Center on the Administration of Criminal Law

Charging and Statutory Interpretation

The Center files briefs addressing important issues regarding prosecutors' charging decisions, some in support of the government defending those decisions, and others on behalf of defendants. Many of these cases involve significant issues of statutory interpretation.  Such cases have included:

  • Abuelhawa v. United States -- Supreme Court of the United States -- This case involved whether a prosecutor should charge a defendant with a felony for using a cell phone to buy drugs solely for personal use under a statute targeting the use of a "communications device" to "facilitat[e]" a narcotics distribution.  The Center filed an amicus brief on the merits in support of the defendant, in partnership with the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.  The Center previously had filed an amicus brief in support of the defendant's petition for writ of certiorari, also in partnership with Davis Polk, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari on November 14, 2008.  The case was argued on March 4, 2009.  On May 26, 2009, in a unanimous opinion, the Court agreed with the Center that the defendant should prevail.  The Court rested its decision in part on statutory history and Justice Department charging policy, both subjects of the Center's brief.
  • Boyle v. United States -- Supreme Court of the United States -- This case raises whether a prosecutor should charge a defendant with an offense under the RICO statute, which Congress enacted to eliminate criminal organizations that pose threats transcending the specific predicate acts in which they engage, where the group of individuals that committed those predicate crimes has no ascertainable structure.  This amicus brief on the merits was filed in support of the defendant, in partnership with the law firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, & Evans, P.L.L.C.  The case was argued on January 14, 2009.  On June 8, 2009, the Court ruled for the government.
  • K.M. v. S.M. -- Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division -- In this case, the Center submitted an amicus brief arguing that prosecutors' decisions to decline prosecution are not relevant to the determination of disputed issues in civil matters, including family court custodial disputes.  This amicus brief was sumitted in partnership with the law firm Smith, Stratton, Wise, Heher & Brennan, LLP.
  • People v. Morales -- Court of Appeals, State of New York -- In this case, the Center filed an amicus brief in support of the defendant, arguing that the use of New York's criminal anti-terrorism statute to prosecute a Bronx street gang misapplied the statute and undercut the goverment's ability to combat both terrorism and gang violence. This amicus brief was submitted in partnership with the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
  • United States v. Slough -- United States District Court for the District of Columbia -- In this prosecution of five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards charged with voluntary manslaughter and other crimes stemming from their involvement in a 2007 shooting incident in a Baghdad square in which they were accused of killing 14 unarmed civilians, the Center submitted a brief arguing that the United States had jurisdiction to charge the case.  This amicus brief was submitted in partnership with the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP.
  • United States v. Stevens -- Supreme Court of the United States -- In this case, the Center filed an amicus brief in support of the United States in its prosecution of a defendant convicted at trial of selling videos of pit bulls engaging in heinous, violent dogfights and attacks on other animals.  Sitting en banc, and over a three-judge dissent, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found the applicable statute to be facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  The Center's brief argued that the lower court erred in its holding because the applicable statute reaches only what amounts to crime-scene photographs and videos that are exploited for commercial gain and lack any serious artistic or other value.  This amicus brief was filed in partnership with the law firm King & Spalding.  The case was argued on October 7, 2009.  On April 20, 2010, the Court ruled for the defendant.  In his dissenting opinion, Justice Alito cited and quoted the Center's brief.