USA V. FOREST KIRST, No. 20-30193 (9th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Defendant crashed his plane when he attempted to fly over Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range in Alaska. During both the investigation and Defendant’s appeal of the revocation of his airman certificate, Defendant claimed that the plane was climbing through 5,500 to 5,700 feet with a target altitude of 6,000 feet as it approached the pass. GPS data showed that the plane was flying at an altitude more than 1,000 feet lower than what Defendant claimed. The proceeding in Count One was the NTSB investigation. The proceeding in Count Two was the appeal before the NTSB of the FAA’s revocation of his airman certificate. Challenging his conviction on Count One, Defendant argued that the NTSB’s accident investigation was not a pending “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction on two counts of obstructing a pending proceeding and affirmed the district court’s assessment of a $5,000 fine. The panel wrote that even if it were not reviewing for plain error, it would affirm, holding that the NTSB’s investigation of Defendant’s plane crash was a “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The panel held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on the materiality element. The panel held that the district court did not commit clear error in finding Defendant able to pay the $5,000 fine, as there was no evidence before the district court showing that Defendant was unable to pay the fine, or was likely become unable to pay it.