United States v. Harris

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 12-05-2012
  • Case #: 11-50503
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Graber for the Court; Circuit Judges Ikuta and Hurwitz
  • Full Text Opinion

49 U.S.C. § 46505’s prohibition of “dangerous weapons” on an aircraft is “sufficiently clear to provide guidance to citizens concerning how they can avoid violating it” and to place a defendant on notice that his conduct was criminal to survive an as-applied vagueness challenge.

The issue on appeal was whether 49 U.S.C. § 46505, which prohibits “carrying a concealed dangerous weapon on aircraft,” is unconstitutionally vague “as applied” to an employee who assisted a passenger in sneaking a pocketknife with a two-and-a-half inch blade past security for the passenger to take aboard. Benjamin Harris was convicted for “conspiracy to carry a concealed dangerous weapon on an aircraft,” and “for aiding and abetting the carrying of a concealed dangerous weapon on an aircraft.” On appeal, the Court noted that “[a] criminal statute is void for vagueness if it is not sufficiently clear to provide guidance to citizens concerning how they can avoid violating it.” To survive an “as-applied” challenge, a statute is unconstitutionally vague if it “fail[s] to put a defendant on notice that his conduct was criminal.” The Court determined that Harris’s as-applied challenge hinged on whether he received adequate notice that his particular conduct was prohibited. The Court concluded that Harris’s knowledge that the knife was turned back by TSA, the various signs around the terminal prohibiting all knives, and his status as an airport employee, made it clear that § 46505’s prohibition included the pocketknife. The Court determined that this passed the enhanced clarity requirement and concluded that Harris had adequate notice that his conduct was proscribed. The Court rejected Harris’s attempt to distinguish from precedent based on differing blade lengths. A “common sense definition of ‘dangerous weapon’ provides sufficient notice regarding the conduct that is prohibited . . . [and] include[s] a knife with a three-inch blade.” The near half-inch difference did not render the statute vague as applied to Harris, especially in light of the circumstances. AFFIRMED.

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