Whitfield was arrested nearby and signed a confession admitting to breaking into several homes as well as the attempted bank robbery.

A grand jury indicted McCoy and Whitfield on several counts relating to the failed robbery, but only Whitfield was indicted for forcing someone to accompany him and killing that person while trying to avoid being apprehended for the commission of a crime. Whitfield moved to dismiss this charge and argued that it was unconstitutionally vague and that the prosecution was required to prove that he intentionally caused Parnell's death. The district court denied the motion. Prior to the jury's deliberations, the district court instructed the jury that, in order to find Whitfield guilty of the additional charge, it only needed to find that his actions were the proximate cause of Parnell's death, and it did not include a minimum limit on the degree of accompaniment necessary. Whitfield objected to the instruction and the court overruled the objection. Whitfield was found guilty, but on the additional charge he was found guilty of forcing Parnell to accompany him, not of killing her. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated Whitfield's conviction and remanded the case for rehearing on the issue of whether or not the district court constructively amended the indictment in its jury instructions. On remand, the district court again found Whitfield guilty and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does the forced accompaniment offense require proof of more than minimum movement on the part of the victim?

Media for Whitfield v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 2014 in Whitfield v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 13, 2015 in Whitfield v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

The second opinion by Justice Scalia is in case 13-9026 Whitfield v. Unites States.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

It requires us to interpret Section 2113(e) of Title 18 of the United States Code which creates a mandatory minimum of 10 years imprisonment for anyone who “forces any person to accompany him” in the course of committing or fleeing from a bank robbery.

Larry Whitfield, the petitioner, was fleeing police after a botched bank robbery when he entered the home of 79-year-old Mary Parnell through an unlocked door.

Once inside he encountered a terrified Parnell and guided her from the hallway of her home to a computer room.

Whitfield estimates that he and Parnell in moving from the hallway to the computer room covered a distance of about 4-9 feet.

There tragically Parnell had a heart attack and died.

Whitfield fled and the police found him hiding nearby.

A grand jury indicted Whitfield for among other things violating Section 2113(e) by forcing Parnell to accompany him in the course of avoiding apprehension for a bank robbery.

Whitfield pleaded not guilty to the offense, but a jury convicted him.

On appeal, Whitfield argued that 2113(e) requires substantial movement and that his movement with Parnell did not qualify.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed holding that although Whitfield required Parnell “to accompany him for only a short distance within her own home, and for a brief period, no more is required to prove that a forced accompaniment occurred.”

We affirmed the Fourth Circuit's judgment.

Congress enacted the forced accompaniment provision in 1934 and in 1934 justice today to accompany someone meant to go with him.

The word does not, as Whitfield contends, connote movement over a substantial distance.

It was and is still perfectly natural to speak of accompanying someone over a short distance to the dinner table to the next room to the stage.

Whitfield is no doubt right that accompaniment does not embrace minimal movement, for example, the movement of a bank teller's feet when the robber grabs her arm.

It must constitute movement that would normally be described as from one place to another, even if only from one spot within a room or outdoors to a different one.

Here however Whitfield forced Parnell to accompany him for at least several feet from one room to another.

That surely sufficed.

We hold that a bank robber forces a person to accompany him for purposes of Section 2113(e) when he forces that person to go somewhere with him even if the movement occurs entirely within a single building or over a short distance.

To find in this manner Whitfield forced Parnell to accompany him.

The decision of the court is unanimous.

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