Tuesday, January 17, 2012

U.S. v. Kuok (9th Cir. - Jan. 17, 2012)

Someone buys stuff off eBay.  He's a citizen of Macau.  Some of those items aren't allowed to be exported, because they can be used in defense equipment.  One of the things he tries to buy is from a British company.  The most sensitive thing he tried to buy was from a company in Arizona.  When the authorities searched his eBay account, they discovered he had bought some two-way radios from a seller in Los Angeles.  He also agreed to meet an undercover officer in Panama.  To get there, he changed planes in Atlanta.  Where the authorities arrested him.

Where is venue proper for this offense?  China?  Britain?  Arizona?  Georgia?  Los Angeles?

No, no, you silly.  The answer is obvious.  San Diego.  Which is where the government indeed tries him.

San Diego?!  How was that location at all involved in the offense?  One of the undercover agents who was investigating the defendant operated out of the San Diego ICE offices, and at some point cashed a money order that the defendant had given him in a local bank in San Diego.

Ta-da!  Venue in San Diego.  It matters not that the defendant had no idea whatsoever that he was dealing with an undercover agent from San Diego -- or else he wouldn't have committed the crime with him (duh!) -- or that the only basis for venue there was the government's own conduct.  The Ninth Circuit holds that there "is no such thing as manufactured venue or venue entrapment."  Sure, the venue requirement is in a somewhat important document:  the Constitution.  But that requirement's satisfied by acts unknown to the defendant that are unilaterally performed by the government to advance a criminal prosecution.

I guess an argument could equally be made that venue is proper in a particular district because that's where the government elected to file the indictment.

The defendant here gets his convictions reversed on a couple of different basis, and a new trial is ordered on a couple of the counts because he should have been allowed to present a duress defense to the jury.  But that retrial will happen in San Diego.  Because venue is something we simply don't take very seriously.  At least in criminal cases.