United States v. Cope, No. 11-1537 (10th Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
Defendant-Appellant Aaron Cope was convicted of one count of operating a common carrier (commercial airplane) under the influence of alcohol. On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction based on improper venue, insufficiency of the evidence, and improper reliance on federal regulations. In 2009, Defendant was the copilot and first officer of a commercial flight from Austin, Texas to Denver, Colorado. Robert Obodzinski was the captain. Following the flight to Austin, Mr. Obodzinski invited the crew to dinner, but Defendant declined, stating that he did not feel well. Mr. Obodzinski did not see Defendant again until the next morning in the hotel lobby. Mr. Obodzinski testified that “[Mr. Cope] had a little bit of a puffy face, and his eyes were a little red, and I assumed that since he said the night before he wasn’t feeling well, that he was probably coming down with a cold.” The pilots flew from Austin to Denver that morning without incident. While in the cockpit, Mr. Obodzinski detected occasional hints of the smell of alcohol. When they arrived in Denver, Mr. Obodzinski leaned over Defendant and “took a big whiff,” concluding that the smell of alcohol was coming from Defendant Mr. Obodzinski contacted dispatch to delay the next leg of their flight, and contacted the airline's human resources officer. Defendant would later be indicted by the federal grand jury in Colorado. After a two-day bench trial, the district court convicted Mr. Cope and sentenced him to a below-guidelines sentence of six months in prison and two years of supervised release. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court had sufficient evidence to find that Defendant was “under the influence of alcohol,” even if the district court relied on the FAA regulations or Republic Airways'[Defendant's employer] company policy, such reliance would have been harmless error.