Thursday, December 03, 2020

U.S. v. Lozoya (9th Cir. - Dec. 3, 2020)

It's hard for me to care deeply about this case.

Is it intellectually interesting?  Definitely.  It's about the proper venue for a criminal prosecution for events that transpired during an airplane flight -- miles above any particular state.  The Constitution says that in criminal actions, venue is proper only "in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed," but that if the crime was “not committed within any State . . . the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.”

So, here, one passenger slapped another during a flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.  It's unclear where exactly the plane was when the slap took place.  Federal law says that you're allowed to prosecute these actions in the place where the plane landed; here, in the Central District of California.

Is that consistent with the Constitution?

Obviously, the Framers didn't have any preconception about this issue.  After all, plane flights weren't exactly common in 1787.  But let's just read the words.  Is a slap five miles above a particular state an offense "in" that state?  What about 10 miles?  100 miles?  1000?  If so, then, no, a criminal prosecution in California doesn't work, and it's got to be in whatever (random) state the plane happened to be in at the particular time of the slap.  Otherwise, it's okay to follow the federal statute and prosecute the action in California.

The en banc court decides today, in a 8-3 decision, that a prosecution in California is permitted.

As I said, it's an interesting intellectual issue -- yet another one of those "How do you interpret the Constitution to account for events that indisputably the Framers did not imagine" issues.  So the fight between the majority and the dissent is indeed engaging.

But that's a little bit swamped by the practicalities of the whole thing.

It's a fight about a tiny little slap on an airplane.  A misdemeanor.  An offense for which the defendant, Ms. Lozoya, gets sentenced to a $750 fine.  As the result of a prosecution in her home state, as opposed to being prosecuted in federal court in, say, Utah or Nebraska or wherever else the plane happened to fly.

She argues that those are the only places a prosecution's allowed.  But it's undeniably more convenient to her for the prosecution to take place here.  She'd have a legitimate complaint, in my view, were the offense instead tried in one of these far-flung, temporally random places.

Moreover, as a reminder, it's petty little a misdemeanor.  For which she's simply sentenced to a $750 fine.  For that, she gets a public defender and (1) goes to trial, (2) files an appeal, and (3) has the case taken en banc.  We're wasting way over $750 on this thing.  All for a crime that she did, in fact, totally commit.

So there's part of me that just says:  Take your lumps.  Pay the fine.  Stop whining and wasting the time and money of everyone else just because you can't control yourself on a plane.

Yes, yes, of course, everyone's entitled to a robust defense.  Totally true.  And, again, it's an interesting issue, and one that might well be important for other -- more serious -- offenses; e.g., people who may sexually assault other passengers on a plane.

But it's nonetheless hard for me to get too worked up for Ms. Lozoya.  It's a $750 misdemeanor for a slap she should never have done.  My brain is indeed interested in the doctrinal complexity of her case, but perhaps unsurprisingly, my heart is nonetheless not all that into it.