01 March 2013

Law in Plain English: United States v. Deffenbaugh

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

United States v. Deffenbaugh

Larry Deffenbaugh
"In order to avoid a state probation violation hearing, Larry Deffenbaugh designed a plan to fake his death with the assistance of his girlfriend [Giannetta]." He went fishing with his brother, jumped overboard when his brother wasn't watching, leading his brother to believe he had fallen off the boat and possibly drowned (a curious result for Deffenbaugh, who was a longtime boat captain and trained scuba diver). His brother called 911 and a Coast Guard search ensued. Deffenbaugh swam ashore and disappeared with Giannetta. A viewer on America's Most Wanted later recognized Deffenbaugh and he was arrested. He was charged with causing a distress call to be made to the Coast Guard; and conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States. After being convicted, Deffenbaugh appealed claiming that because Giannetta didn't know that causing a distress call was a federal offense, she didn't have the same criminal objective as Deffenbaugh and thus he could not be charged with conspiracy against the United States. A panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Deffenbaugh and Giannetta's plan to disappear was made with the intent of causing a distress call, affecting a search, and having Deffenbaugh declared dead. It didn't matter if she didn't know she was committing a crime against the United States. Her conduct wasn't any less blameworthy. As a result, Deffenbaugh's conviction was affirmed (Deffenbaugh also challenged the length of his sentence as unreasonable, but that part of his appeal is not covered here).

A yacht once owned by Larry Deffenbaugh of Calvert County is listed for sale in Florida. It was seized by lenders in 2006. (Hmy Yacht Sales)

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