United States v Sorenson

Sorenson appealed his conviction for obstructing tax law administration. The panel affirmed. It held that charging obstruction here was appropriate under the plain language of the statute, required a different mens rea than tax evasion, government internal guidance documents do not determine the meaning of statutes and eh fact no one had been charged before on facts similar to Sorenson did not mean the charge was incorrect. The panel held that the jury instruction on the crime was correct and required the jury to find knowing violation for unlawful gain. It further held that an audit or other proceeding is not necessary for a person to violate the statute as due administration of the tax laws can occur without a proceeding. It held there was no error in charging the jury about deliberate ignorance because Sorenson was told the type of trusts he was suing were considered illegal by the IRS, he only sought advice from the company recommending the trusts, he withheld information about the trusts form the people he used to prepare his personal tax returns who were different from the accountant he used for trust affairs and he refused to accept a certified letter form the IRS on the company’s advice and continued to use them after the company’s attorney’s office was searched pursuant to a warrant. The panel held that the district court’s sua sponte instruction requiring unanimity as to the means used to obstruct tax law administration was error as there is no requirement under the statute. However, as the instruction increased the burden on eh government, giving the charge did not harm Sorenson. It also held on plain error review that several means, such as setting up the trust, having signature authority and treating trust assets as his personal property were proven so the inclusion of two possibly improper means did not affect Sorenson’s substantial rights. The panel held that denying surrebutal was within the district court’s discretion as the evidence could have come n during the defense case and counsel made eth tactical decision not to do so. It held that the prosecution misstatements of evidence at closing argument were either cured through jury instruction or were harmless in the context of the evidence presented. It finally held that a cumulative error argument was waived through inadequate briefing.