Court of Appeals Affirms RICO Convictions Where Murder in Mexico Affected Commerce in the U.S.

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer and Fall 2016 - Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)

U.S. v. Leija-Sanchez, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, May 2, 2016

The defendants in this criminal case were convicted of a RICO conspiracy, among other crimes, for arranging a murder in Mexico to reduce competition against a Chicago-based criminal organization that created bogus immigration documents.  On appeal, they argued that their conviction was based on an impermissibly extraterritorial application of the RICO statute.

The Court of Appeals, which had previously rejected a similar argument, reaffirmed its decision in light of the intervening decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Morrison case, which set forth the modern rule for determining whether U.S. statutes should be given extraterritorial effect.   Specifically, the Court found that a section of RICO that prohibits murder in aid of racketeering could reach conduct anywhere in the world so long as commerce in the U.S. was significantly affected.  The defendants were convicted of an additional RICO “predicate crime,” conspiring “within the jurisdiction of the United States” to commit a murder, and two defendants argued that the statute could not reach them because they were in Mexico at the time.  The Court addressed whether the statute reached such situation but found no need to resolve the question because of its affirmance of the other convictions.

[Editor’s Note:  The Leija-Sanchez decision was issued less than two months before the U.S. Supreme Court’s clarification of the extraterritorial application of RICO in RJR Nabisco v. European Union, which is discussed in this issue.]

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