Ratzlaf v. United States

PETITIONER: Ratzlaf
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Kiryas Joel Village School District

DOCKET NO.: 92-1196
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 510 US 135 (1994)
ARGUED: Nov 01, 1993
DECIDED: Jan 11, 1994

ADVOCATES:
Paul J. Larkin, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
Stephen R. LaCheen - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Ratzlaf v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 11, 1994 in Ratzlaf v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 92-1196, Ratzlaf against the United States will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case presents a question of statutory interpretation.

Federal law requires banks to report cash transactions that exceed $10,000.00.

It is illegal to structure cash transactions above $10,000.00 to break them up into separate transactions to circumvent the reporting requirement imposed on the bank.

The law makes it a crime to willfully violate this prohibition.

Defendant Ratzlaf to pay off a large debt to a casino in Reno, Nevada purchase cashier's check from many banks each check for less than $10,000.00 each from a different bank.

For this conduct he was convicted, fined, and sentenced to prison.

His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Ratzlaf maintained that the willfulness specification in the law means that the government must prove he knew not only at the banks reporting requirement but of the prohibition on breaking up transactions to evade that requirement.

We agree that to give effect to the willfulness specification, the government had to prove Ratzlaf knew the structuring he undertook was unlawful.

Of course the trial judge did not so charged the jury.

Ratzlaf conviction cannot stand.

We therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice, Justice O'Connor and Justice Thomas concur.