Thursday, April 24, 2014

False distress signal = $489,000

Not much happening this week (so far) in the Sixth, so thought I would share this nugget with you.  Yesterday, the Court upheld the sentence in the case of United States v. Kumar. 13-3970  

Kumar was a 19 year old student at Bowling Green University who was studying aviation technology.  He dreamed of becoming a pilot for the Coast Guard after his graduation.  As part of his training, he was ordered to fly from an airport in Bowling Green, Ohio to Cleveland in back.  On the way back, flying over Lake Erie, he thought he saw a flare from a boat, and radioed it in.  He was then instructed by the airport to fly in for a closer look - he did not see a boat or anything, but he was fearful that he would be accused of "sounding stupid", so he told the airport that he saw a 25 foot boat with persons in life vests, with a strobe light activated.

This understandably prompted a response by more than the cavalry.  The United States Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces spent the next 24 hours searching for the fictitious boat.  A month after the search,  Kumar admitted he had lied.  The United States subsequently prosecuted him for a Class D felony "making a false distress call".

Kumar of course plead guilty.  But his punishment was far from light.  He was sentenced to 3 months incarceration, and 3 years supervised release.  But possibly even more importantly, Kumar was ordered to pay restitution to the United States and Canada for all of their expenses for the entire operation - $489,007.70

On appeal, Kumar challenged the imposition of the entire cost of the vessels, manpower, etc. for the time period.  He also challenged the court's authority to impose restitution for a foreign entity (Canadian Armed Forces).  The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that "all costs incurred as a result", as outlined in the statute, was broad enough to include all expenses and costs.

The precedential value of this decision is minimal, as there will not be too many cases handled for this type of offense.  But it is worth noting the facts - a 19 year old kid panicked, made a mistake, and will now pay the rest of his life for it.  He has what amounts to a $500,000 house payment, he has a felony conviction, and he has served 3 months in prison - all because he did not want to seem stupid.

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