ABA Criminal Justice: U.S. Supreme Court Update

Boyle v. United States  

No. 07–1309. Decided June 8, 2009. Opinion author: Alito, J.

The evidence at petitioner Boyle’s trial for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) provision forbidding “any person … associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity,” 18 U. S. C. §1962(c), was sufficient to prove that Boyle and others committed a series of bank thefts in several States; that the participants included a core group, along with others recruited from time to time; and that the core group was loosely and informally organized, lacking a leader, hierarchy, or any long-term master plan.

Relying largely on United States v. Turkette, 452 U. S. 576 , the District Court instructed the jury that to establish a RICO association-in-fact “enterprise,” the Government must prove (1) an ongoing organization with a framework, formal or informal, for carrying out its objectives, and (2) that association members functioned as a continuing unit to achieve a common purpose. Boyle was convicted, and the Second Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court held that an association-in-fact enterprise under RICO must have a “structure,” but the pertinent jury instruction need not be framed in the precise language Boyle proposes, i.e., as having “an ascertainable structure beyond that inherent in the pattern of racketeering activity in which it engages.” Turkette explained that “enterprise” reaches “a group of persons associated together for a common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct,” 452 U. S., at 583, and “is proved by evidence of an ongoing organization, formal or informal, and by evidence that the various associates function as a continuing unit.”

The Court reasoned that an enterprise must have a “structure” that, under RICO’s terms, has at least three features: a purpose, relationships among the associates, and longevity sufficient to permit the associates to pursue the enterprise’s purpose. Because a jury must find the existence of elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, requiring a jury to find the existence of a structure that is ascertainable would be redundant and potentially misleading.

The instructions below were correct and adequate. By explicitly telling jurors they could not convict on the RICO charges unless they found that the Government had proved the existence of an enterprise, the instructions made it clear that this was a separate element from the pattern of racketeering activity. The instructions properly conveyed Turkette’s point that proof of a pattern of racketeering activity may be sufficient in a particular case to permit an inference of the enterprise’s existence. 283 Fed. Appx. 825, affirmed.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J.,filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined.

The full opinion is available at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-1309.ZS.html

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