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United States v. Nakhleh

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

January 12, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RAMESS NAKHLEH, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Ramess Nakhleh's appeal from his misdemeanor conviction. The issues were fully briefed. Because the facts and arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record and because oral argument will not significantly aid the decisional process, the appeal will be decided based on the parties' briefing. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2); Fed. R. App. P. 34(a)(2)(C); Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D). For the reasons discussed below, the Court affirms Defendant's conviction for disorderly conduct.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 8, 2016, Defendant Ramess Nakhleh went to the Highland Park Post Office to mail a package. When Nakhleh arrived at the post office, the box was unsealed; when a postal worker told Nakhleh that he would have to seal the box himself, Nakhleh went to a nearby store to buy tape. When he returned to the post office, Nakhleh asked a second postal worker to seal the box for him. The worker refused, and Nakhleh sealed it himself. The box could still not be processed, however, because the shipping label was missing. The label was inside the box, so Nakhleh reopened the box and retrieved it. Nakhleh did not want to affix the label, so he asked the postal worker to do so; she refused and another customer volunteered to place the label on the box. With the process of preparing the box for shipment completed, the postal worker processed the package and Nakhleh left the post office.

         Nakhleh's absence from the post office was short-lived. While on his way home, Nakhleh reflected on the various exchanges at the post office and became upset at his treatment by the postal workers. He returned to the post office, bringing an audio recorder with him to record his conversations with the postal employees. He approached the second postal worker and asked for the box back, explaining that he had left something in it. The worker informed him that she was not permitted to return the box for any reason. Nakhleh was apparently upset with this response; one worker testified that he became loud, rude, and irate, while another testified that he was being belligerent.

         The police arrived, and Nakhleh explained that he simply wanted the box back because he wanted to retrieve something from it. The police asked what he needed to get out of it, to which Nakhleh replied, “What if it's a bomb?” After a follow-up question, Nakhleh repeated the question: “What if it's a bomb?” The police evacuated the post office, and ultimately the post office was closed for two hours. During that time, a postal inspector trained in the identification of dangerous or suspicious items x-rayed the package and determined that it did not contain a bomb.

         Nakhleh was charged with disorderly conduct in a post office. See 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(e). Following trial, Magistrate Judge Grand determined that the prosecution had shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Nakhleh's conduct created a noise that was loud and unusual and that he disturbed the employees from performing their duties. Magistrate Judge Grand further found that Nakhleh's conduct set off the chain of events that impeded and disturbed the general public in use of the post office. Accordingly, Nakhleh was convicted of disorderly conduct. 18 U.S.C. § 3061(c)(4)(B). Nakhleh was sentenced to six months' probation, which included attendance at anger-management classes, and to pay a $1, 000 fine.

         Nakhleh now brings this appeal. He argues (i) that he did not make a “loud and unusual” noise as required by the regulation, as he was merely speaking in his normal voice; (ii) that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction; (iii) that the magistrate judge erred in crediting testimony over a contemporaneous audio recording; and (iv) that the sentence imposed was unreasonable. For the reasons that follow, the Court upholds Defendant's conviction and sentence.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The scope of review on an appeal to the district court from a conviction in front of a magistrate judge is the same as the scope of review on an appeal to the court of appeals from a conviction in a district court. Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D). Accordingly, the Court will review the instant question of statutory interpretation de novo. United States v. Lumbard, 706 F.3d 716, 720 (6th Cir. 2013). Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the conviction, the Court is tasked with reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and determining whether “any rational trier of fact could find the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Gooch, 850 F.3d 285, 288 (6th Cir. 2017) (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Nakhleh also disputes an evidentiary ruling made by the magistrate judge. An “abuse of discretion is the proper standard of review” of a trial court's evidentiary rulings. General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 142 (1997). An abuse of discretion occurs only when a reviewing court has “a definite and firm conviction that the trial court committed a clear error in judgment.” United States v. Boothe, 335 F.3d 522, 526 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Nakhleh also argues that the sentence imposed is substantively unreasonable. This objection was not raised in the trial court. Typically, if a defendant has not raised a reasonableness objection in the trial court, a reviewing court will apply a plain-error standard to such a challenge. See Lumbard, 706 F.3d at 720. In the Sixth Circuit, however, trial judges are required, after handing down a sentence, to ask the parties whether there are any objections to the sentence pronounced that have not been previously raised. See United States v. Bostic, 371 F.3d 865, 872 (6th Cir. 2004). In this case, after handing down the sentence, the magistrate judge merely asked “[i]s there anything further then?” Trial Tr. at 127 (Dkt. 2). This question is not sufficient to satisfy the Bostic test. See United States v. Camacho-Arellano, 614 F.3d 244, 247 (6th Cir. 2010) (finding that asking defense counsel if there was “anything else” did not constitute asking the Bostic question). Accordingly, despite the lack of objection in the trial court, because the Bostic question was not asked, the Court will apply an abuse-of-discretion standard to the sentence. United States v. Daniels, 641 F. App'x 461, 466-468 (6th Cir. 2016).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. “Loud and ...


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