U.S. v. Under Seal (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-064-16, 28 pp.) (Agee, J.) No. 15-4265, March 30, 2016; USDC at Alexandria, Va. (Lee, J.) 4th Cir.
Holding: A district court did not err in refusing to transfer a juvenile offender to be prosecuted as an adult for murder in aid of racketeering, which carries a mandatory statutory penalty of either death or life imprisonment; in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that a juvenile offender cannot be sentenced to the death penalty or life imprisonment, the 4th Circuit rejects the government’s contention that transfer should have been granted because the defendant could have been sentenced to a term of years.
A few months shy of his 18th birthday, defendant allegedly participated in a gang-related murder. The district court denied the government’s motion to transfer him for prosecution as an adult for the murder, under 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1). We have jurisdiction to consider the government’s interlocutory appeal under the collateral order doctrine.
First Impression Case
Under the plain language of § 1959(a)(1), Congress has authorized two penalties – and only two penalties – for the crime of murder in aid of racketeering: death or life imprisonment. A district court ordinarily has no discretion to impose a sentence outside the statutory range established by Congress for the offense of conviction. Consequently, life imprisonment is the mandatory minimum punishment for this offense.
The government contends the impermissible punishments can be excised from § 1959(a)(1), leaving intact language contained later in that subsection for the separate criminal act of kidnapping in aid of racketeering, which authorizes a term of years up to a discretionary maximum sentence of life. Congress has taken no action to alleviate the sentencing conundrum now existing in § 1959(a)(1) as applied to juveniles.
The specific issue before us appears to be one of first impression in the federal courts: that is, no case has arisen where the criminal act charged against a juvenile is alleged to have been committed after Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), was decided.
Substituting the congressionally designated punishment for one distinct act for that articulated for another, separate act goes beyond the permissible boundaries of severance and treads into the legislative role. Here, the government proposes using excision to combine the penalty provisions for two distinct criminal acts. The penalty enacted for the kidnapping-based offense cannot simply be interchanged with and applied to the murder-based offense, as these are two wholly separate means of violating § 1959 with distinct elements. Grafting a newly applicable penalty provision into the murder in aid of racketeering statute, as the government proposes, also runs counter to the Constitution’s guarantee of due process.
Denial of motion to transfer is affirmed.t