Supreme Court Limits Tax Obstruction
Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 11:18AM
Christopher A. Iacono
What Happened
This week, the United States Supreme Court in Marinello v. United States held that in order to sustain a tax obstruction conviction, there must be a nexus between the defendant’s conduct and a particular administrative proceeding.  The ruling overturns the Second Circuit’s holding that a tax obstruction charge did not require a defendant’s action to be directed at an ongoing IRS audit or proceeding.

The Rundown
Carl Marinello, who ran a cash courier freight business, did not pay taxes and, for years before hearing from the government that he was under audit, systematically destroyed records.  An investigation by the IRS was open and ongoing during a portion of these years.  The government charged him with violating a number of criminal tax statutes, including the Omnibus Clause of the Internal Revenue Code.  The Omnibus clause forbids:

Corruptly or by force or threat of force (including any threating letter or communication), obstruct[ing] or imped[ing], or endeavor[ing]to obstruct or impede the due administration of the [Internal Revenue Code].

26 U.S.C. §7212(a).

To determine the scope of the Omnibus clause, the Supreme Court looked to its prior decision in the United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593 (1995), which discussed the obstruction statute.  In Aguilar, the Court adopted a “nexus” requirement, which required that a defendant’s actions “must have a relationship in time, causation or logic with the judicial proceeding.”  In Marinello, the Court found that the Omnibus Clause was not intended to serve as a “catchall” and held that the same nexus requirement applied.

The Take Away
The Court’s decision, which limits what could otherwise be interpreted as a broadly sweeping catchall statute, is a win for the criminal defense bar.  Accordingly, the nexus requirement will be an obstacle for the government to overcome before it can prevail on tax obstruction charges in the future.

Article originally appeared on White Collar Law (http://www.white-collared.com/).
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