Carter v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States

DOCKET NO.: 99-5716
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 530 US 255 (2000)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 2000
DECIDED: Jun 12, 2000

David C. Frederick - Argued the cause for the respondent
Donald J. McCauley - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1997, Floyd J. Carter donned a ski mask and entered the Collective Federal Savings Bank unarmed. In the process, Carter pushed an exiting customer back into the bank and startled customers already inside. Carter removed almost $16,000 from the bank and fled. After his apprehension, Carter was charged with federal bank robbery, 18 USC Section 2113(a), which punishes "[w]hoever, by force and violence, or by intimidation, takes... any... thing of value [from a] bank." Carter pleaded not guilty, claiming that he had not taken the bank's money by force, violence, or intimidation as required of robbery. Carter moved that the District Court instruct the jury that they could consider whether he committed federal bank larceny, USC Section 2113(b), as a lesser included offense in the broader crime of robbery, in which case, Carter could be guilty of larceny without being guilty of robbery. The larceny law punishes "[w]hoever takes and carries away, with intent to steal or purloin, any... thing of value exceeding $1,000 [from a]... bank," with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, as opposed to robbery's 20-year maximum. The District Court denied the motion. The jury, instructed on robbery alone, returned a guilty verdict. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


May defendants charged with federal bank robbery have the jury consider whether they committed the lesser crime of federal bank larceny?

Media for Carter v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 2000 in Carter v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 12, 2000 in Carter v. United States

Clarence Thomas:

The second case I have to announce is number 99-5716, Carter versus United States.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Petitioner Floyd Carter entered a bank wearing a ski mask.

He proceeded to jump over the teller counter and take almost $16,000 in cash from the teller drawers.

He fled the scene but was apprehended later that day.

A federal grand jury indicted petitioner on a violation of Section 2113(a) of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

That Section punishes a person who by force and violence or by intimidation takes anything of value and possession of any bank.

At trial petitioner did not contest the basic facts of the episode but contended that the taking was not facilitated by force or intimidation as Section 2113(a) requires.

In the hope of giving the jury an option of convicting him on the less severe crime described by Section 2113(b) which does not require force or violence, petitioner requested that the Trial Court instruct the jury that it could convict him under Section 2113(b).

The Trial Court declined to give such an instruction and the jury instructed on Section 2113(a) alone returned a guilty verdict.

The Third Circuit affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the Third Circuit.

Under our decision in Schmuck versus United States, a defendant who requests an instruction on a lesser offence under Rule 31(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, must demonstrate that the lesser offence is a lesser included offence of the charged offence, i.e. the defendant must show that the elements of the lesser offence are a subset of the elements of the charged offence.

Here the lesser offence described by Section 2113(b) fails this test, because it requires three elements that are not required by the charged offence that is under Section 2113(a).

First, Section 2113(b) unlike Section 2113(a) requires that the defendant act with intent to steal or purloin.

Second, Section 2113(b) again unlike Section 2113(a) requires that the defendant carry away the property after he has taken it.

Third, Section 2113(b) in its first paragraph requires that the property taken have a value exceeding $1,000, Section 2113(a) by contrast contains no valuation requirement.

Petitioner advances several principles of statutory construction that are asserted to point in a different direction.

We agree that the ordinary principles of statutory interpretation are applicable in this context, but conclude that they do not in this case warrant a departure from what is indicated by a straightforward reading of the text.

The opinion discusses petitioners, various statutory arguments in detail.

I will describe briefly his primary argument that Section 2113(b) should be deemed a lesser included offence of Section 2113(a) because these offences resemble the common law crimes of larceny and robbery respectively, and the common law treated larceny as a lesser included offence of robbery.

We agree with petitioner that larceny and robbery bore this relationship at common law.

However, we do not find the common law relevant to the interpretive task at hand, because our cases instruct that the common law is a guide only when the statute uses a term with established meaning at common law.

Neither the term robbery, nor the term larceny appears in the text of Section 2113.

Although the word robbery appears in Section 2113’s title, the title of a statute is of use only to clarify ambiguity in the text of the statute and petitioner does not claim there is any such ambiguity.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer have joined.