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United States v. Cheff-D1

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 15, 2017

JEREMIAH CHEFF- D1, Defendant.



         On April 19, 2017, Defendant Jeremiah Cheff (“Defendant”) was charged in a sixty-four count superseding indictment with various violations of federal tax laws. Presently before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant: (1) Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts Sixty-Two, Sixty-Three, and Sixty-Four (ECF No. 61); and (2) Defendant's Motion to Allow Defense Evidence At Trial Regarding Defendant's Intent, Lack of Willfulness, and State of Mind (ECF No. 62.) The Government filed responses to the motions. (ECF Nos. 65, 66.) For the reasons that follow, the Court is denying Defendant's motion to dismiss and is denying without prejudice Defendant's motion to allow evidence at trial.

         Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

         In Counts Sixty-Two through Sixty-Four of the Superseding Indictment, Defendant is charged with willful failure to file income tax returns for calendar years 2013-2015 in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7203. Defendant argues that these counts violate the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution because they do not sufficiently define the offense charged. Specifically, Defendant contends that the indictment fails to point to the law requiring him to file a tax return.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment “prohibits the Government from ‘taking away someone's life, liberty, or property under a criminal law so vague that it fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes, or so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement.'” Beckles v. United States, -- U.S. --, 137 S.Ct. 886, 892 (2017) (quoting Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. --, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2556 (2015)). Relatedly, the Sixth Amendment guarantees that, in all criminal proceedings, the accused shall have the right to be informed of “the nature and cause of the accusation.” U.S. Const., Amend. VI. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 7(c)(1) therefore requires that “[t]he indictment or information must be a plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged ….”

Section 7203 provides in relevant part:
Any person required under this title to pay any estimated tax or tax, or required by this title or by regulations made under authority thereof to make a return, keep any records, or supply any information, who willfully fails to pay such estimated tax or tax, make such return, keep such records, or supply such information, at the time or times required by law or regulations, shall … be guilty of a misdemeanor ….

26 U.S.C. § 7203. A number of Circuit Courts, including the Sixth Circuit, have held that this section is not unconstitutionally vague. See United States v. Eagan, 587 F.2d 338, 339 (6th Cir. 1978); United States v. Pederson, 784 F.2d 1462, 1463-64 (9th Cir. 1986); United States v. Parshall¸757 F.2d 211, 215 (8th Cir. 1985); United States v. Moore, 692 F.2d 95, 96-97 (10th Cir. 1979); United States v. Lachmann, 469 F.2d 1043, 1046 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 931 (1972); United States v. Mind, 466 F.2d 1000 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 915 (1972). Defendant nevertheless argues that his rights were violated because neither the statute nor the Superseding Indictment identify the law that required him to file income tax returns.

         The Sixth Circuit rejected a similar argument made by the defendant in United States v. Gaumer, No. 93-4155, 1994 WL 269581568 (1994), concluding that citation to the law requiring the defendant to file a tax return is not required so long as the indictment satisfies the requirements of Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117 (1974). Gaumer, 1994 WL 269581, at *4 (citing United States v. Kahl, 583 F.2d 1351, 1355 (5th Cir. 1978)); see also United States v. Spine, 945 F.2d 143, 149 (6th Cir. 1991) (rejecting the defendant's argument that the government failed to identify the statute that imposed a legal duty upon him to pay income taxes where the government also alleged that the defendant had taxable income for the years in question, but did not file any tax returns). The Superseding Indictment charging Defendant with violations of § 7203, like the indictments in Gaumer and Spine, satisfies the requirements of Hamling.

         In Hamling, the Supreme Court held that “[a]n information is sufficient if it contains the elements of the offense charged, fairly informs the defendant of the charge against which he must defend, and enables the defendant to plead either an acquittal or conviction as a bar to subsequent prosecutions for the same offense.” Gaumer, 1994 WL 269581, at *4 (citing Hamling, 418 U.S. at 117; Kahl, 583 F.2d at 1355). A violation for failure to file an income tax under § 7203 requires proof that: (1) the taxpayer had “an obligation to file a tax return”; (2) the taxpayer failed to file a return; and (3) the taxpayer's failure was willful. See United States v. Harris, No. 1997 WL 369439, at *9 (6th Cir. July 1, 1997) (citing United States v. Foster, 789 F.2d 457, 460 (7th Cir. 1986)); see also Gaumer, 1994 WL 269581, at *4 (quoting United States v. Buckley, 586 F.2d 498, 503-04 (5th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 982 (1979)) (“The elements of the offense of failing to file an income tax return under 26 U.S.C. § 7203 ‘involve proof of failure to file and willfulness in doing so.'”). The Superseding Indictment includes these elements and otherwise fulfills the requirements of Hamling.

         Counts Sixty-Two thru Sixty-Four of the Superseding Indictment allege that Defendant had gross income for the calendar year in question, that by reason of the gross income defendant was required by law to file a tax return for that calendar year, and that he willfully failed to do so. (See Superseding Indictment at ¶¶ 28-30, ECF No. 39 at Pg ID 139-40.) The counts also inform Defendant that his actions violated 26 U.S.C. § 7203.

         For these reasons, there is no merit to Defendant's constitutional challenges to the indictment and the Court, therefore, is denying his motion to dismiss.

         Defendant's Motion to ...

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