Musacchio v. United States

PETITIONER: Michael Musacchio
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division

DOCKET NO.: 14-1095
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 577 US (2016)
GRANTED: Jun 29, 2015
ARGUED: Nov 30, 2015
DECIDED: Jan 25, 2016

ADVOCATES:
Roman Martinez - Assistant to the Solicitor General, for the respondent
Erik S. Jaffe - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Michael Musacchio was the president of Exel Transportation Services (ETS), a transportation brokerage company that arranges freight shipments for business clients, until his resignation in 2004. In 2005, Musacchio founded Total Transportation Services (TTS), a competing company, and several ETS agents moved to the new company with him. Around the same time, the new president of ETS became suspicious when potential new agents were unexpectedly familiar with the terms of ETS contracts. He discovered that Musacchio and other TTS agents had been accessing ETS servers, so ETS sued TTS and the parties settled for $10 million.

In 2010, the government indicted Musacchio and other TTS agents on counts of conspiracy and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. At trial, the district court incorrectly instructed the jury that the government had to prove more stringent elements than the statute actually requires, and the government did not object. After he was convicted, Musacchio appealed and argued that, by not objecting, the government acceded to the higher burden and failed to meet it. Musacchio also argued that one of the counts was barred by a statute of limitations, but he had not raised this defense at trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the district court’s instructional error did not become the law of the case when the government failed to object and that Musacchio waived the statute of limitations defense by failing to raise it at trial.

Question

  1. Does the law of the case doctrine require the sufficiency of evidence to be measured against the elements laid out in the jury instructions when those elements require the government to prove more than the statute requires and the government did not object at trial?
  2. Is a statute of limitations defense that is not raised at trial reviewable on appeal?

Media for Musacchio v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 30, 2015 in Musacchio v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 25, 2016 in Musacchio v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Thomas has the opinion of the Court today in 14-1095, Musacchio versus United States.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner Michael Musacchio resigned as president of Exel Transportation Services “ETS” in 2004.

However, with help from a former colleague he continued to access ETS’ computer system until early 2006 without ETS’ authorization.

In 2010, the United States indicted Musacchio under 18 U.S.C. §1030(A)-(C), which makes it a crime if a person “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access and thereby obtains information from any protected computer”.

The indictment charged him in Count One with conspiring to obtain access to a computer without authorization and in Count Two with a substantive count of making unauthorized access.

Musacchio did not argue in the trial court that his prosecution violated the five-year Statute of Limitation in 18 U.S.C. §3282(a) nor did the government object when the district court improperly instructed the jury that §1030(A) “makes it a crime to intentionally access a computer without authorization and exceed authorized access even though the conjunction “and” added an element.”

The jury found Musacchio guilty on both counts.

On appeal, Musacchio challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conspiracy conviction; arguing for the first time that his prosecution for the substantive offense was barred by the Statute of Limitations.

In affirming his conviction, the Fifth Circuit assessed Musacchio's sufficiency challenge against the charged elements of the conspiracy count rather than against the heightened jury instruction.

The Fifth Circuit also ruled that he had waived his limitations defense by failing to raise it at trial.

Musacchio challenges both rulings.

We first hold that sufficiency challenge should be assessed against the elements of the charged crime not against the heightened element set forth in an erroneous instruction.

Sufficiency review essentially addresses whether the government's case was strong enough to reach the jury.

A reviewing court considers only the question whether after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Its determination thus does not rest on how the jury was instructed.

The government's failure to introduce evidence of an additional element does not implicate these principles and its failure to object to a heightened jury instruction does not affect sufficiency review.

Because Musacchio neither contests that he was properly charged with conspiracy to obtain unauthorized access nor disputes that the evidence was sufficient on that charged crime; the Fifth Circuit correctly rejected his challenge.

Second, we hold that a defendant cannot successfully raise §3282(a) Statute of Limitations bar for the first time on appeal.

The text, context and history of §3282(a) established that it imposes a non-jurisdictional defense that becomes part of a case only if a defendant raises it in the district court.

Thus, the failure to raise a defense at or before trial is reviewable only for plain error.

But a district court's failure to enforce an unraised limitations defense under §3282(a) cannot be a plain error.

The defense does not become part of the case if a defendant fails to press it so there is no error to correct.

The Fifth Circuit correctly rejected Musacchio's Statute of Limitations claim.

For these reasons and others set forth in our opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Fifth Circuit.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.

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