United States v. Blankenship, No. 16-4193 (4th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Defendant, the former chairman and CEO of Massey, appealed his conviction for violating federal mine safety laws and regulations. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his involvement in a tragic mine accident that caused the death of 29 miners. The court concluded that the district court did not err in refusing to dismiss the superseding indictment; the district court did not reversibly err in denying defendant an opportunity to engage in recross-examination of a Massey employee; the district court properly instructed the jury that it could conclude that defendant “willfully” violated federal mine safety laws if it found that defendant acted or failed to act with reckless disregard as to whether the action or omission would lead to a violation of mine safety laws; the first, second, and third jury instructions reflect the “bad purpose” mens rea discussed in Bryan v. United States because they required that the jury conclude that defendant took actions that he knew would lead to violations of safety laws or failed to take actions that he knew were necessary to comply with federal mine safety laws; and the district court did not reversibly err in providing the two-inference instruction. The court noted that, although it disapproved of the two-inference instruction, the district court's use of that instruction in this case does not amount to reversible error. The court directed the district courts not to use the two-inference instruction going forward. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.