Unanimous Eighth Circuit panel reverses carjacking conviction

United States v. Petruk, No. 14-1928 (8th Cir. Mar. 23, 2015).

The Eighth Circuit has just reversed a conviction for insufficiency of the evidence. 

Tammy Behning and her family were at home when they heard somebody start up the 1989 GMC pickup that belonged to Tammy’s son, Travis. Tammy’s other son, Dustin, jumped in his car and tried, without success, to follow the truck as it sped off. Meanwhile, as Travis was driving to Tammy’s house, he passed the truck going the opposite direction. He pulled a U-turn and started following the truck.

Eventually, Travis caught up to the truck, which had stopped on the side of the road. Elfred Petruk—the defendant here—got out of the truck, charged Travis’s car, and tried to hit Travis on the head with a hammer, Maxwell-style. Travis drove off. Petruk was later arrested; his DNA matched the DNA found on the steering wheel of the truck. 

A federal jury found Petruk guilty of carjacking as well as of obstructing justice (he’d tried to get a friend to concoct a bogus alibi for him). 

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirms Petruk’s conviction for obstruction of justice, but reverses his carjacking conviction. Carjacking requires taking a motor vehicle from somebody else “by force and violence or by intimidation.” When Petruk initially stole the truck off the street (everybody assumes it was Petruk who initially stole the truck, and that assumption isn’t challenged here) he didn’t use force and violence or intimidation. And when he brandished a hammer at Travis Behning, he’d already taken the truck. 

The opinion is written by Judge Myron Bright—a 96-year-old Johnson appointee who is still going strong—and is joined by Judges Loken and Kelly.