Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Followup: US v. Ressam

A commenter to this post asked what the Supreme Court decided. While I should be watching Bill Clinton make nice with the Obama camp, I'll work for you my loyal readers instead.

You may recall that the issue was whether simply possessing explosives while making a false declaration to Customs was sufficient to constitute the crime of carrying an explosive "during the commission of a felony." The false statement was the felony. The defendant's argument was essentially that the false statement had nothing to do with the explosives. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal agreed that the "during" element means that the explosive has to have something to do with the felony.

The Supreme Court, in an 8 to 1 decision, disagreed with the Court of Appeals. Here is the decision. Mr. Justice Breyer dissented. He took the position that the Court's reading of the statute is overly broad and criminalizes behavior Congress did not intend to make criminal. His primary concern is that people have legal and legitimate reasons to carry explosives (which are defined as including a number on non-explosive chemical compounds). So, if a farmer carrying fertilizer happens to get the urge to rob a bank, he or she should be charged with bank robbery and not the added offense of also carrying explosives during the felony. A more worrisome example is the trucker carrying a load of diesel from Canada who fails to declare to Customs and Border Protection the presents he bought while in Canada.

Given the outcome of the case, please take my advice and be very careful about what you are carrying whenever you commit a felony.

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