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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

U.S. v. Santos as a Teaching Tool?

I'd be curious to hear what people think of the recent SCOTUS decision in U.S. v. Santos as a tool for teaching statutory interpretation in Criminal Law.  I have been thinking of using it instead of U.S. v. Foster, the Ninth Circuit case in the Dressler casebook which addressed whether a person "carries" a firearm by keeping it in a zipped-down compartment of the pick-up truck he is driving.  For those who have not read Santos, it essentially addresses whether the word "proceeds" in the federal money laundering statute means "profits" or "gross receipts."  My inclination is that Santos would be a nice case for students to read, for several reasons:

1.  The Justices look to a number of different sources to determine what "proceeds" means:  dictionaries, other federal statutes, other places in the same federal statute, state statutes, and the purposes behind the statute.

2.  It is the rare case in which the rule of lenity is dispositive.  It is rarer still in that the justifications for the rule of lenity are explained.

3.  It nicely points up the difference between vagueness and ambiguity.  The word "proceeds" is ambiguous, not vague, because it means either "gross receipts" or "profits," AND NOTHING ELSE.

4.  Justice Stevens takes the unique position that "proceeds" might mean different things depending on the predicate offense.  I agree with the plurality that this is downright bizarre.

5.  Relatedly, that Justice Stevens is the fifth vote in support of the judgment, but takes a position with which the other 8 Justices disagree, makes articulating the holding here problematic, a point the Justices acknowledge.  While Criminal Law students generally do not encounter the problem of trying to figure out the holding of a splintered, multi-member court, Santos is a nice introduction to the problem, which they will encounter in spades in Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Law.

6.  The recent exchanges between David Post and Orin Kerr on the Volokh Conspiracy on giving students unedited cases to read have motivated me to try to include at least one such opinion in each of my classes.  Santos seems like a good candidate.

Any thoughts? [Mike Mannheimer]

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