United States v. Turkette

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: U.S. Department of State

DOCKET NO.: 80-808
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 452 US 576 (1981)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1981

John E. Wall, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
John Wall - for respondent
Mark Irving Levy - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Turkette

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1981 in United States v. Turkette

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in United States v. Turkette.

Mr. Levy, you may proceed when you are ready.

Mark Irving Levy:

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

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Respondent was convicted by a jury on eight counts of substantive drug and mail fraud offenses and on one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

In brief, the evidence at trial, the sufficiency of which was not challenged, showed the Respondent organized and headed a criminal association that engaged in a continuing course of illegal activities for profit.

The Turkette group was in existence for more than a two year period and was involved in numerous offenses, including the theft and distribution of drugs, the commission and facilitation of mail fraud by arson and other means, and the bribery of police officers and witnesses to protect these illegal activities.

The group operated in a highly structured and sophisticated manner, in which different individuals performed specific assigned roles to further the group's venture.

The questions presented by our petition are whether the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act excludes wholly illegitimate enterprises like Respondent's from the scope of its coverage, and if so, whether automatic reversal of Respondent's otherwise valid, non RICO convictions required on grounds of misjoinder.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well the First Circuit theory really was that these people were so totally illegal that they had to be acquitted, wasn't it?

Mark Irving Levy:

I think that's correct.

And the Court below stands alone in reaching that anomalous result.

Warren E. Burger:

Or was it that they were so well organized in their enterprise that--

Mark Irving Levy:

I believe the holding of the Court below was that enterprises that are entirely and completely illegal are not within the scope of the principal anti racketeering statute in the federal criminal code.

That strikes us as an anomalous result, and every other Court of Appeals to consider the issue has concluded that RICO is not restricted to legitimate enterprises, but applies to illegitimate enterprises as well.

Nothing in the language of the statute distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate enterprises.

On the contrary, the definition of enterprise states without qualification that enterprise includes any group of individuals associated in fact.

Similarly, the substantive provisions of RICO draw no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate enterprises, but refer broadly to any enterprise.

And Congress specifically reinforced the sweep of the statute by providing that the provisions of RICO shall be liberally construed to effectuate its remedial purposes.

In addition, despite the existence of an extensive definitional section for the key terms used in RICO, the statute offers no guidance whatever for defining the words legitimate and illegitimate the Respondent and amici seek to insert into the statute.

Warren E. Burger:

--Under the First Circuit theory, on which side of the line would fall an enterprise that had an apparently legitimate front, that is, a truck line, or whatever, but was--

Mark Irving Levy:

Well, I think that's difficult to--

Warren E. Burger:

--was engaged 75 percent or 90 percent in shooting for hire, killing for hire, arson for hire and extortion and loan sharking.

Where would the First Circuit case take us?

Mark Irving Levy:

--I don't think one knows with certainty, because the meaning of the terms legitimate and illegitimate are by no means self evident, and neither the statute nor the legislative history offer any guidance on the meaning of those terms.

Simply because Congress didn't have that concept in mind.

In your hypothetical, for example, as I understand it, it's impossible to know what are the salient considerations or the proportion of legal and illegal activities--

Warren E. Burger:

You think that's irrelevant?

What the proportion is?

Mark Irving Levy:

--We do, because we think both "legitimate" and "illegitimate" are within the statute.