Thursday, February 21, 2019

Willful Blindness - Is It An Inference of Knowledge or Intent or Is It a Substitute (2/21/19)

I am back on one of my pet peeves -- deliberate ignorance.  (Deliberate ignorance is also called willful blindness or conscious avoidance; in an instruction context it is also called the ostrich instruction.)  I just picked up United States v. Maitre, 898 F.3d 1151 (11th Cir. 2018), here. The Court rejected a claim that the trial court should not have given the deliberate ignorance instruction.  In the course of doing so, the Court said (p.1157):
This Court considers "deliberate ignorance of criminal activity as the equivalent of knowledge."
I just think that is wrong.  If the ultimate element of the crime is actual knowledge or specific intent, a defendant's willful blindness should do no more than permit a jury to infer the required knowledge or intent.  In other words, it is circumstantial evidence of the ultimate element of actual knowledge or specific intent.  A finding that the defendant was willfully blind should not compel a finding that the defendant has actual knowledge or specific intent element of the crime.  Congress has not said that when it requires actual knowledge or specific intent as an element of the crime, anything less will do.

I have written on this before, but just wanted to vent again.

Other blog entries on this:

  • Interesting NonTax Case on Willful Blindness (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 10/3/17), here.
  • The Willful Blindness Concept -- What Does It Do? (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/23/17), here.
  • Willful Blindness / Conscious Avoidance and Crimes Requiring Intent to Violate a Known Legal Duty (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/21/14), here.
  • More on Conscious Avoidance (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/21/13), here.
  • Third Circuit Decision in Stadtmauer - Willful Blindness (Conscious Avoidance) (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 9/10/10), here.

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