United States v. Smuckler

In United States v. Smuckler, the Third Circuit was tasked with defining “willfully” in the context of the defendant’s convictions for violations of campaign finance laws. After a high-profile prosecution and trial, a jury convicted the defendant of nine counts of violating various election law offenses. At trial, the District Court instructed the jury that “to find that the defendant acted willfully, you must find that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant acted with a purpose to disobey or disregard the law.” The defendant argued that “because the Government charged him with violations in the federal election law context, [Third Circuit] precedent required the District Court to charge the jury under a ‘heightened’ standard of ‘willfully.’” He claimed that, under Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184 (1998), the jury must be instructed, “[T]hat the defendant was aware of the specific provision of the [statute] that he was charged with violating.” The Third Circuit held that, under the Federal Election Campaign Act, that heightened standard is generally not triggered and thus affirmed seven of the defendant’s convictions. But under two separate convictions for engaging in a scheme to falsify and conceal facts from the FEC, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1001(a)(1), the jury should have been instructed on the heightened standard. As a result, the Third Circuit vacated those convictions. The Court rejected several lesser claims from the defendant, as well.

KENNETH-SMUKLER