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Lewis v. United States

March 09, 1998

LEWIS V. UNITED STATES


Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit

Argued November 12, 1997

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Syllabus

OCTOBER TERM, 1997

LEWIS v. UNITED STATES

____ U. S. ____ (1998)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

A federal indictment charged petitioner Lewis and her husband with beating and killing his 4-year-old daughter while they lived at an Army base in Louisiana. Relying on the federal Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA), 18 U. S. C. Section 13(a) -- which provides that "[w]hoever within ... any [federal enclave], is guilty of any act or omission which, although not made punishable by any enactment of Congress, would be punishable ... within the jurisdiction of the State ... in which such place is situated, ... shall be guilty of a like offense and subject to like punishment" -- the indictment charged the defendants under a Louisiana statute defining first-degree murder to include "killing ... [w]hen the offender has the specific intent to kill or ... harm ... a victim under the age of twelve... ." Upon her conviction of Louisiana first-degree murder, the District Court sentenced Lewis to life imprisonment without parole. The Fifth Circuit held that the Louisiana statute was not assimilated into federal law under the ACA because the federal second-degree murder statute applicable to federal enclaves, 18 U. S. C. Section 1111 (1988 ed.), governed the crime at issue. The court nonetheless affirmed Lewis' conviction on the ground that, in finding her guilty of the state charge, the jury had necessarily found all of the requisite elements of federal second-degree murder. And it affirmed her sentence on the ground that it was no greater than the maximum sentence (life) permitted by Section 1111.

Held:

1. Because the ACA does not make Louisiana's first-degree murder statute part of federal law, the federal second-degree murder statute, Section 1111, governs the crime at issue. Pp. 3-16.

(a) The basic question before this Court is the meaning of the ACA phrase "not made punishable by any enactment of Congress." (Emphasis added.) The Court rejects an absolutely literal reading of the italicized words because that would dramatically separate the ACA from its basic purpose of borrowing state law to fill gaps in the federal criminal law applicable on federal enclaves, and would conflict with the ACA's history and features. See, e.g., Williams v. United States, 327 U. S. 711, 718-719. On the other hand, the Court cannot find a convincing justification in language, purpose, or precedent for the Government's narrow interpretation that "any enactment" refers, with limited exceptions, only to federal enactments that share the same statutory elements as the relevant state law. Id., at 717, distinguished. Rather, the ACA's language and its gap-filling purpose taken together indicate that, to determine whether a particular state statute is assimilated, a court must first ask the question that the ACA's language requires: Is the defendant's "act or omission ... made punishable by any enactment of Congress." (Emphasis added.) If the answer is "no," that will normally end the matter because the ACA presumably would assimilate the state statute. If the answer is "yes," however, the court must ask the further question whether the federal statutes that apply to the "act or omission" reveal a legislative intent to preclude application of the state law in question, say, because the federal statutes reveal an intent to occupy so much of a field as would exclude use of the particular state statute, see, e.g., id., at 724. Pp. 3-10.

(b) Application of these principles to this case reveals that federal law does not assimilate the child murder provision of Louisiana's first-degree murder statute. Among other things, Section 1111 defines first-degree murder to include "willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing," as well as certain listed felony murders and instances of transferred intent, and says that "murder in the second degree" is "any other murder" and is punishable by imprisonment for "any term of years or for life." In contrast, the Louisiana statute defines first-degree murder as, inter alia, the killing of someone under 12 with a "specific intent to kill or ... harm," and makes it punishable by "death or life imprisonment" without parole. Here, the defendant's "act or omission" is "made punishable by a[n] enactment of Congress" because Section 1111 makes Lewis' "act . . . punishable" as second-degree murder. Moreover, applicable federal law indicates an intent to punish conduct such as the defendant's to the exclusion of the state statute at issue. Even though the two statutes cover different forms of behavior, other Section 1111 features, taken together, demonstrate Congress' intent to completely cover all types of federal enclave murder as an integrated whole. These features include the fact that Section 1111 is drafted in a detailed manner to cover all variants of murder; the way in which its "first-degree" and "second-degree" provisions are linguistically interwoven; the fact that its "first-degree" list is detailed; the fact that that list sets forth several circumstances at the same level of generality as does the Louisiana law; and the extreme breadth of the possible federal sentences, ranging all the way from any term of years, to death. Also supporting preclusive intent are the circumstances that Congress has recently focused directly several times upon the Section 1111 first-degree list's content, subtracting certain specified felonies or adding others; that, by drawing the line between first- and second-degree, Congress has carefully decided just when it does, and does not, intend for murder to be punishable by death, a major way in which the Louisiana statute (which provides the death penalty) differs from the federal second-degree provision (which does not); that, when writing and amending the ACA, Congress has referred to murder as an example of a crime covered by, not as an example of a gap in, federal law; that Section 1111 applies only on federal enclaves, so that assimilation of Louisiana law would treat enclave residents differently from those living elsewhere in that State, by subjecting them to two sets of "territorial" criminal laws in addition to the general federal criminal laws that apply nationwide; and that there apparently is not a single reported case in which a federal court has used the ACA to assimilate a state murder law. Given all these considerations, there is no gap for Louisiana's statute to fill. Pp. 10-16.

