2.15 “Willful Blindness” As a Way of Satisfying “Knowingly”

In deciding whether [defendant] acted knowingly, you may infer that [defendant] had knowledge of a fact if you find that [he/she] deliberately closed [his/her] eyes to a fact that otherwise would have been obvious to [him/her]. In order to infer knowledge, you must find that two things have been established. First, that [defendant] was aware of a high probability of [the fact in question]. Second, that [defendant] consciously and deliberately avoided learning of that fact. That is to say, [defendant] willfully made [himself/herself] blind to that fact. It is entirely up to you to determine whether [he/she] deliberately closed [his/her] eyes to the fact and, if so, what inference, if any, should be drawn. However, it is important to bear in mind that mere negligence or mistake in failing to learn the fact is not sufficient. There must be a deliberate effort to remain ignorant of the fact.

Comment(s)

(1) This instruction is drawn from the instructions approved in United States v. Gabriele, 63 F.3d 61, 66 n.6 (1st Cir. 1995), and United States v. Brandon, 17 F.3d 409, 451-52 n.72 (1st Cir. 1994).

(2) The rule in the First Circuit is that:

[A] willful blindness instruction is warranted if (1) the defendant claims lack of knowledge; (2) the evidence would support an inference that the defendant consciously engaged in a course of deliberate ignorance; and (3) the proposed instruction, as a whole, could not lead the jury to conclude that an inference of knowledge was mandatory.

Gabriele, 63 F.3d at 66 (citing Brandon, 17 F.3d at 452, and United States v. Richardson, 14 F.3d 666, 671 (1st Cir. 1994)); accord United States v. Coviello, 225 F.3d 54, 70 (1st Cir. 2000); United States v. Camuti, 78 F.3d 738, 744 (1st Cir. 1996). “The danger of an improper willful blindness instruction is ‘the possibility that the jury will be led to employ a negligence standard and convict a defendant on the impermissible ground that he should have known [an illegal act] was taking place.’” Brandon, 17 F.3d at 453 (quoting United States v. Littlefield, 840 F.2d 143, 148 n.3 (1st Cir. 1988)).