Supreme Court hears plea agreement, RICO cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Wednesday in two cases. In Puckett v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether a defendant's claim, not raised at trial, that the prosecution breached a plea agreement is reviewable on appeal according to the plain-error standard under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure [Rule 52(b) text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the claim was governed by plain-error review and found no reversible error. Counsel for the petitioner argued that Puckett "has been prejudiced by the government's breach." Counsel for the government argued:

that the plain-error standard does apply to forfeited claims that a plea agreement has been breached, that the Olano framework should be followed, and that one component of the plain-error showing in this context should require a defendant who did not object to a breach in the district court to show a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceeding was affected by the breach.
In Boyle v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act [text, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)-(d)] (RICO) require prosecutors to prove the existence of an "ascertainable structure beyond that inherent in the pattern of racketeering activity" in which an organization engages. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held without discussion that there is no such requirement. Counsel for the petitioner argued:
To keep the elements [of RICO] apart, ensure their distinct consideration, and give the enterprise independent meaning, juries must be instructed, as in the Seventh Circuit and elsewhere, that an "enterprise" requires a structure separate from the commission of the predicate acts forming the pattern.
Counsel for the government argued:
An association-in-fact enterprise need not have an ascertainable structure distinct from the predicate act of racketeering committed by one of its associates, whatever that means. RICO's statutory text, its surrounding context, and this Court's construction of the statute show that RICO's definition of "enterprise" is broad and contains no such limitation.

 

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