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United States v. Sanders

211 F.3d 711 (2000)

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United States v. Sanders

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

211 F.3d 711 (2000)

Facts

James and Elizabeth Sanders (defendants) were charged and convicted of federal crimes for their involvement in the unauthorized removal of a residue sample from TWA Flight 800, a civil airplane that had exploded over the Atlantic Ocean in 1996, killing 230 people. James worked as an investigative journalist, and his wife, Elizabeth, was a TWA flight attendant. Elizabeth connected James with Captain Terrell Stacey, a senior pilot and part of the official investigation team. James asked Stacey to obtain a sample of residue recovered from the wreckage so it could be tested. Stacey initially refused because it was forbidden to remove anything from the facility housing the wreckage and the investigation was explicitly confidential. However, Stacey eventually agreed to obtain a sample for James. A test of the sample identified the residue as solid rocket fuel. A California newspaper reported on James’s investigation and his theory that the presence of solid rocket fuel suggested that Flight 800 was hit by a United States Navy missile. James also published a book about his investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Benton Campbell informed James that he would not prosecute James if James revealed the confidential source. James declined, believing he was not guilty of any crime and believing he was entitled to maintain the confidentiality of his source. Prosecutors later told James that he might be indicted if he continued to refuse to cooperate. Stacey was eventually identified as the source without the assistance of the Sanderses.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Meskill, J.)

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