United States v. Chhun

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 03-11-2014
  • Case #: 10-50296
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bea for the Court; Circuit Judges O’Scannlain and Graber
  • Full Text Opinion

18 U.S.C. § 956(a) is not ambiguous and applies to any activities, terrorist or not, involving the acts constituting conspiracy to commit murder while the person conspiring is in the United States.

Beginning in 1998, Defendant partook in activities that involved leading a private army against the government of Cambodia, as well as overthrowing its Prime Minister. Defendant was charged and convicted under 18 U.S.C. §§ 956(a), 956(b), and 960, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country, and conspiracy to launch a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States. The lower court sentenced him to life in prison after finding that he had the intent to kill and that at least two people were killed. Defendant contended that § 956(a) did not apply to him because he was not involved in terrorist activities, which is why the statute was enacted, and therefore the statute was vague and ambiguous. The Ninth Circuit held that § 956(a) was not ambiguous and in fact did apply to the Defendant because he conspired to commit murder while in the United States which is exactly what the statute prohibits. The panel also held that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find Defendant had intent to commit murder, and that the district court correctly submitted the definition of the “at peace” element of §§ 956(b) and 960 to the jury. The panel also held that it did not affect the defendant’s substantial rights when the district court failed to instruct the jury to find an overt act occurred during the limitations period. Finally, the panel held that it was not plain error nor substantively unreasonable for the district court to sentence Defendant to life in prison. AFFIRMED.

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