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United States v. Gustus

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 14, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Stephen Gustus Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: January 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before BENTON, MELLOY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.


         Following a jury trial, Defendant Stephen Gustus appeals his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) for assaulting a United States Postal Service employee.[1]Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

         I. Background

         The following facts are presented in a light most favorable to the verdict. On December 21, 2016, a Postal Service employee named Julio Gonzalez was unexpectedly tackled from behind by a man wearing nothing but a pair of shoes and a bed comforter. The man was later identified as Gustus. Gonzalez fell to the ground, and Gustus jumped into Gonzalez's mail truck. Gonzalez got up and physically engaged Gustus in the truck, punching him three or four times before slipping and falling to the ground again. At some point after this second fall, Gonzalez grabbed hold of Gustus's comforter. Gustus jumped out of the truck and kicked Gonzalez in the arm until he released the comforter. Gustus then fled on foot. Gonzalez ran into a nearby field to keep an eye on Gustus and called 911. Gonzalez lost sight of Gustus, but a police officer was able to locate him soon thereafter.

         When the officer encountered Gustus, Gustus would not respond to the officer's commands. Instead, he merely stared up at the sky. After several unsuccessful attempts to get Gustus to sit down with hands behind his back, the officer threatened to use pepper spray. The officer observed Gustus clench his hands into fists as if "he was getting ready to fight." The officer then sprayed a burst of pepper spray, hitting Gustus in the face. Gustus immediately sat down, and the officer placed him in handcuffs and called for medical personnel to take Gustus to a nearby healthcare facility.

         Gustus was eventually charged with "voluntarily and intentionally forcibly assault[ing], imped[ing] and interfer[ing] with an employee of the United States while the employee was engaged in and on account of the performance of official duties," a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1). Gustus pled not guilty to the offense and prepared to present a defense that he was voluntarily intoxicated and lacked the specific intent to assault Gonzalez.[2] He proffered a jury instruction on intoxication to that effect. The government responded by filing a motion in limine, arguing that our opinion in United States v. Hanson, 618 F.2d 1261 (8th Cir. 1980), established that § 111(a)(1) assaults are general-intent crimes for which a voluntary-intoxication defense is unavailable. The district court granted the government's motion and prohibited Gustus from presenting a voluntary-intoxication defense.

         A two-day trial ensued. The government called several witnesses, including: Gonzalez; the 911 operator who fielded Gonzalez's call; the officer who apprehended Gustus; a postal inspector; medical personnel who treated Gonzalez; and Gonzalez's supervisor who visited Gonzalez at the site of the incident and took him to receive medical treatment. Gustus did not call any witnesses but moved for a judgment of acquittal. The district court denied the motion, and the jury found Gustus guilty of assaulting Gonzalez. The district court sentenced Gustus to time served followed by two years of supervised release. As part of the supervised release, the district court orally imposed the following special condition:

He'll have to participate, of course, in a substance abuse treatment program under the guidance and supervision of the probation office. And that might include drug testing, alcohol testing, outpatient counseling, residential treatment. He can't use any alcohol during those sessions.
. . . He can't use any alcohol during the program of alcohol testing and outpatient counseling. He must pay for the cost [at a rate of $10 per session, with a total cost not to exceed $40 a month based on ability to pay as determined by the probation office. If he can't afford that, the copayment will be waived].
And he'll be required to disclose his substance abuse history to prescribing physicians and allow the probation office to verify disclosure. . . .

         The district court clarified that the alcohol restriction applied while Gustus was receiving both substance abuse and mental health treatment. The final, written version of the special ...

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