District Court Concludes That Three Criminal Statutes Apply to Extraterritorial Conduct Arising Out of Fraud against U.S. Government

The World in U.S. Courts: Spring 2016 - White Collar Criminal Law

Cockerham v. Willis, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, January 27, 2016

Cockerham is a federal prisoner who filed a petition for habeas corpus, seeking relief on grounds that he had been charged with crimes that did not apply to the conduct alleged. He had been a contracting officer for the U.S. military stationed in the Mideast. One ground cited in his petition was that three crimes to which he plead guilty did not apply to exterritorial conduct.

The Court disagreed and denied the petition. It observed that the presumption against extraterritorial application of U.S. laws established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Morrison case did not apply with full force to criminal laws, which it noted another Supreme Court case had said "are, as a class, not logically dependent on their locality for the Government's jurisdiction, but are enacted because of the right of the Government to defend itself against obstruction, or fraud wherever perpetrated, especially if committed by its own citizens, officers or agents." With this in mind the Court reviewed two of the criminal provisions and concluded that all reflected the Government's "right to protect itself against . . . fraud," in that limiting their scope to U.S.-based conduct would undermine their effectiveness: conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and bribery by corruptly agreeing to receive things of value in return for being influenced in the performance of his official acts, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)(A) and (C). A third provision, conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), expressly applies to actions taken outside the U.S.

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