United States v. Cabrales

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: The White House

DOCKET NO.: 97-643
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 1 (1998)
ARGUED: Apr 29, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1998

John W. Rogers - Argued the cause for the respondent
Malcolm L. Stewart - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

An indictment returned in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri charged Vickie S. Cabrales with various charges of money laundering. The incident alleged that Cabrales deposited $40,000 with the AmSouth Bank of Florida, of which she later withdrew $38,000. The money was traceable to illegal cocaine sales in Missouri. Cabrales moved to dismiss the indictment for improper venue. Because the money-laundering activity occurred entirely in Florida, the court dismissed two of the three counts against Cabrales. In affirming, the Court of Appeals noted that Article III, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 18 required that a person be tried where the charged offense was committed. The court also noted that laundering alleged in the indictment occurred entirely in Florida and that the Government did not assert that Cabrales transported the money from Missouri to Florida.


May a defendant in a federal money-laundering case in which all the transactions occurred in one state be prosecuted in a second state?

Media for United States v. Cabrales

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 29, 1998 in United States v. Cabrales

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 97-643, United States v. Vickie Cabrales.

Mr. Stewart.

Malcolm L. Stewart:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

To obtain a conviction under the Federal money-laundering statutes, the Government must prove that the defendant engaged in a financial transaction, that the property involved in that transaction represented the proceeds of specified unlawful activity, and that the defendant knew that the funds were illegally acquired.

The Government has alleged in this case that respondent violated the money-laundering statutes by engaging in banking transactions in Florida using funds that were acquired through cocaine-trafficking activities in Missouri.

The question presented is whether venue was proper in Missouri, the place where the unlawful generation of funds is alleged to have occurred.

This Court's decisions have recognized two principal criteria on which venue may be based.

First, a prosecution may ordinarily be brought in any district where conduct constituting an element of the offense occurs.

Second, where a particular effect is an element of a Federal crime, the prosecution may generally be brought in any district where that effect is felt.

For purposes of the present case, the crucial point is that neither of those bases for laying venue requires that the prosecution be brought in a district where the defendant personally committed an unlawful act.

In the Government's view, Missouri is an appropriate forum for this prosecution on both of the foregoing approaches.

First, Missouri is the place where conduct constituting an element of the offense, namely the drug-trafficking crimes that generated the laundered funds, is alleged to have occurred.

Second, Missouri is the place where the harmful effects of respondent's money-laundering were principally felt, since the evil of money-laundering consists of its capacity to conceal and thus facilitate the predicate crimes.

Finally, trial in Missouri furthers the purposes underlying the requirement that a criminal offense be prosecuted at the place where the offense was committed.

Now, both Article III of the Constitution and the Sixth Amendment require that a criminal offense be prosecuted at the place where the offense shall have been committed.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Does it make any difference at all, Mr. Stewart, whether the defendant had any knowledge of the circumstances of the predicate offense or any link at all with the State in which that was carried out?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

To establish guilt under the money-laundering statutes the defendant would have to be shown to have known that the funds were illegally acquired, so to--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, the defendant presumably could have been told by somebody, look, I got these funds illegally.

Maybe the defendant is told that in the State of New York by someone from Missouri, and the someone says, these are illegally obtained funds but I need your help to put them in a bank and do such-and-such with them.

Is that enough to prosecute in this case?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

--Yes, under our view it is.

That is, the defendant must be shown to have known of the unlawful origin of the funds, but you're correct, the defendant doesn't--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Even if the defendant doesn't know that the crime occurred in Missouri and--

Malcolm L. Stewart:

--That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--was never there.

Malcolm L. Stewart:

That's correct.

In mean, in this case there are more substantial contacts between the respondent and the Western District of Missouri, but you're correct, under our theory that's not an essential feature of the grounds for laying venue.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, what cases do you think justify that particular approach?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

I think the two best cases in this Court would be Hyde v. United States and In Re Palliser.

Hyde v. United States involved a prosecution for conspiracy, in which the petitioners in this Court were prosecuted in the District of Columbia.