(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday backed the 2nd Circuit’s broad definition of an “enterprise” under racketeering law. The 7-2 majority upheld the conviction of a serial bank robber, rejecting his claim that an enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act has to be “structured.”
Under the RICO Act, members of an ongoing criminal organization can suffer harsher penalties than if they aren’t part of an enterprise.
Edmund Boyle was part of a group of criminals who robbed banks in the 1990s. The high court said the miscreants belonged to a “core group” that was “loosely and informally organized, lacking a leader, hierarchy, or any long-term plan.”
A jury found Boyle guilty of having participated in a racketeering enterprise, despite his objection to instructions that the jury could “find an enterprise where an association of individuals, without structural hierarchy, form[ed] solely for the purpose of carrying out a pattern of racketeering acts” and that “common sense suggests that the existence of an association-in-fact is oftentimes more readily proven by what it does, rather than by abstract analysis of its structure.”
Boyle was convicted on 11 of the 12 counts against him, including RICO counts.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that the federal judge was correct in his explanation of an enterprise to the jury: that it must be an ongoing organization with some sort of framework and that various members of the association function as a continuing unit to achieve a common purpose.
The ruling relied on United States v. Turkette, which gave a loose interpretation of an enterprise as “proved by evidence of an ongoing organization, formal or informal, and by evidence that the various associates function as a continuing unit.”
The trial judge did not err in his instructions, the majority concluded.
Justice John Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, in which he argued that the definition of an enterprise was too broad. An enterprise, Stevens said, “must have business-like characteristics,” and must be more than just a band of criminals.
“There is no evidence in RICO’s text or history that Congress intended it to reach such ad hoc associations of thieves,” Stevens wrote.