United States v. Ressam

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Ahmed Ressam
LOCATION: Earthquake Park

DOCKET NO.: 07-455
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 553 US 272 (2008)
GRANTED: Dec 07, 2007
ARGUED: Mar 25, 2008
DECIDED: May 19, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Michael B. Mukasey -
Thomas W. Hillier, II - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

In 1999, Ahmed Ressam, the so-called "Millennium Bomber," was arrested attempting to cross the Canadian-U.S. border in a rental car loaded with explosives and other bomb-making materials. Ressam planned to detonate the explosives at Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve. Ressam was charged with several crimes, including carrying an explosive device during the commission of a felony under 18 U.S.C. Section 844. The felony charge was lying to a customs agent.

Ressam argued, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed, that the statute required the explosive device to be carried in relation to the underlying felony and, therefore, should not be applied to Ressam in this case. The Ninth Circuit noted Congressional amendment of a substantially similar statute to include such "in relation to" language, indicating the legislature's intent that a connection between the explosives and the underlying felony is indispensable to the claim. The government, noting the case's importance in the realm of terror prosecutions, urged the Court to grant certiorari based on decisions reaching the opposite conclusion in both the Third and Fifth Circuits.

Question

Does 18 U.S.C. Section 844(h)(2), which prohibits carrying explosives "during the commission of any felony", apply to a defendant convicted of lying to a customs agent because the explosives were not carried "in relation to" the underlying felony?

Media for United States v. Ressam

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 2008 in United States v. Ressam

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 19, 2008 in United States v. Ressam

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Stevens has our opinion in case 07-455, United States versus Ressam, which he has asked me to read.

This case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent, Ahmed Ressam, attempted to enter the United States by ferry at Port Angeles, Washington.

Hidden in the trunk of his rental car were explosives that he intended to detonate at the Los Angeles International Airport.

He was subsequently convicted of a number of offenses, including making a false statement to United States custom official, a felony, and carrying an explosive “during the commission of” that felony.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit set aside his conviction under the explosive statute because it concluded that the word “during” as used in that statute, included a requirement that the explosive be carried during and in relation to the underlying felony.

We granted certiorari and now reverse for reasons given in an opinion filed with the Clerk.

We conclude that the most natural reading of the relevant statutory text as well as the statute's history establish that Congress did not intend to require the government to prove that the explosive was carried during and in relation to the underlying felony but merely intended to require that the two occur contemporaneously.

Since it is undisputed that respondent was carrying explosives when he made a false statement to a customs official, he carried explosive during the commission of that felony.

Nothing further is required by the statute.

Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, which Justice Scalia has joined.

Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion.