In Whitfield v. United States (No. 13-9026) (Jan. 13, 2015), appellant Whitfield challenged his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e), which enhances the penalties for an individual who “forces any person to accompany him without the consent of such person” during the commission of, or when fleeing from, a bank robbery. Whitfield argued that his actions—entering Mary Parnell’s home when he was fleeing a bank robbery and guiding her down the hallway to another room in her house—did not qualify as forcing Parnell to “accompany” him. Whitfield argued that forcing an individual to “accompany” him required “substantial” movement beyond the several feet traveled by Ms. Parnell in her home.
The Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit and Whitfield’s conviction, holding that forced accompaniment of just several feet is sufficient to satisfy the enhanced penalties of section 2133(e). The unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, relied heavily on the ordinary and historical meanings of “accompanied,” including citations to the works of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen as examples in which “accompanied” is used to connote limited movement from one room to another.
The Court rejected Whitfield’s argument that the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of “accompany” would lead to over-application of this penalty enhancement to bank robberies, as bank robbers routinely exert control over a bank teller’s movement during the commission of the crime. The Court advised that the most minimal movement of a bank teller’s feet while being grabbed by a robber would not satisfy the definition of “accompaniment.” Instead, the movement at issue must be from “one place to another.”
The Court noted that “the severity of the penalties for a forced-accompaniment conviction—a mandatory minimum of 10 years, and a maximum of life imprisonment—does not militate against this interpretation as the danger of a forced accompaniment does not vary depending on the distance traversed.”
— Andrea Halverson, Stetler, Duffy & Rotert, Ltd., Chicago, IL