United States v. Resendiz-Ponce

Facts of the Case

Juan Resendiz-Ponce, a Mexican citizen, was charged with violating

Question

Can the omission of an element of a criminal offense from a federal indictment constitute harmless error?

CONCLUSION

Unanswered. The Court ruled that Resendiz-Ponce’s indictment was not defective at all, and thus it did not reach the question of whether a failure to state each element of the charged crime can ever be harmless error. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion for the 8-1 majority. The Court held that the indictment’s language stating that Resendiz-Ponce had attempted to illegally reenter the United States was sufficient, even without a more detailed description of his actions. The majority reasoned that the word ‘attempt’ […] encompasses both the overt act and intent elements. Therefore, Resendiz-Ponce’s indictment did not lack any essential element of the crime. In a lone dissent, Justice Scalia argued that the word attempt did not necessarily imply an action that would constitute a substantial step toward reentering. Justice Scalia would have affirmed the Ninth Circuit and dismissed the indictment as structurally flawed.

Case Information

  • Citation: 549 US 102 (2007)
  • Granted: Apr 17, 2006
  • Argued: Oct 10, 2006
  • Decided Jan 9, 2007