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UI LAW 8022 - United States v. Yermian

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Case BriefCriminal law: mens rea requirement1/28/15Identity of CaseUnited States v. Yermian, 468 U.S. 63 (1984)Page 204 of the casebookSummary of Facts/ Procedural HistoryDefendant Yermian lied on his application for security clearance for work, in order to make sure that the application for security clearance was the same as the application he submitted to get the job years earlier. This was federal security clearance, so naturally the FBI got pissed at him. Statute: Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully…makes any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations….shall be fined. Defendant requests mens rea jury instructions that he must knowingly lie AND have knowledge that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the federal gov’t (not a very good defense since there is no way he could not have known, but whatever, that’s not important). Request denied, appeal taken to SCOTUS, conviction upheld. Statement of the IssueDoes the required mens rea, “knowingly,” apply to both the federal jurisdiction and the making of false statements, or only the making of false statements? HoldingIt applies only to the false statements. ReasoningBased on statutory interpretation that is on shaky ground at best, but probably better from a policy standpoint (the gov’t wants to make it easy to prosecute people who lie to it). 1. The “in any matter within the jurisdiction…” section is a jurisdictional requirement meant to direct the cases to federal courts2. Jurisdictional language need not contain the same culpability requirement as other elements of the offense. Indeed, we have held that the existence of the fact that confers federal jurisdiction need not be one in the mind of the actor at the time he perpetrates the act….3. The jurisdictional phrase is separate from the actus reus phrase. 4. Legislative history (not reproduced) is said to be in favor of this interpretation5. Defendant’s argument that the lack of knowledge on the jurisdictional side makes it a trap for the unwary by imposing criminal sanctions on wholly innocent conduct—which is dumb. EvaluationDissent: the court finds the short statute to be ambiguous. The majority arbitrarily picks the half before or after the word “knowingly” and decides which one that counts. The 9th and 5th circuits prior to this decision had required knowledge that it was a matter within federal jurisdiction as well, lending support that the majority’s natural reading is not actually so


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