RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Knowles' Car
DOCKET NO.: 97-7164
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 526 US 1 (1999)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1998
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1999
Barbara D. Underwood - Argued the cause for the respondent
Kevin J. Keating - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Facts of the case
Franois Holloway, a.k.a. Abdu Ali, was charged with several federal offenses, including carjacking. Federal law defines carjacking as "tak[ing] a motor vehicle ... from ... another by force and violence or by intimidation" "with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm." Holloway's accomplice testified that there was no intent to harm the drivers of the cars, just steal their vehicles. However, he said he would have used his gun if he had been given a "hard time." The District Court judge instructed the jury that the requisite intend under law may be conditional. Moreover, the government would satisfy this condition if it had proved to them that the defendant intended to cause death or bodily harm if the drivers refused to turn over their cars. Subsequently, the jury found Holloway guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that a conditional intent to harm was within a reasonable interpretation of the legislative purpose of the carjacking law.
Does the federal carjacking law apply to crimes committed with the "conditional intent" of harming drivers who refuse a carjacker's demands?
Media for Holloway Aka Ali v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 1998 in Holloway Aka Ali v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 02, 1999 in Holloway Aka Ali v. United States
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 97-7164, Holloway against United States will be announced by Justice Stevens.
John Paul Stevens:
In 1994 the Congress amended the Federal Carjacking statute to provide that “whoever with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, takes a motor vehicle” from another person by force and violence or by intimidation shall be guilty of the federal crime.
The question in this case is one of the concerns the meaning of that definition of intent, does it require the government to prove that the defendant had an unconditional intent to kill or harm in all events or does it just require proof of an intent to kill or harm, if necessary to complete the carjacking?
The petitioner François Holloway and an accomplice committed three carjackings.
They approached each driver produced a gun and threatened to shoot unless the driver handed over the keys.
The plan was to steal the cars without harming the victims, but the accomplice testified that he would have used the gun if any of the drivers had given him a hard time.
At trial the District Judge instructed the jury that merely using a gun to frighten a victim was insufficient to establish an attempt to cause death or bodily harm, but the Judge continued that the government could satisfy this element if it established that the defendant intended to use the gun to cause death or serious harm in the event the alleged victim refused to turnover their cars.
The jury convicted petitioner of all three carjacking counts.
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
We granted certiorari to resolve an apparent conflict between that decision and the decision of the Ninth Circuit.
We now affirm.
Congress enacted the carjacking statute essentially to provide a federal penalty for a particular type of robbery.
The intended element of that statute thus modifies the act of taking the motor vehicle.
We think that when a person points a gun at the driver, having decided to pull the trigger if the driver does not comply with the demands of the car keys, the person posses at that moment, an intent to seriously harm or kill the driver as Congress intended that term to be understood.
Two considerations strongly support this conclusion: First excluding conditional attempt from the ambit of the statute, would exclude from its coverage most of the conduct that Congress obviously intended to prohibit.
Only in the highly unusual carjacking does the offender intend to harm or kill the driver regardless of whether the driver resists.
Second, it is reasonable to presume that Congress was familiar with the cases and scholarly writing that have recognized that specific intent to commit a wrongful act maybe conditional.
Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have filed dissenting opinions.