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
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.
Rule 29 motion was denied, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to
thirty-five years in prison. Id. at
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
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.
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.
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
|Hon. District Judge Lawrence Karlton|
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, see “Fairfield
pipe bomber receives 35-year federal prison sentence,” available here.
Labels: Commerce Clause, Interstate Commerce, Jurisdiction, Rawlinson, Section 844