Monday, December 27, 2010

Mens Rea Under Section 1001: Judge Kavanaugh's Concurrence in Moore

My colleague Ellen Podgor posted here about the Ninth Circuit's reversal of a securities fraud conviction on sufficiency grounds in United States v. Goyal, and specifically recommended Judge Alex Kozinski's concurrence. That concurrence led me to Judge Brett Kavanaugh's equally outstanding concurrence in United States v. Moore, 612 F.3d 698, 702-04 (D.C. Circuit 2010).

Moore involved an expansive application of 18 U.S.C. Section 1001. As explained by Judge Kavanaugh, "This  case is novel: The Government has obtained a false statements conviction under 18 U.S.C. [Section] 1001 against an individual who signed the wrong name on a postal delivery form....Federal prosecutors tried Moore twice for various drug offenses, but both times the jury hung. In the second trial, prosecutors tacked on a false statements charge under [Section] 1001."

Judge Kavanaugh wrote separately to discuss the mens rea issues which can arise under the "ever-metastasizing" statute. His concurrence should be required reading for all white collar practitioners. In essence, Judge Kavanaugh argues that the Government must prove, in a Section 1001 prosecution, that the defendant knew he was violating the law.  This is because Sectiuon 1001 contains a willfulness element. As Judge Kavanaugh points out, recent and not-so-recent Supreme Court pronouncements, in cases such as Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184, 191-92 (1998), Safeco Ins. Co. of America v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47, 57 n.9 (2007), and Dixon v. United States, 548 U.S. 1, 5 (2006), establish that a defendant cannot harbor willful criminal intent unless he knows in some sense that his conduct is unlawful. (The defendant need not know the specific code provision he is accused of violating, except in the case of highly technical statutes.) 

There is no reason, absent some particular statutory twist, why this principle should not apply across the board to statutes containing a willfulness element. But many of the federal circuit courts take a different approach with respect to certain fraud statutes, such as Section 1001, apparently because some of their precedents predate the most recent Supreme Court holdings and dicta. Judge Kavanaugh, who once clerked for Judge Kozinski, concurred with the majority opinion in Moore, but only because the defendant did not request an appropriate jury instruction on the willfulness element. Here is Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Concurrence in U.S. v. Moore.


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