Whitfield v. United States - Oral Argument - December 02, 2014

Whitfield v. United States

Media for Whitfield v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 13, 2015 in Whitfield v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 2014 in Whitfield v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We will now hear argument next this morning in Case No. 13-9026, Whitfield v. United States.

Mr. Carpenter.

Joshua B. Carpenter:

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

The basic bank robbery offense under Section 2113(a) requires the robber to use force, intimidation or violence against another person.

Section (e)'s force accompaniment provision is designed for much more extreme conduct that Congress viewed as roughly on par with murder.

And yet the government would have that provision and its ten-year mandatory minimum apply any time that a robber forces someone to take a single step with him in the course of a robbery.

That single step rule isn't justified by the text of the statute, and it isn't necessary to ensure just punishment for bank robbers.

In this case--

Antonin Scalia:

Why isn't it justified by the text?

Joshua B. Carpenter:

--Your Honor, it's not justified by the text, first--

Antonin Scalia:

I can -- I can accompany my -- my wife to her table when we go to a dinner party, and we're -- we're seated at different tables.

Isn't -- isn't it proper to say I accompany her to the table?

Joshua B. Carpenter:

--Your Honor, our view is not that it is technically improper, but that it is -- it would not be an ordinary and natural usage of the word “ accompany ”, for example, to say--

Antonin Scalia:

I just gave you an ordinary and natural use.

I accompanied my wife to her table.

Joshua B. Carpenter:

--Our view is that it is not an ordinary usage to say were you accompanied, for example, from this side of the lectern to this side, which is the amount of movement the government believes is -- is covered.

Or, for example, to say, will you accompany me, Justice Scalia, from your chair down to yours.

Antonin Scalia:

You -- you think there's a spatial component to -- I mean, what -- I don't understand why you say it's -- it's not normal usage, unless you say there is a spatial requirement that you -- to accompany somebody, you have to walk a longer distance, and I -- the example I just gave you suggests otherwise.

Joshua B. Carpenter:

Your Honor, our view of the -- in the ordinary usage it is used in the sense of going to a destination, to the theater, to the ballpark.

But even if there is some question--

Antonin Scalia:

To my wife's table.

Joshua B. Carpenter:

--Well, even if there is some question about whether the usage of just a movement of a few feet is an ordinary usage, where there are multiple, possible meanings of a term, we look to the statutory context and the statutory structure--

Antonin Scalia:

I'm asking you whether there are multiple possible -- listen, I'm very big on the rule of lenity, but the condition for it is that there be ambiguity.

And accompany means accompany.

I don't see any spatial component to it.

Joshua B. Carpenter:

--Well, Your Honor--

Antonin Scalia:

And the rule here is, you know, garbage in, garbage out.

It may be a very foolish statute.

But -- but we apply what -- what Congress thought was not foolish.

Joshua B. Carpenter:

--Well, Justice Scalia, first, whether there's ambiguity is determined not by looking at the word “ accompany ” in isolation.