Monday, April 15, 2019

U.S. v. Loyoza (9th Cir. - April 11, 2019)

The slogan of United Airlines is:  "Fly the friendly skies."  Anyone who's been on a commercial airplane in the past decade knows that the skies are far from as friendly as they once were.  But the Ninth Circuit reminds us that it's not only cramped airplanes, absurd "incidental" fees, and other nastiness associated with the airlines that makes air travel far less glamorous than it once was.  You've also got the fear that you'll be criminally assaulted.

One case last week involved a criminal prosecution for sexual assault on board an airplane.  In that prosecution, "[d]uring an overnight flight from Tokyo, Japan to Los Angeles, California, Juan Pablo Price, a forty-six-year-old man, moved from his assigned seat to an open seat adjacent to that of a sleeping twenty-one-year-old female Japanese student, where he fondled her breast and slipped his hand into her underwear, touching her vagina."  Not something you want to have to deal with, for sure.

The very next day, the Ninth Circuit issued this opinion, which involved a straightforward (non-sexual) assault on a different airplane.  This time on a flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.  (Notice, if you will, that both flights were into Los Angeles.)  That case involved merely a punch to the face, but still, not something you want to have to deal with either.

That latest case also has an interesting doctrinal holding.  The majority opinion holds that under the federal venue statute, you have to charge the defendant in the state that the aircraft was flying over at the particular time of the assault, not (as here) merely in the venue in which the plane landed.  The Ninth Circuit noted that, in some cases, this might not be entirely easy to ascertain, stating:  "We acknowledge a creeping absurdity in our holding. Should it really be necessary for the government to pinpoint where precisely in the spacious skies an alleged assault occurred? Imagine an inflight robbery or homicide—or some other nightmare at 20,000 feet—that were to occur over the northeastern United States, home to three circuits, fifteen districts, and a half-dozen major airports, all in close proximity. How feasible would it be for the government to prove venue in such cluttered airspace?"  Not easy, the majority admits.  But not impossible.  So you gotta do it.

So if you're really angry about that guy behind you who keeps kicking your seat, maybe wait until you're over, say, Texas, or some other state in which the jury might perhaps be more sympathetic to your plight.  Then plunk him.