2. Lewis is entitled to resentencing. As she argues and the Government concedes, the Fifth Circuit erred in affirming her life sentence because Section 1111, unlike the Louisiana statute, does not make such a sentence mandatory for second-degree murder, but provides for a sentence of "any term of years or life." Moreover, the federal Sentencing Guidelines provide for a range of 168 to 210 months' imprisonment for a first time offender like her who murders a "vulnerable victim." Although a Judge could impose a higher sentence by departing from the Guidelines range, it is for the District Court to make such a determination in the first instance. Pp. 16-18.

92 F. 3d 1371, vacated and remanded.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion Concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a Dissenting opinion.

Opinion of the Court

LEWIS v. UNITED STATES

____ U. S. ____ (1998)

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

No. 96-7151

DEBRA FAYE LEWIS, PETITIONER v.UNITED STATES

On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit

[March 9, 1998]

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

The federal Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA) assimilates into federal law, and thereby makes applicable on federal enclaves such as Army bases, certain criminal laws of the State in which the enclave is located. It says that:

"Whoever within or upon any [federal enclave], is guilty of any act or omission which, although not made punishable by any enactment of Congress, would be punishable if committed or omitted within the jurisdiction of the State ... in which such place is situated, ... shall be guilty of a like offense and subject to like punishment." 18 U. S. C. Section 13(a).

The question in this case is whether the ACA makes applicable on a federal Army base located in Louisiana a state first-degree murder statute that defines first-degree murder to include the "killing of a human being ... [w]hen the offender has the specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm upon a victim under the age of twelve ... ." La. Rev. Stat. Ann. Section 14:30(A)(5) (West 1986 and Supp. 1997).

We hold that the ACA does not make the state provision part of federal law. A federal murder statute, 18 U. S. C. Section 1111, therefore governs the crime at issue -- the killing of a four year-old child "with malice aforethought" but without "premeditation." Under that statute this crime is second-degree, not first-degree, murder.

I.

A federal grand jury indictment charged that petitioner, Debra Faye Lewis, and her husband James Lewis, beat and killed James' four year-old daughter while all three lived at Fort Polk, a federal Army base in Louisiana. Relying on the ACA, the indictment charged a violation of Louisiana's first-degree murder statute. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. Section 14:30 (West 1986 and Supp. 1993). Upon her conviction, the District Court sentenced Debra Lewis to life imprisonment without parole. See id. Section 14:30(C) (West 1986).

On appeal the Fifth Circuit held that Louisiana's statute did not apply at Fort Polk. United States v. Lewis, 92 F. 3d 1371 (1996). It noted that the Assimilative Crimes Act made state criminal statutes applicable on federal enclaves only where the wrongful "act or omission" was "not made punishable by any enactment of Congress." Id., at 1373-1374 (citing 18 U. S. C. Section 13). Because Congress made Lewis' acts "punishable" as federal second-degree murder, and the federal and state laws were directed at roughly the same sort of conduct, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that the ACA did not permit the application of Louisiana's first-degree murder statute to petitioner's acts. 92 F. 3d, at 1375-1377. The Court nonetheless affirmed Lewis' conviction on the ground that in convicting her of the state charge the jury had necessarily found all of the requisite elements of federal second-degree murder. Id., at 1378; cf. Rutledge v. United States, 517 U. S. 292, 305-306 (1996). And it affirmed the sentence on the ground that it was no greater than the maximum sentence (life) permitted by the federal second-degree murder statute. 92 F. 3d, at 1379-1380.

