Boyle v. United States


Does the United States need to prove the existence of a group with an identifiable structure, that goes beyond the racketeering activities at issue, in order to prove an association-in-fact enterprise under the RICO Act?

Oral argument: 
January 14, 2009

A jury convicted Edmund Boyle of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") and sentenced him to 151 months in prison for his participation in a string of bank robberies. Boyle appealed his conviction to the Second Circuit, arguing that the United States misinterpreted the scope of an "enterprise" under RICO. Boyle argued that RICO did not apply because the United States could not prove that the group of bank robbers was an enterprise if it could not prove the group had a formal, ascertainable structure. The United States argued that the individuals were an enterprise and that they did not need to prove a formal structure existed under RICO. The Second Circuit affirmed the conviction. The Supreme Court granted Boyle's petition to determine a three-way circuit split over what constitutes an enterprise under the RICO statute. The outcome of this case will affect the scope of the RICO Act and will impact the ability of law enforcement to prosecute individuals under the RICO Act.

    Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

    Does proof of an association-in-fact enterprise under the RICO statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c)-(d), require at least some showing of an ascertainable structure beyond that inherent in the pattern of racketeering activity in which it engages an exceptionally important question in the administration of federal justice, civil and criminal, that has spawned a three-way circuit split?


    Indictment and Trial

    In 2003, a New York grand jury indicted Edmund Boyle and eight other men on Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") Act conspiracy charges, claiming that they all participated in a series of bank robberies as members of an organization called the "Night Drop Crew." RICO is a broadly-worded statute that makes it a federal crime for individuals to participate in, or profit from, any association with a criminal organization. A defendant can be convicted under RICO if the government can show the existence of an association-in-fact enterprise, and that the enterprise engaged in racketeering activity.

    Boyle attempted to dismiss the indictment with a pretrial motion, citing prior individuals' convictions that claimed groups named the "New Springville Boys" and the "Bank Crew" were responsible for these same robberies. The United States claimed the different names were just labels applied to the group, which had similar and overlapping members over the years, for the ease of prosecution, and that they were not indicative of different groups. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York ("EDNY") denied Boyle's motion, and the case proceeded to trial.

    Most of Boyle's co-defendants had pled guilty by the start of the trial, so the United States proceeded against Boyle alone. During the trial, the United States renamed the individuals in question as the "Boyle Crew" instead of the Night Drop Crew. The United States asserted the Boyle Crew planned and carried out crimes as a formal group, where each member had an assigned role, and where they split the proceeds of successful jobs. Boyle denied the existence of the Boyle Crew, contending he and the other men were individuals acting on an impromptu basis with no formal organizational structure. The EDNY denied Boyle's request for an amended jury instruction that would have required the Unites States to prove that the enterprise had a formal structure and hierarchy. The jury convicted Boyle of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy under RICO, as well as bank burglary, bank burglary conspiracy, and attempted bank burglary. Boyle was sentenced to 151 months in prison.

    Appeal to Second Circuit and Writ of Certiorari

    Boyle appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on a number of grounds, including the scope of an "enterprise" under RICO. The Second Circuit focused its review on whether the United States violated Boyle's Due Process rights when they asserted that two separate enterprises-the Boyle Crew and the New Springfield Boys were responsible for the same crimes. The Second Circuit found no Due Process violations and affirmed the conviction, stating that separate criminal enterprises could easily work together and commit the same crime for their own benefit.

    The Supreme Court then granted Boyle's petition to determine a three-way circuit split over what constitutes an enterprise under the RICO statute, and whether the government needs to show that the enterprise existed outside of the commission of the criminal acts at issue.


    Petitioner Edmund Boyle contends his RICO conviction is invalid because establishing the existence of an association-in-fact criminal enterprise under 18 USC § 1961(4) requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the particular criminal enterprise has an "ascertainable structural hierarchy distinct from" the particular criminal acts which the enterprise commits. Here, Boyle argues, the prosecution failed to meet their burden. The United States counters that the RICO statute embodies no such requirement, and that Boyle's conviction should stand.

