452 U.S. 576 (1981), 80-808, United States v. Turkette

Docket Nº:No. 80-808
Citation:452 U.S. 576, 101 S.Ct. 2524, 69 L.Ed.2d 246
Party Name:United States v. Turkette
Case Date:June 17, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 576

452 U.S. 576 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 2524, 69 L.Ed.2d 246

United States

v.

Turkette

No. 80-808

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1981

Argued April 27, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Chapter 96 of Title 18 of the United States Code, entitled Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO), was added to Title 18 by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. Title 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), which is part of RICO, makes it unlawful

for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.

The term "enterprise" is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1961(4) as including

any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.

An indictment charged respondent and others with, inter alia, a conspiracy to violate § 1962(c). The indictment described the enterprise in question as a group of individuals associated in fact for the purpose of engaging in certain specified criminal activities. Respondent was convicted in Federal District Court, but the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that RICO was intended solely to protect legitimate business enterprises from infiltration by racketeers, and does not make it criminal to participate in an association which performs only illegal acts and has not infiltrated or attempted to infiltrate a legitimate enterprise.

Held: The term "enterprise," as used in RICO, encompasses both legitimate and illegitimate enterprises. Pp. 580-593.

(a) Neither the language nor structure of RICO limits its application to legitimate enterprises. On its face, the definition of "enterprise" in § 1961(4) appears to include both legitimate and illegitimate enterprises within its scope. The section describes two separate categories of associations that come within the purview of an "enterprise" -- the first encompassing organizations such as corporations, partnerships, and other "legal entities," and the second covering "any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity." The second category is not a more generalized description of the first, and hence the rule of ejusdem generis cannot be properly applied to hold

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that the second category should be limited by the specific examples enumerated in the first. Pp. 580-582.

(b) With respect to § 1962(c), an "enterprise" is not a "pattern of racketeering activity," but is an entity separate and apart from the pattern of activity in which it engages. In order to secure a conviction, the Government must prove both the existence of an "enterprise" and the connected "pattern of racketeering activity." Pp. 582-583.

(c) Applying RICO to illegitimate as well as legitimate enterprises does not render any portion of the statute superfluous, nor does it create any structural incongruities within the statute's framework. On the contrary, insulating the wholly criminal enterprise from prosecution under RICO is the more incongruous position. Pp. 583-587.

[101 S.Ct. 2526] (d) Nothing in RICO's legislative history requires a conclusion that the statute is limited in its application to legitimate enterprises. In view of the purposes of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 to eradicate organized crime in the United States, it cannot be said that Congress nevertheless confined the reach of the law to only narrow aspects of organized crime, and, in particular, under RICO, to only the infiltration of legitimate business. Pp. 588-593.

632 F.2d 896, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 593.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Chapter 96 of Title 18 of the United States Code, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968 (1976 ed. and Supp. III), entitled

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Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO), was added to Title 18 by Title IX of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Pub.L. 9152, 84 Stat. 991. The question in this case is whether the term "enterprise" as used in RICO encompasses both legitimate and illegitimate enterprises or is limited in application to the former. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that Congress did not intend to include within the definition of "enterprise" those organizations which are exclusively criminal. 632 F.2d 896 (1980). This position is contrary to that adopted by every other Circuit that has addressed the issue.1 We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict. 449 U.S. 1123 (1981).

I

Count Nine of a nine-count indictment charged respondent and 12 others with conspiracy to conduct and participate in the affairs of an enterprise2 engaged in interstate commerce

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through a pattern of racketeering activities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1962 (d).3 The indictment described the enterprise as

a group of individuals associated in fact for the purpose of illegally trafficking in narcotics and other dangerous drugs, committing arsons, utilizing the United States mails to defraud insurance companies, bribing and attempting to bribe local police officers, and corruptly influencing and attempting to corruptly influence [101 S.Ct. 2527] the outcome of state court proceedings. . . .

The other eight counts of the indictment charged the commission of various substantive criminal acts by those engaged in and associated with the criminal enterprise, including possession with intent to distribute and distribution of controlled substances, and several counts of insurance fraud by arson and other means. The common thread to all counts was respondent's alleged leadership of this criminal organization through which he orchestrated and participated in the commission of the various crimes delineated in the RICO count or charged in the eight preceding counts.

After a 6-week jury trial, in which the evidence focused upon both the professional nature of this organization and the execution of a number of distinct criminal acts, respondent was convicted on all nine counts. He was sentenced to a term of 20 years on the substantive counts, as well as a 2-year special parole term on the drug count. On the RICO conspiracy count, he was sentenced to a 20-year concurrent term and fined $20,000.

On appeal, respondent argued that RIO was intended

Page 580

solely to protect legitimate business enterprises from infiltration by racketeers, and that RICO does not make criminal the participation in an association which performs only illegal acts and which has not infiltrated or attempted to infiltrate a legitimate enterprise. The Court of Appeals agreed. We reverse.

II

In determining the scope of a statute, we look first to its language. If the statutory language is unambiguous, in the absence of "a clearly expressed legislative intent to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Consumer Product Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108 (1980). Of course, there is no errorless test for identifying or recognizing "plain" or "unambiguous" language. Also, authoritative administrative constructions should be given the deference to which they are entitled, absurd results are to be avoided, and internal inconsistencies in the statute must be dealt with. Trans Alaska Pipeline Rate Cases, 436 U.S. 631, 643 (1978); Commissioner v. Brown, 380 U.S. 563, 571 (1965). We nevertheless begin with the language of the statute.

Section 1962(c) makes it unlawful

for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.

The term "enterprise" is defined as including

any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.

§ 1961(4). There is no restriction upon the associations embraced by the definition: an enterprise includes any union or group of individuals associated in fact. On its face, the definition appears to include both legitimate and illegitimate enterprises within its scope; it no more excludes

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criminal enterprises than it does legitimate ones. Had Congress not intended to reach criminal associations, it could easily have narrowed the sweep of the definition by inserting a single word, "legitimate." But it did nothing to indicate that an enterprise consisting of a group of individuals was not covered by RICO if the purpose of the enterprise was exclusively criminal.

The Court of Appeals, however, clearly departed from and limited the statutory language. It gave several reasons for doing so, none of which is adequate. First, it relied in part on the rule of ejusdem generis, an aid to statutory construction problems suggesting that, where general words follow a specific enumeration of persons or things, the general words should be limited to persons or things similar to those specifically enumerated. See 2A C. Sands, Sutherland on Statutory Construction § 47.17 [101 S.Ct. 2528] (4th ed.1973). The Court of Appeals ruled that, because each of the specific enterprises enumerated in § 1961(4) is a "legitimate" one, the final catchall phrase -- "any...

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