Thursday, May 05, 2011

U.S. v. Li (9th Cir. - May 2, 2011)

Here's a nice little stumper for you.  One that shows that crazy law school hypotheticals don't just arise in law schools.

An alien gets to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands ("CMNI"), which is part of the United States.  She then takes a boat to the nearby island of Guam, which is also a part of the United States, but in doing so, has to travel through international waters.  She's convicted of illegally entering the United States (in Guam). 

She says on appeal that he didn't illegally "enter" the United States in Guam because she was already in the United States in the CMNI.  The United States responds that she did because she was initially in the U.S., but then left it when she went into international waters, so is guilty.

Who's right?  The alien or the government?  Whatcha think?

Well, my friends, the answer is an easy one.  Or at least it's easy for the Ninth Circuit.  Think I'm just rambling on so you can't easily see the answer in the line after the question, and hence have to come up with an initial answer yourself.  You know me too well.  That's exactly what I'm doing.  That way I can bury the correct answer in a morass of text.  The winner, according to the Ninth Circuit, is the alien.  Conviction overturned.  That's the right answer.  Then I just have to type a couple of additional sentences of text so that the correct answer is buried.  Which I've now done.  Expertly.

It's really fairly straightforward, according to the Ninth Circuit.  Just as precedent holds that you don't "enter" the United States if you travel from California to Alaska -- even if doign so requires you to be in international waters (on a ship) or over Canadian airspace (in an airplane or, more uncomfortably, a balloon) -- so too does the same rule apply with respect to Guam and the CMNI.  Different lands.  Same rule.

Now you know.