RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Cleburne City Hall
DOCKET NO.: 83-6061
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
CITATION: 469 US 70 (1984)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1984
DECIDED: Dec 10, 1984
Charles G. White - on behalf of the Petitioners (pro hac vice)
Jerrold J. Ganzfried - on behalf of the Respondent
Facts of the case
Media for Garcia v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1984 in Garcia v. United States
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments this morning in Garcia against the United States.
Mr. White, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Charles G. White:
Mr. Justice... Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
This is a case of statutory construction.
The statute involved is found in Section 2114 of Title 18 of the United States Code.
It prescribes the robbery and attempted robbery of anyone in lawful custody or control of mail matter of any money or other property of the United States.
The statute was amended or had been amended in 1935 to add in the words
to what had previously been known exclusively as the Postal Robbery statute affecting only matters dealing with the Post Office.
The question before this Court is whether or not Congress intended to expand the scope of that statute to encompass any custodian of any money or government property that they would prosecute under the statute.
Now, the Government has, of course, adopted that position based on what they consider to be the plain reading and unambiguous wording of that statute.
Petitioners contend that in fact the statute is not unambiguous and that the... it suffers from various defects in the way that it's worded, and we will be in a position to argue that.
In addition, petitioners feel that the congressional intent is certainly relevant, and I would say controlling, as to what it was that Congress intended to do when in fact they amended the statute.
Petitioners will also propose to this Court an alternative, what we believe is in fact the plain meaning of the statute that comports with congressional intent; and that is an... that will involve the application of an ancient rule, a well-respected rule of statutory construction called the rule of ejusdem generis.
Now, the facts in this case are not totally pertinent to the legal issue involved, but some of them should be gone into in order to... to give some background to the Court.
The petitioners were two brothers, Jose and Francisco Garcia, who back in July of 1981 were engaged in negotiations with an undercover agent from the United States Secret Service for the purpose of selling or buying counterfeit money.
Now, the... Francisco... the Garcia brothers represented to Agent Holmes that they would be in a position to sell him counterfeit money in exchange for real money.
They had a meeting in a park in Miami, Florida in the evening in which Agent Holmes had brought some government money which was kept in a pouch.
The negotiations apparently were not to be had, because Jose Garcia did pull out a gun and train it upon Agent Holmes, and Francisco Garcia climbed into the car that Agent Holmes had driven to the scene and escaped with, or tried to escape with the pouch containing the real money.
The backup agents that were with Agent Holmes were approaching the scene to affect arrests.
One of their cars hit Francisco Garcia, knocking him to the ground, and Francisco Garcia was taken into custody, as was Jose Garcia.
Now, they were... these two individuals were prosecuted and tried in front of a jury in district court in the Southern District of Florida.
This issue that's before the Court was not raised by the trial attorney for the petitioners.
The issue was not raised until the brief was filed with the Eleventh Circuit, and the Eleventh Circuit permitted the issue to be argued and decided on its merits.
In the Eleventh Circuit opinion the conclusion was that the statute seemed very plain and unambiguous.
Basically, the Government's position was adopted, and the petitioners were... had their convictions affirmed.
I had stated in the very beginning that I intended to show that the statute was in fact ambiguous, and I think that the way to understand it is to look at the way in which the Government is contending the statute should be read.
By looking at the words themselves you have a very unusual situation here.
You have three clauses that are separated by a disjunctive "or".
The Government has argued that in fact there are two clauses separated by a disjunctive "or", and that one clause being mail matter, and then
thereby that... those... that phrase which was added by Congress in 1935 encompasses one category of things to be prohibited.