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United States v. Donald L. Blankenship

Citation: 47 ELR 20010
No. 16-4193, (4th Cir., 01/19/2017)

The Fourth Circuit held that a district court committed no reversible error in a case where an energy company chairman was convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws. The case involved an accident on April 5, 2010, at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, which caused the death of 29 miners. The chairman was aware of numerous safety violations at the mine in the years leading up to the accident and took no remedial action. A jury convicted the chairman, and the district court sentenced him to one year imprisonment and assessed a $250,000 fine. On appeal, the chairman argued that the district court erred when it did not allow re-cross of an alleged co-conspirator and gave improper jury instructions on the meaning of the term "willfully" and the government's burden of proof. The appeals court disagreed, stating that re-cross was not mandatory as no "new matter" was raised on redirect. Further, there were no errors in the jury instructions for the term "willfully" or the government's burden of proof. The district court conviction was affirmed.