Saturday, September 27, 2014

Case o' The Week: Jurisdiction challenge bombs in Ninth - Garcia and post-Morrison Commerce Clause j/x

 Does a little apartment building in sleepy Fairfield, California sufficiently affect interstate commerce sufficiently to trigger federal jurisdiction?
  Yep – by per se rule.
United States v. Garcia, 2014 WL 4637169 (9th Cir. Sept. 18, 2014), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Rawlinson, joined by Judges Tallman and D.J. Garbis.  

Facts: Jantina Reed testified at trial that defendant Daniel Garcia acted unusually when she, her boyfriend, and two children lived in Garcia’s house – he ran around naked and stood outside her door, breathing heavily. Id. She and her family moved away, to an apartment building in Fairfield CA. Id. at *1, *4. Reed testified that Garcia had, during one fight, thrown items on her car and threatened, “tick, tick, boom, I’m going to blow this up to pieces.” Id. 
  One night, Reed heard an explosion and discovered that her borrowed SUV was on fire. Id. at *2. Cops found the remains of a pipe bomb under the SUV and damage to the apartment; a later search revealed a similar pipe bomb in Garcia’s residence. Id. at *2-*3. The SUV was built in Wisconsin; the building that suffered damage advertised rentals online and had tenants from out-of-state. 
  Garcia’s Rule 29 motion was denied, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. Id. at *5.
Daniel Garcia

Issue(s): “Garcia contends that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to satisfy the Commerce Clause jurisdictional requirement of 18 USC § 844(i), because the government failed to demonstrate that Garcia’s criminal conduct affected interstate commerce.” Id. at *1. “Relying on [Lopez] and [Morrison], Garcia asserts that damage to the apartment complex did not satisfy the Commerce Clause jurisdictional element of 18 USC § 844(i) because there was insufficient evidence that any damage to the apartment building substantially affected interstate commerce.” Id. at *5.

Held:We disagree, and conclude that the Commerce Clause jurisdictional element for a conviction pursuant to 18 USC §  844(i) was satisfied as discussed in Russell v. United States, 471 U.S. 858 . . . (1985) and United States v. Gomez, 87 F.3d 1093 (9th Cir. 1996).” Id. at *5.

Of Note: This jurisdictional challenge to the apartment building being in “interstate commerce” was squarely foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Russell and the Ninth’s decision in Gomez. Id. at *5. In the present case, Garcia’s pitch was that the Supreme’s 2013 decision in Morrison undermined that authority: under new jurisdiction law, there was insufficient evidence of impact on interstate commerce to support the conviction. Id. at *6. 
  The Ninth doesn’t bite. 
  Unlike the statute in Morrison, the Section 844(i) statute has an internal interstate jurisdictional requirement. Id. at *7. The Ninth also rejects Garcia’s argument that the “aggregate effect” approach no longer satisfies the Commerce Clause requirement. Relying on a Second Circuit decision, Judge Rawlinson concludes that Russell’s “part of an economic chain” approach survives until expressly rejected by the Supreme Court (something not done in Morrison). Id. at *7. 
  The punch line is a per se rule that damage to a rental apartment building satisfies the jurisdictional provisions of 18 USC § 844(i). Id. at *8.

How to Use: What about the SUV? In an intriguing footnote, Judge Rawlinson muses that “there is a serious question as to whether the government presented sufficient evidence that the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV was used in interstate commerce.” Id. at *8 & n. 4. (Note that the apartment building was just dinged by some shrapnel from the explosion, id. at *2 – had the SUV been parked a bit further away when it was blown up, federal jurisdiction may not have existed in this case.) In a Section 844(i) case involving only a vehicle, Garcia leaves open the hope of another Morrison jurisdictional challenge.
Hon. District Judge Lawrence Karlton
For Further Reading: Garcia got the mandatory minimum of 35 years. The 31-year old prosecutor wanted more time for the 31-year old Garcia– prompting District Judge Karlton to ask if the AUSA was serious. “I want to tell you,” Judge Karlton chided the AUSA, “that the most important asset the U.S. Attorney’s Office has with the court is its belief in good sense.” For a fascinating account of this sentencing hearing, seeFairfield pipe bomber receives 35-year federal prison sentence,” available here.

Image of the Honorable District Judge Karlton from

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender, N.D. Cal. Website at


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