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United States v. Noel

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 26, 2018

MARCUS NOEL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:15-cr-20686-JAL-1

          Before MARCUS, ANDERSON, and HULL, Circuit Judges.

          ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

          Marcus Noel appeals his judgment of conviction on counts 1 and 2 of the indictment. In Count 1, he was charged with conspiracy to seize or detain, and threaten to kill, injure, or continue to detain, a national of the United States in order to compel a third person to pay ransom (i.e., hostage taking), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1203. In Count 2, he was charged with the substantive offense of hostage taking in violation of § 1203.

         Noel admitted that in Port au Prince, Haiti, he and a co-conspirator "knowingly and willfully conspired, agreed, and planned to take hostage . . . an adult female who is a citizen of the United States, and detain [her] against her will for the purposes of demanding a ransom payment." Specifically, Noel and his co-conspirator approached the victim and took her hostage by brandishing a firearm. Noel and his co-conspirator took from her two cellular telephones, her wedding rings, her Haitian driver's license and some Haitian and United States currency. They called the victim's family members, also located in Haiti, and demanded a ransom of $150, 000 for her safe release. Later that evening they drove her to a school where they blindfolded, handcuffed, and gagged her, keeping her at the school for three days. In phone calls to the victim's family, Noel and his co-conspirator continued to demand $150, 000 for her release, and Noel threatened to kill the victim and her children if her family did not pay the ransom. Haitian officials tracked Noel to the school using telephone records and found the victim's driver's license in his pocket. The district court sentenced Noel to 235 months' imprisonment.

         Noel raises three arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the prosecution was required to prove that he knew his victim was an American citizen and that the record does not indicate that he had such knowledge. Second, Noel argues that Congress did not intend § 1203 to apply to a street crime like his when committed by a foreign national in a foreign country and that Congress intended the statute to apply only to acts of terrorism. Finally, Noel raises constitutional challenges: an argument that Congress did not have the power to enact § 1203, and an argument that even if it did, the district court's exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction over him, a Haitian citizen, to prosecute a crime committed entirely in Haiti violates due process. We address his arguments in turn.


         Our review of all three issues is de novo. United States v. Santiago, 601 F.3d 1241, 1243 (11th Cir. 2010); United States v. Gray, 260 F.3d 1267, 1271 (11th Cir. 2001). Although a "silent statute is presumed to apply only domestically," United States v. Lopez-Vanegas, 493 F.3d 1305, 1311 (11th Cir. 2007), a statute may apply extraterritorially if it demonstrates on its face that extraterritorial application is Congress's express intent, United States v. Banjoko, 590 F.3d 1278, 1281 (11th Cir. 2009). See also United States v. Bowman, 260 U.S. 94, 98, 43 S.Ct. 39, 41 (1922) ("If punishment . . . is . . . extended to include those [acts] committed outside of the strict territorial jurisdiction, it is natural for Congress to say so in the statute, and failure to do so will negat[e] the purpose of Congress in this regard."). "When construing the language of a statute, we 'begin [ ] where all such inquiries must begin: with the language of the statute itself,' and we give effect to the plain terms of the statute." In re Valone, 784 F.3d 1398, 1402 (11th Cir. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Ron Pair Enters., Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241, 109 S.Ct. 1026, 1030 (1989)). Further, "if the statute's language is clear, there is no need to go beyond the statute's plain language into legislative history." Shockley v. Comm'r of IRS, 686 F.3d 1228, 1235 (11th Cir. 2012).


         A. Was the Prosecution Required to Prove that Noel Knew His Victim was an American Citizen?

         Noel was not required to know that his victim was American because the requirement of § 1203 that the victim be an American is purely jurisdictional. When a statute is silent as to mens rea, we usually interpret it to require proof of general intent. United States v. Ettinger, 344 F.3d 1149, 1158 (11th Cir. 2003). However, no mens rea is necessary for elements that are purely jurisdictional. United States v. Campa, 529 F.3d 980, 1006 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Feola, 420 U.S. 671, 676 n.9, 95 S.Ct. 1255, 1260 n.9 (1975)). As the Supreme Court has explained, "the existence of the fact that confers federal jurisdiction need not be one in the mind of the actor at the time he perpetrates the act made criminal by the federal statute." Feola, 420 U.S. at 676 n.9, 95 S.Ct. at 1260 n.9. In Feola, the defendant was convicted of violating a statute that punished assaulting a federal officer. While the Court noted that there were instances when a fact could be more than jurisdictional, it concluded that in the statute before it the fact was indeed jurisdictional because had the prosecution been required to show the defendant knew the victim was an officer, the statute's purpose of protecting officers might well be frustrated. 420 U.S. at 684-85, 95 S.Ct. at 1264. The Feola Court explained that its holding "poses no risk of unfairness to defendants" because "[t]he situation is not one where legitimate conduct becomes unlawful solely because of the identity of the individual or agency affected." Id. at 685, 95 S.Ct. at 1264.

         Several similar cases from our circuit have determined that required facts are jurisdictional and not elements of the crime. In United States v. Campa, 529 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 2008), we examined a statute that required the murder take place within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. We noted that the statute expressly defined the mens rea requirement for murder but was silent as to jurisdiction, which indicated that the location requirement was jurisdictional alone. 529 F.3d at 1007. In United States v. Ibarguen-Mosquera, 634 F.3d 1370 (11th Cir. 2011), defendants were captured in a stateless vessel and argued that the government was required to prove they knowingly navigated through the high seas, i.e. that this was an element of the crime of which they were convicted. Rejecting their argument, we first noted that the statute itself stated that jurisdiction was not an element of the crime, but we also held the jurisdictional requirement was not an element because the location where the crime took place had no bearing on the defendants' culpability in committing a criminal act. Id. at 1384.

         Here, the requirement that the victim be American is set forth in a different subsection of the statute than the elements that are designated as punishable. See 18 U.S.C. § 1203(a), (b). The wording of the jurisdictional section also indicates that it is not meant to be an element: "It is not an offense under this section if the conduct required for the offense occurred outside the United States unless-(A) the offender or the person seized or detained is a national of the United States." § 1203(b). That language-"the conduct required for the offense"-signals that the crime has already been defined and this subsection merely provides jurisdictional requirements. Further, the conduct committed-kidnapping-would be criminal regardless of the nationality of the victim. See Ibarguen-Mosquera, 634 F.3d at 1384. Because we determine that the statute's requirement that the victim be American is jurisdictional only, there is no mens rea requirement for that part of the statute.[1]

         B. Did Congress Intend to Limit the Application of § 1203 to Crimes of Terrorism, or Is the Conduct for Which Noel Was Convicted Covered by the Statute Pursuant to the Plain Meaning of the Language of the Statute?

We begin, of course, with the language of the statute:
Section 1203 (Hostage taking)
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third person or a governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the person detained, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life and, if the death of any person results, shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.
(b)(1) It is not an offense under this section if the conduct required for the offense occurred outside the United States unless-
(A)the offender or the person seized or detained is a national of the United States;
(B)the offender is found in the United States; or
(C)the governmental organization sought to be compelled is the Government of ...

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