Ressam was affiliated with
al-Qa'ida. He crossed the border from Canada and gave a US Customs Official
a false name. He was arrested.
He also happened to be driving
a carload of explosives (with the intent to blow up an airport in Los
Ressam was convicted of lying
to a Customs Officer, which is a felony. He was sentenced to 22 years in
jail on 9 counts. He appealed the sentence.
18 U.S.C. §844(h)(2) says "whoever carries an explosive
during the commission of any felony which may be prosecuted in a court of
the United States shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such
felony, be sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years."
Ressam argued that §844(h)(2) should be read to say that only felonies related
to the bomb should count, and so the overall sentence was too long.
Otherwise you'd have an absurd
If you happened to be carrying
a bomb while filing a false tax form, would that be worth an extra ten
The Appellate Court vacated
the sentence and remanded.
The Appellate Court looked
to United States v. Stewart (770
F.2d 538 (1985)) and found that §844(h)(2) requires a relationship between the
underlying crime and the act of carrying an explosive.
In Stewart, Stewart was carrying a firearm (as opposed
to a bomb), but the firearm Statute (18 U.S.C. §924(c)) has almost identical wording to §844(h)(2).
In Stewart, the court found that the legislative
purpose necessarily implies some relation or connection
between the underlying criminal act and the use or possession of the
§924(c) was later amended by Congress to explicitly
add the words "in relation to," but Congress never changed the
wording for §844(h)(2).
The Court found that the legislative
history indicated that the new
"in relation to" language in §924(c) was not
intended to create an element of the crime that did not previously
exist, but rather was intended to make explicit what had been implicit
So basically, Congress
changed §924(c) to just
explicitly say what was already implicitly there. Ergo, §844(h)(2) should be read to implicitly require a
relationship as well.
In a dissent it was argued
that Ressam met the plain language
of §844(h)(2). He was carrying an explosive while
committing a felony. In order for the Court to find Ressam innocent they
would have to add an element to §844(h)(2) that does not appear in the statute enacted by Congress.
"We lack the
constitutional authority to add an element to a criminal statute. That is
Congress' function. Our role is merely to interpret what Congress has
Btw, this case was scheduled
to be heard by the US Supreme Court, after the semester ended, so this is
not a final decision.