Submitted: April 7, 2017
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
GRUENDER, MURPHY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.
found Timothy Anderson guilty of one count of conspiracy to
distribute heroin and one count of possessing heroin with the
intent to distribute. Anderson appeals his conviction on the
ground that the district court erroneously denied his pretrial
motion to dismiss the indictment, which alleged that the
prosecution violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
("RFRA"). See 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1.
For the following reasons, we affirm.
2013, a grand jury indicted Anderson on one count of
possession with intent to distribute heroin and one count of
conspiracy to distribute heroin. See 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), 846. Anderson filed a pretrial motion
seeking dismissal of the indictment. In this motion, Anderson
admitted that he distributed heroin, but he argued that the
Government's decision to prosecute him under the
Controlled Substances Act ("CSA") violated his free
exercise rights under RFRA. Anderson alleged that he "is
a student of Esoteric and Mysticism studies" who created
"a religious non-[p]rofit" to distribute heroin to
"the sick, lost, blind, lame, deaf, and dead members of
Gods' [sic] Kingdom." As such, he argued that the
Government's decision to prosecute him violated RFRA
because his practice of distributing heroin was "an
exercise of [his] sincerely held religious belief."
district court denied Anderson's pretrial motion. The
court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the
sincerity of Anderson's religious beliefs. See United
States v. Quaintance, 523 F.3d 1144, 1145 (10th Cir.
2008) (affirming dismissal of RFRA defense where the district
court, "after conducting a three-day evidentiary hearing
on the motion, determined that the defendants had not
established the existence of a sincerely held religious
belief"). Rather, the court assumed for purposes of
ruling on the motion that Anderson's heroin distribution
was an exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs and that
the prosecution "substantially burdened" this
"exercise of religion." See 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000bb-1(a). Nevertheless, the court held that the
Government had shown that its prosecution of Anderson was
both "in furtherance of a compelling governmental
interest" and "the least restrictive means of
furthering that compelling governmental interest."
See id. § 2000bb-1(b). Thus, the court denied
Anderson's motion and prohibited him from presenting this
defense to the jury during trial. The jury convicted Anderson
on both counts, and he was sentenced to 324 months'
imprisonment. Anderson now appeals, asserting that the
district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the
indictment and in prohibiting him from presenting his RFRA
defense to the jury.
person whose religious practices are burdened in violation of
RFRA may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a
judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief."
United States v. Ali, 682 F.3d 705, 709 (8th Cir.
2012) (quotations omitted). "RFRA, enacted in 1993,
amended all federal laws, including criminal laws, to include
a statutory exemption from any requirement that substantially
burdens a person's exercise of religion unless that
requirement is the least restrictive means to achieve a
compelling government interest." Id. "[I]n
a RFRA analysis, a rule imposes a substantial burden on the
free exercise of religion if it prohibits a practice that is
both sincerely held by and rooted in the religious beliefs of
the party asserting the claim or defense." Id.
at 710 (quotations omitted).
the district court assumed without deciding that
Anderson's practice of distributing heroin was an
exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs and that the
prosecution therefore substantially burdened his exercise of
religion. We note that a reasonable observer may legitimately
question how plausible it is that Anderson exercised a
sincerely held religious belief by distributing heroin.
Nevertheless, because the district court did not hold an
evidentiary hearing or make any factual findings regarding
Anderson's beliefs, we likewise will assume without
deciding that the prosecution substantially burdened an
exercise of religion. We review de novo the
remaining questions of whether the prosecution (1) furthered
a compelling governmental interest and (2) was the least
restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental
interest. See id. at 708; 42 U.S.C. §
Government first argues that it has a compelling interest in
regulating heroin distribution because heroin is listed under
Schedule I of the CSA and, as such, it has a high potential
for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in
treatment, and lacks accepted safety for use under medical
supervision. See 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1)(A)-(C).
However, as the Supreme Court explained in Gonzales v. O
Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, "the
Government's mere invocation of the general
characteristics of Schedule I substances, as set forth in the
Controlled Substances Act, cannot carry the day." 546
U.S. 418, 432 (2006). Rather, "RFRA requires the
Government to demonstrate that the compelling interest test
is satisfied through application of the challenged law
'to the person'-the particular claimant whose sincere
exercise of religion is being substantially burdened."
Id. at 430-31 (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
O Centro, the Government sought to enforce the CSA
against a religious group that used hoasca, another Schedule
I drug, for sacramental purposes. The Court noted that
"[f]or the past 35 years, there has been a regulatory
exemption for the use of peyote-a Schedule I substance-by the
Native American Church" and "[e]verything the
Government says about the DMT in hoasca . . . applies in
equal measure to the mescaline in peyote." Id.
at 433. Thus, the Court concluded that the Government had not
demonstrated a compelling interest in prohibiting the
"circumscribed, sacramental use of hoasca" by this
particular group. See id. at 432-33.
we could distinguish O Centro on the basis that
heroin simply is more dangerous than either hoasca or peyote.
However, we need not do so. Rather, we can distinguish O
Centro on the basis that the Government in this case has
demonstrated a different compelling interest. Unlike in O
Centro, the Government is not prosecuting Anderson for
engaging in a "circumscribed, sacramental use" of
heroin. See id. ...