"Millenium Bomber " Sentence Upheld

The Supreme Court today upheld the conviction and sentence of the LAX "Millenium Bomber" in 2000. The issue was the ten year consecutive mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant is found to have carried carries explosives during the commission of a crime. The 8-1 opinion is here(pdf). Via Scotus Blog:

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national identified by the government as an Al-Qaeda operative, who was foiled in an attempt to detonate explosives in the Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millenium in 2000 — Dec. 31, 1999.

...It was sufficient to violate that law, Stevens wrote, that explosives were found in a car the accused was driving when he committed the crime of making a false statement to a customs official. It was not necessary, the opinion said, that the explosives be directly linked to the specific felony committed.


The issue was whether the law could apply to one who "Innocently “Carries” a Legal and Commonplace But Nonetheless “Explosive” Substance Like Gasoline, Cleaning Fluid or Fertilizer, While Committing an Entirely Unrelated Federal Felony, Such As Uttering a Treasury Check or Making a False Statement. "

The opinion was written by Justice Stevens, and Justice Breyer dissented.

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    IANAL (none / 0) (#1)
    by Nadai on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:10:37 AM EST
    Would anyone driving a car be considered to be "carrying" an explosive substance (gasoline)?  If so, does this mean that anyone driving a car who lies to a cop ("No, officer, I haven't had a thing to drink") is essentially a terrorist?

    That Characterization of the Issue (none / 0) (#2)
    by BDB on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:22:29 AM EST
    Comes from the brief filed by the defense bar.  I wouldn't necessarily take it as an accurate representation of the scope of the Court's ruling.  For starters, gasoline - without more, like say putting it into a bottle and adding a wick - is not defined as an "explosive" under the federal explosives laws.  Neither is fertilizer.  Now if you combine the two into ANFO, then it would be.  But alone, neither is an explosive unless they have been repackaged into one, like, as I said, a molotov cocktail.

    Now, there are people like construction workers who might routinely carry explosives in their vehicle and this ruling might extend to those folks should they commit a felony while doing so.  But, no, you cannot be charged with this crime because you have gas in your car.


    Definitions of Explosives (none / 0) (#3)
    by BDB on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:29:28 AM EST
    Can be found here.

    Exemptions can be found here.


    Strike Exemptions (none / 0) (#4)
    by BDB on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:29:54 AM EST
    Wrong link and not relevant.

    Thanks! (none / 0) (#8)
    by Nadai on Mon May 19, 2008 at 12:14:21 PM EST
    All I know about law, I learned from watching Matlock.  :)

    Nadai - are you (none / 0) (#6)
    by Saxon on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:45:21 AM EST
    serious? or just playing some sort of devil's advocate with that lame defense?

    p.s. everything that happens in this admin doesn't necessarily have to be wrong/bad.


    Actually (none / 0) (#9)
    by Nadai on Mon May 19, 2008 at 12:17:06 PM EST
    I'm mostly serious.  And I don't put anything past the Bush administration.

    Looking at the PDF summary . . . (none / 0) (#5)
    by wurman on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:35:38 AM EST
    . . . it was interesting to scan the amicus comments.  A whole set of statutes concerning hazardous materials transportation is of interest to me.

    For example, a trucker who is speeding will get a ticket & pay a fine set by law in that jurisdiction.  If the trucker is carrying HazMat, the speeding ticket can put the driver's commercial driver's license in jeopardy: the act of speeding (& some other moving violations) is construed as being orders of magnitude more dangerous when the cargo is potentially destructive.

    And traffice violations are not even misdemeanors, much less felonies--often termed "infractions."

    The presence of certain substances & items does & should have some impact on other behaviors.  It seems that sentences become a great deal more severe for drug crimes that involve firearms, cell phones, pagers, multiple classes of drugs, etc.

    If I recall, too, robbery using a firearm (or even a fake weapon) results in a much longer sentence, upon conviction.

    This seems to be a fairly common concept, so why the appeal--to the supremes, no less?  What was thought to be different about this instance?

    The Idea that the Lie to Customs (none / 0) (#7)
    by BDB on Mon May 19, 2008 at 11:47:33 AM EST
    and the carrying of explosives were completely unconnected seems to be a very favorable reading of the facts to Mr. Ressam since the entire reason he was lying to customs was to get the explosives into the U.S. so he could use them at LAX.  

    The real issue is whether the Court would interpret it as broadly if the explosives really were for some legal purpose.  As I said, a construction worker carrying explosives legally as part of his job who committed a felony.  IIRC the court thought simply having a firearm was too broad under the firearms laws.  But I suppose many more people happen to own firearms than carry explosives around with them.   I do wonder whether the court would rule differently if the explosives were completely unconnected.  

    common sense (none / 0) (#10)
    by diogenes on Mon May 19, 2008 at 08:12:20 PM EST
    If even Justice Stevens supports this, then maybe it's time to find a better case of alleged "injustice" to complain about.

    Racism (none / 0) (#11)
    by Doc Rock on Mon May 19, 2008 at 08:14:25 PM EST
    Even Bill Moyers looks at the Clinton-Obama gulf in black and whiter terms, but no one ever seems to credit that there may be a policy preference element to voter decision-making.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes voters actally think and don't just vote based on charisma.