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United States v. Simmons

decided: January 5, 1979.



Before Aldisert, Adams and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams


This appeal presents Inter alia the question whether a grand jury investigation is pending for purposes of the obstruction of justice statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1503, when a subpoena to produce records and to testify before a regularly sitting grand jury has been issued upon application of an Assistant United States Attorney but when at the time of the alleged obstruction of justice the grand jury itself has no knowledge of the subpoena or the matters under investigation.

Barry Simmons was a writ server for the Philadelphia Traffic Court. In mid-July, 1977, two deputy writ servers employed by Simmons reported to the FBI that Simmons was engaged in an illegal scheme of changing the dates on scofflaw notices for which the statute of limitations had run and then mailing such notices. On July 28, 1977, the FBI secured a subpoena ordering the telephone company to produce before a regularly sitting grand jury on August 5, 1977, records of the toll calls made from Simmons' business and private telephones. Also, on August 4, 1977, subpoenas were served on Simmons and several of his employees directing them to appear before the grand jury on August 12, 1977, and to bring records and documents relating to priority scofflaw notifications.

According to the evidence introduced at trial, upon being served with a subpoena, Simmons proceeded to destroy documents in his possession that were referred to in such subpoena and to instruct his employees as to what they were to say to the investigators.*fn1 For such conduct, Simmons was indicted by the grand jury on August 12, 1978, on two counts of obstruction of justice the first count charging him with destruction of documents and the second count charging him with instructing his employees to withhold information from the grand jury and was convicted and sentenced after a jury trial.

The obstruction of justice statute imposes criminal sanctions upon anyone who "corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice." 18 U.S.C. § 1503. A prerequisite for conviction is the pendency at the time of the alleged obstruction of some sort of judicial proceeding that qualifies as an "administration of justice."*fn2 Thus, for example, the obstruction of an investigation that is being conducted by the FBI, or by any similar governmental agency or instrumentality, does not constitute a § 1503 violation because such agencies or instrumentalities are not judicial arms of the government "administering justice."*fn3 On the other hand, obstruction of a pending grand jury investigation is punishable under the statute.*fn4

At issue here is at what point does an investigation by law enforcement officers cross the threshold to become a pending grand jury investigation for purposes of such statute. On this matter, the jury was instructed, over objections by defense counsel,

that when an Assistant United States Attorney issues a subpoena or subpoenas in furtherance of a grand jury investigation for the purpose of presenting evidence to the grand jury, there is a grand jury investigation pending within the meaning of that statute.*fn5

The only evidence submitted on the question of pendency was proof that a grand jury had been constituted and empaneled and that subpoenas were then issued to the telephone company, to Simmons, and to several of his employees, to appear before such grand jury.

Simmons asserts that the jury charge was erroneous and that the evidence was insufficient to establish the pendency of a grand jury investigation on the date he is alleged to have obstructed justice. In support of this assertion, Simmons points out that the evidence fails to establish that at that time the grand jury was investigating, or even had knowledge of, defendant's traffic court activities. Each of the subpoenas to testify before the grand jury set forth on its face that it was issued on application of an Assistant United States Attorney, and no evidence was produced at trial to indicate that such attorney was instructed by the grand jury to obtain those subpoenas or that he was acting as an agent for the grand jury when applying for them. Therefore, Simmons argues, the evidence at best supports the conclusion that there was an investigation by the FBI or the United States Attorney's office, but not that there was a pending grand jury investigation, as required for a § 1503 conviction.

Much of the force behind Simmons' argument is undercut by our discussion of the "pendency" issue in United States v. Walasek, 527 F.2d 676 (3d Cir. 1975). There, Judge Hunter disposed of a similar challenge to a conviction under § 1503 in the following manner:

Appellant would have us adopt a rigid rule that a grand jury proceeding is not "pending" until a grand jury has actually heard testimony or has in some way taken a role in the decision to issue the subpoena. He offers no authority for such a rule, and we are not inclined to adopt it. Appellant is correct in his observation that a grand jury subpoena may become an instrumentality of an investigative agency, without meaningful judicial supervision. Nevertheless, the remedy against potential abuses is not to establish a rule, easily circumvented, by which some formal act of the grand jury will be required to establish "pendency." The remedy is rather to continue to inquire, in each case, whether the subpoena is issued in furtherance of an actual grand jury investigation, i. e., to secure a presently contemplated presentation of evidence before the grand jury. See United States v. Ryan, 455 F.2d 728 (9th Cir. 1972).

Without attempting to articulate any necessary minimum set of circumstances, we are persuaded that the present record is sufficient to establish the ...

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