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D.C. Circuit: 18 U.S.C. § 1114 Does Not Apply Overseas But § 924(c) Does

by Douglas Ankney

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that 18 U.S.C. § 1114 does not apply to territories outside the United States. However, the Court ruled that 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) does apply extraterritorially in specific circumstances.

While in Mexico, Jose Emanuel Garcia Sota and another defendant, Jesus Ivan Quezada Piña, attacked American special law enforcement agents Victor Avila and Jaime Zapata. Zapata was killed, but Avila survived. The defendants were tried in Washington, D.C., where each was convicted of two counts of killing an officer or employee of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114, one count of killing a person protected by international law in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1116, and one count of using a firearm while committing a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). On appeal, they argued that §§ 924(c) and 1114 are not extraterritorially enforceable.

The D.C. Circuit observed “[a]ccording to a longstanding canon of statutory interpretation, our courts presume that American laws do not apply outside of the United States — unless Congress directs otherwise.” And “[t]he canon ‘rests on the perception that Congress ordinarily legislates with respect to domestic, not foreign, matters.’” Morrison v. Nat’l Australia Bank, Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010). The presumption may be rebutted and is overcome when Congress affirmatively and unmistakably instructs that the statute will apply abroad. RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Cmty., 136 S. Ct. 2090 (2016). 

Since § 1114 does not say anything regarding extraterritorial application, the presumption against such application was unrebutted. Additionally, the Court opined that Congress, in nearby § 1116, stated that § 1116 explicitly applies to conduct outside America’s borders. When Congress explicitly provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction in one section but makes no such provision in a nearby section, it is presumed the omission is intentional. United States v. Thompson, 921 F.3d 263 (D.C. Cir. 2019). The Court was also persuaded by the fact that §§ 1114 and 1116 were both amended at the same time in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Most significantly, the AEDPA revised § 1116 to make it apply extraterritorially but inserted no similar provision into § 1114. The Court concluded that Congress intended § 1114 to apply only to domestic crimes committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

But regarding § 924(c), the Court observed the statute “renders criminal the use of a firearm ‘in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.’” Section 924(c) requires a defendant to be convicted of a predicate crime before he or she may suffer liability under that section. In RJR Nabisco, the Supreme Court dealt with a similar circumstance in relation to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”).

The Supreme Court clarified that before RICO could apply overseas, it is absolutely required that “the predicates alleged in a particular case themselves apply extraterritorially.” In the instant case, the defendants were convicted of a violent crime in violation of § 1116, and as already discussed, that section applies extraterritorially. That crime also qualifies as a predicate to support their convictions under § 924(c). Following the reasoning of the Supreme Court in RJR Nabisco, the D.C. Circuit ruled that in this specific instance § 924(c) applies extraterritorially because the predicate offense was obtained under § 1116, which is applicable extraterritorially.

Accordingly, the Court vacated only the defendants’ convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 1114 and remanded for limited resentencing. See: United States v. Sota, 948 F.3d 356 (D.C. Cir. 2020). 

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Related legal case

United States v. Sota



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