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UNITED STATES v. DICKSON

October 3, 1986

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
VERNARD V. DICKSON, STANLEY WINSLOW



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

 Barrington D. Parker, Senior District Judge:

 Defendants Stanley Winslow and Vernard V. Dickson are charged in Count One of a multi-count indictment with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1952A, Use of Interstate Commerce Facilities in the Commission of Murder-for-Hire ("Murder-for-Hire"). That section of the federal criminal code imposes liability upon a person who "travels in or causes another . . . to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, . . . or uses or causes another to use . . . any facility in interstate or foreign commerce with intent that a murder be committed in violation of the laws of any State or the United States. . . ." Defendants Winslow and Dickson are also jointly charged under local District of Columbia criminal code provisions with conspiracy and attempted first degree murder. 22 D.C. Code §§ 103 and 2401. Defendant Dickson, alone, is charged in a fourth count of the indictment with assault with intent to kill. 22 D.C. Code § 501.

 Defendants' counsel have moved for dismissal of Count One of the indictment on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that Congress never intended that the Murder-for-Hire Statute be used to invoke federal jurisdiction over essentially local crimes. In response to the motion the government contends that Congress intended that the statute "reach[es] every murder for hire with any federal nexus." Government's Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count I, p. 3, filed July 22, 1986. (emphasis included.)

 The matter has been fully briefed and argued by counsel. For the reasons set out below the Court determines that § 1952A should be narrowly interpreted, that the underlying facts relied upon by the government are insufficient to support the murder-for-hire count of the indictment, that jurisdiction over the defendants is lacking, that the first count of the indictment should be dismissed.

 A.

 The parties' dispute over the jurisdictional scope of § 1952A complicates an otherwise local criminal matter. According to the factual record developed in pretrial proceedings, the following events led to the return of the indictment. The defendants' alleged criminal scheme began on April 29, 1986 and terminated with their arrest on May 7, 1986. *fn1" The genesis of the aborted criminal venture was an old romance of defendant Dickson's which had turned sour. According to the testimonial record of the preliminary and detention hearing before the Magistrate, Dickson's testimony at a recent pretrial hearing, and evidence gathered by the local police also involved from the inception of the scheme, *fn2" Dickson had previously formed an acquaintance with a lady friend. The two had developed a mutual interest and had dated steadily for several months. The lady's interest waned and she suggested ending the romance but continuing a friendship. The defendant was disappointed and not entirely satisfied with the turn of events. Meanwhile the lady's interests were directed towards another male companion. Upon learning of this development, the defendant Dickson became obsessed with jealousy. He confronted his competitor, verbally abused him, and allegedly attempted to run him down with a motor vehicle. The government also contends that Dickson decided to pursue a more direct course of action when he contacted Stanley Winslow, his friend and alleged co-conspirator to help him hire a person to murder the competitor. According to the government, Winslow acted as a middleman to arrange a contract between Dickson and a contract killer to eliminate the intruder.

 B.

 The government contends that both the beeper transmissions and the triggering of the officer's interstate call provided a sufficient interstate nexus to exercise federal jurisdiction under § 1952A. There can be no dispute that the government has established the requisite interstate nexus. Indeed, a single telephone call is sufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction. See U.S. v. Pecora, 693 F.2d 421 (5th Cir. 1982) (holding one telephone call from defendant to sheriff sufficient to exercise jurisdiction for an indictment charging attempted bribery under § 1952). Rather, the Court focuses its attention upon the types of murder-for-hire cases which warrant federal Jurisdiction.

 The reach of federal jurisdiction under § 1952A poses an important question of federalism: how far did Congress intend to intervene into the traditional state responsibilities of law enforcement? *fn3" Congress and the courts have historically deferred to state sovereignty in the criminal realm in contrast to the general trend expanding federal jurisdiction at the expense of states in civil matters. See, J. Baker, Nationalizing Criminal Law: Does Organized Crime Make it Necessary or Proper, 16 Rutgers L. J. 495 (1985). This historic reticence offers background for a general analysis of federal criminal statutes. However, each statute must be examined individually to determine Congress' specific intent. To interpret the proper application of the Murder-for-Hire Statute, this Court applies the principle of statutory construction long enunciated by the Supreme Court. "In the interpretation of statutes, the function of the courts is easily stated. It is to construe the language so as to give effect to the intent of Congress." United States v. American Trucking Assn, 310 U.S. 534, 542, 84 L. Ed. 1345, 60 S. Ct. 1059 (1940). The traditional starting point for such an interpretation is the language of the statute itself. See Murphy, Old Maxims Never Die: The Plain Meaning Rule and Statutory Interpretation in the Modern Federal Courts, 75 Colum. L. Rev. 1299 (1975). The relevant provision of § 1952A reads

 
Whoever travels in or causes another [including the intended victim] to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes another to use the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with intent that a murder be committed . . . shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned. . . .

 The statutory language is broad and unqualified. The government argues that such unqualified language makes all defendants charged who travel across or use an interstate facility, liable in federal court. Such a broad application would permit the federal government to intrude into essentially local murder cases and would upset the traditional distribution and line of demarcation between federal and state power. Such an interpretation ignores legislative history to the contrary ...


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