United States v. Hassler, No. 19-4824 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
An inmate at the Rockbridge County, Virginia Regional Jail, was badly beaten and potentially poisoned; he was taken to the hospital. Officer requested that the Sheriff’s Office investigate. Investigators discovered that another inmate also showed signs of being severely beaten but was not taken to the hospital. Virginia State Police dispatched agents to investigate. A member of the Rockbridge staff and a State Police officer, who was also a sworn member of the FBI’s violent crime unit, noticed an “incident report” created by Hassler, the jail’s head nurse, included several inconsistencies. A State Police investigator and an FBI agent interviewed Hassler, who admitted that “[he] wrote this report to cover [his] butt.” Hassler denied knowing that there was an investigation.
Hassler was charged with obstruction of justice, 18 U.S.C. 1519. The court rejected Hassler’s objection to the government’s proposed jury instruction, arguing that, under “Rehaif,” he could not be convicted unless, at the time he acted, he knew or contemplated that a federal investigation—as opposed to a state or local investigation— was occurring or would occur. Hassler was sentenced to 12 months and one day of imprisonment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Knowledge of a federal investigation under section 1519 is a jurisdictional element and not a separate mens rea requirement that the jury must specifically find.