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Rogue Court Overturns Would-Be Gunman Kurt Havelock's Conviction

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 09, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Republican presidential-hopeful Rick Santorum wants to abolish the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because the Kozinski-led crew form a "rogue court."

Never mind the logistical nightmare that would emerge from axing the largest appellate circuit and banishing its life-tenured jurists to Guam; Santorum's plan would succeed in eliminating opinions like last week's reversal in U.S. v. Kurt Havelock from ever seeing the ink of Westlaw.

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Havelock's conviction for mailing threatening communications, finding that threatening communications must be addressed to an individual, natural person to fall within the scope of the crime.

Kurt Havelock, an Arizona restaurant owner who was upset after being denied a liquor license to open a bar, purchased an assault rifle and ammunition for an attack during the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. On his way to the stadium, he dropped six envelopes in the mail to media organizations containing what he labeled an "econo-political" manifesto, reports Reuters. Havelock, who expected to suffer "suicide by cops" during the attack, also included a "do not resuscitate" order in two of the envelopes.

After mailing the manifestos, but before executing the attacks, Havelock had a change of heart and turned himself in to police. He was later indicted and convicted on six counts of mailing threatening communications.

Havelock appealed, arguing that the district court erred in interpreting federal law to allow a trier of fact to consult the content of a mailed communication to determine whether it was addressed to a natural person, that his Manifesto qualified as political speech and was entitled to First Amendment protection, and that there was insufficient evidence that he mailed the Manifesto with the specific intent to threaten any person.

His lawyers further claimed that the letters were not meant as threats, but as posthumous explanations, since he expected to be killed during the attack, reports The Washington Post.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that a reasonable jury could not have found that Havelock's rantings were addressed to a natural person, as required under the applicable statute, because his mailings were all addressed to newspapers and websites, and the manifesto for the government did not include a salutation line. Based on that record, "it is impossible to determine ... that Havelock ... was addressing any particular person."

Sure, Havelock's plan was nutty, but the government didn't charge him that a crime that could actually stick.

What do you think? Did the court make the right call, or is this just another episode of rogue court behavior?

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