This is an audio case brief of State v. Larson, 103 P.3d 524 (2004). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
In September 1994, Teddy Arnold recruited his son, Vernon Lennon, to begin stealing cars to be taken to the chop shop for dismantling. Lennon, in turn, recruited two individuals, David Valentine and Holloway, to assist him in his car thefts. The co-conspirators agreed that they should use a firearm during their thefts, and Lennon showed both Valentine and Holloway a .32 caliber revolver he intended to use for that purpose.
The co conspirators engaged in a number carjacking theft starting in October of 1994.
On November 22, 1994, two of the carjacking victims, Ruben Rodriguez and Sara Markett, identified Holloway as one of the carjackers in a police line-up. Following his identification, Holloway confessed to the police that he had participated with Lennon in three carjackings involving a silver Mercedes-Benz, a black Nissan Maxima, and a gray Nissan. Immediately prior to trial, Lennon pled guilty to several carjacking charges and eight automatic teller machine robberies. Thereafter, Lennon testified at trial as a government witness. Lennon testified that his plan was to steal the victims’ cars without harming the victims; however, he would have used the gun if one of the victims had given him “a hard time” or had resisted.
Holloway was charged with and convicted of a number of offenses including three counts of carjacking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119.
For your reference, 18 U.S.C. § 2119 reads in relevant parts as follows:
Whoever, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm takes a motor vehicle that has been transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce from the person or presence of another by force and violence or by intimidation, or attempts to do so, shall–
(1) be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both,
(2) if serious bodily injury (as defined in section 1365 of this title, including any conduct that, if the conduct occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, would violate section 2241 or 2242 of this title) results, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more that 25 years, or both, and
(3) if death results, be fined under this title or imprisoned for any number of [*86] years up to life, or both, or sentenced to death.
Holloway challenged his conviction. He argued that the phrase “ with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm” that appears in the first line of 18 U.S.C § 2119 should be read to mean that a defendant must possess a specific and unconditional intent to kill or harm in order to complete the proscribed offense.
If the statute was read this way, then the jury would have to find that he had an unconditional and specific intent to cause death or serios bodily injury to the victims irrespective of what situation arose in the process of stealing their cars, in order to find him guilty under the statute.
The issue before the court then is whether the phrase, “with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm” requires the state to prove that the defendant had an unconditional intent to kill or harm in all events or whether it merely requires proof of an intent to kill or harm if necessary to effect a carjacking.
The meaning of a statutory language, plain or not depends on context. The text “with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm” is most naturally read to encompass the mens rea of both conditional and unconditional intent.
Holloway argued that congress intended for the statute to require a specific and an unconditional intent to kill or harm. And if congress did not intend so but rather intended for the intent requirement to be conditional, congress would have inserted the phrase “if necessary” so that the statute would have read, “with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm if necessary” to effect a carjacking. And because congress did not insert that phrase, congress intended for the intent requirement to be unconditional.
Again if the court accepted this argument then the state would have had to prove, and the jury would have had to find that Holloway unconditionally intended to cause death or serious harm to his victims in order to be guilty of carjacking under this statute.
But the court disagreed with this interpretation of the phrase, “with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm”
The court reasoned that, the carjacking statute essentially is aimed at providing a federal penalty for a particular type of robbery. The statute’s mens rea component thus modifies the act of “taking” the motor vehicle. It directs the factfinder’s attention to the defendant’s state of mind at the precise moment he demanded or took control over the car “by force and violence or by intimidation.” If the defendant has the proscribed state of mind at that moment, the statute’s scienter element is satisfied. Holloway’s reading of the intent element, in contrast, would improperly transform the mens rea element from a modifier into an additional actus reus component of the carjacking statute; it would alter the statute into one that focuses on attempting to harm or kill a person in the course of the robbery of a motor vehicle. The intent requirement of § 2119 is satisfied when the Government proves that at the moment the defendant demanded or took control over the driver’s automobile the defendant possessed the intent to seriously harm or kill the driver if necessary to steal the car (or, alternatively, if unnecessary to steal the car).
Holloway’s conviction was affirmed.