We granted certiorari primarily to consider the Fifth Circuit's Assimilative Crimes Act determination. We conclude that the holding was correct, though we also believe that Lewis is entitled to resentencing on the federal second-degree murder conviction.

II.

The ACA applies state law to a defendant's acts or omissions that are "not made punishable by any enactment of Congress." 18 U. S. C. Section 13(a) (emphasis added). The basic question before us concerns the meaning of the italicized phrase. These words say that the ACA does not assimilate a state statute if the defendant's "act" or "omission" is punished by "any [federal] enactment." If the words are taken literally, Louisiana's law could not possibly apply to Lewis, for there are several federal "enactments" that make Lewis' acts punishable, for example, the federal (second degree) murder statute, 18 U. S. C. Section 1111, and the federal assault law, Section 113. We agree with the Government, however, that this is not a sensible interpretation of this language, since a literal reading of the words "any enactment" would dramatically separate the statute from its intended purpose.

The ACA's basic purpose is one of borrowing state law to fill gaps in the federal criminal law that applies on federal enclaves. See Williams v. United States, 327 U. S. 711, 718-719 (1946) (ACA exists "to fill in gaps" in federal law where Congress has not "define[d] the missing offenses"); United States v. Sharpnack, 355 U. S. 286, 289 (1958) (ACA represents congressional decision of "adopting for otherwise undefined offenses the policy of general conformity to local law"); United States v. Press Publishing Co., 219 U. S. 1, 9-10 (1911) (state laws apply to crimes "which were not previously provided for by a law of the United States"); Franklin v. United States, 216 U. S. 559, 568 (1910) (assimilation occurs where state laws "not displaced by specific laws enacted by Congress").

In the 1820's, when the ACA began its life, federal statutory law punished only a few crimes committed on federal enclaves, such as murder and manslaughter. See 1 Stat. 113. The federal courts lacked the power to supplement these few statutory crimes through the use of the common law. See United States v. Hudson, 7 Cranch 32, 34 (1812). Consequently James Buchanan, then a Congressman, could point out to his fellow House Members a "palpable defect in our system," namely that "a great variety of actions, to which a high degree of moral guilt is attached, and which are punished ... at the common law, and by every State ... may be committed with impunity" on federal enclaves. 40 Annals of Cong. 930 (1823). Daniel Webster sought to cure this palpable defect by introducing a bill that both increased the number of federal crimes and also made "the residue" criminal, see 1 Cong. Deb. 338 (1825), by assimilating state law where federal statutes did not provide for the "punishment" of an "offence." 4 Stat. 115. This law, with only a few changes, has become today's Assimilated Crimes Act. See Williams, supra, at 719-723 (describing history of ACA).

Two features of the Act indicate a congressional intent to confine the scope of the words "any enactment" more narrowly than (and hence extend the Act's reach beyond what) a literal reading might suggest. First, a literal interpretation of the words "any enactment" would leave federal criminal enclave law subject to gaps of the very kind the Act was designed to fill. The Act would be unable to assimilate even a highly specific state law aimed directly at a serious, narrowly defined evil, if the language of any federal statute, however broad and however clearly aimed at a different kind of harm, were to cover the defendant's act. Were there only a state, and no federal, law against murder, for example, a federal prohibition of assault could prevent the state statute from filling the obvious resulting gap.

At the same time, prior to its modern amendment the ACA's language more clearly set limits upon the scope of the word "any." The original version of the ACA said that assimilation of a relevant state law was proper when "any offence shall be committed ... the punishment of which offence is not specially provided for by any law of the United States." 4 Stat. 115 (emphasis added); see also 30 Stat. 717 (1898) (later reenactment also using "offense"). The word "offense" avoided the purpose-thwarting interpretation of the Act discussed above, for it limited the relevant federal "enactment" to an enactment that punished offenses of the same kind as those punished by state law. Presumably, a federal assault statute would not have provided punishment for the "offense" that state murder law condemned. Congress changed the Act's language in 1909, removing the word "offense" and inserting the words "act or thing," 35 Stat. 1145, which later became the current "act or omission." But Congress did so for reasons ...


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