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United States v. Riffe

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
28 F.3d 565 (1994)


Facts

Leonard Riffe (defendant), an inmate at Michigan’s Standish Correctional Facility (Standish), and his girlfriend, Stephanie Kania, worked together to smuggle marijuana into Standish. Kania received and delivered packages of marijuana to a prison guard, who in turn delivered the packages to Riffe inside the prison. Riffe was consequently convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, as well as aiding and abetting the use of mail to facilitate distribution of marijuana. At trial, Riffe argued that he was under duress from a prison gang to supply the gang with marijuana as repayment of a debt. Riffe presented evidence that the gang members had threatened to kill him if he did not participate in the smuggling activities. Through his own testimony and that of a fellow inmate, Riffe attempted to prove that he had no alternative but to comply with the gang’s demands, as going to prison officials for help would have put him in more danger. Riffe also presented evidence to show that protective segregation in the prison was inadequate and that he would have faced further threats from the other inmates, because the prison officials would have forced him to identify the gang members involved. The district court refused to give an instruction on duress, concluding that Riffe did not meet the five-factor test set forth in United States v. Singleton, 902 F.2d 471 (6th Cir. 1990), because Riffe had not satisfied the third condition of showing that he had no reasonable, legal alternative to violating the law, meaning a chance to refuse to do the criminal act and also to avoid the threatened harm. Despite finding that Riffe reasonably believed he would be subjected to serious consequences if he went to prison officials, the court applied the third factor as a per se rule, refusing a duress instruction unless Riffe could show that he had tried to seek help from the officials. Riffe appealed, arguing that the district court improperly declined to provide the jury with instructions on duress.

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Concurrence/Dissent (Kennedy, J.)

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