    Textual and Precedential Arguments

    The crux of Boyle's argument is that an ascertainable structure requirement is implicit in RICO's plain text and meaning as interpreted by the Supreme Court. This argument relies heavily on the Boyle's interpretation of United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576 (1981), which, Boyle argues, turned on the fact that an association-in-fact enterprise under RICO must exist as an "entity" independent from the pattern of activity in which it engages. Relying on Webster's Dictionary, Boyle contends that the word "entity" as used by the Court in Turkette implies the existence of a self-contained, independent and separate being, and therefore for an organization to exist within the meaning of RICO, it must be more that the sum of its acts and participants.

    Fundamentally, Boyle argues that an ascertainable structure requirement is implicit in Turkette because the finding of an enterprise in that case turned on proof of a separate entity with an ongoing organization and continuing personnel-all hallmarks of an ascertainable structure.It follows, then, according to Boyle, that though it is possible for a jury to infer an ascertainable structure from evidence of the predicate criminal acts, the predicate acts alone, as here, are not necessarily sufficient to establish the ascertainable structure of a RICO enterprise beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The United States reads Turkette differently, and contends that the case stands for the proposition that an association-in-fact enterprise may be established based solely on proof of an association with a "common purpose" to engage in an activity, in which the associates function as a "continuing unit." Thus, according to the United States, under Turkette the enterprise requirement of RICO is met conclusively by showing a group of persons associated for a common purpose of engaging in a course of criminal conduct and function as a continuing unit. Furthermore, the United States contents that reading RICO to require an ascertainable structure requirement would limit the intentional breadth of the RICO statute and conflict with clear Court precedent of reading RICO's definition of enterprise to encompass "any group of individuals associated in fact."

    Beyond Turkette, Boyle argues that two other RICO cases support his position that an ascertainable structure requirement is implied in the statute: Reves v. Ernst & Young, 507 U.S. 170 (1993); and H.J. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S 229 (1989). Boyle argues that Reves stands for the preposition that in order to be involved with the affairs of an enterprise, a participant must be involved somehow with its direction or control, and this in turn confirms that an enterprise must be greater that its members and activities alone. Boyle argues that H.J., which held that RICO requires predicate acts be continuous, intrinsically connotes an ascertainable structure requirement.

    The United States dismisses these other precedential arguments, and counters the Boyle reads the holdings of Reves and H.J. out of context. The United States further contends that not only does the Boyle's proposed "ascertainable structure" requirement lack textual or precedential support, but Boyle himself is unable to offer a workable test or definition of how his proposed requirement could be met.

    Structural Arguments

    Beyond the actual textual interpretation of the RICO statutes, Boyle contends that the structure and purpose of the RICO statutes, as well as its companion statutes, mandate an ascertainable structure requirement. The United States counters that any additional ascertainable structure requirement is not only unnecessary, but barring a mandate from Congress, cannot be read in to the framework of RICO.

    Boyle asserts that without reading RICO to imply an "ascertainable structure" requirement, the distinct "enterprise" and "pattern of racketeering activity" elements of RICO would effectively merge into one, thus rendering the statutory language of 18 USC 1962(c) improperly superfluous. This, Boyle argues, would be clearly at odds with Turkette, where the court made clear that the enterprise element of RICO must "at all times remain[] a separate element which must be proved."

    The United States counters that the Boyle's argument is incorrect because the Court in Turkette specifically rejected a similar argument, and that the separate "enterprise" and "pattern" requirements can never be duplicative because though the same proof can be used to establish both elements, proof of one element can never conclusively establish the other. The United States does not dispute that Congress's intent when RICO was enacted was to target long-term criminal conduct, and therefore the pattern and enterprise requirements are both crucial elements of the statute. However, the United States contends that when, as here, a series of crimes is committed by a group of individuals dedicated to the commission of those crimes, both the enterprise and pattern elements of RICO can be established from the same evidence without a risk of merging the two elements.

    Boyle further contends that without an ascertainable structure requirement, it would be impossible to distinguish RICO activity with predicate conspiracy charges. By merging the RICO enterprise requirement with the pattern requirement, Boyle argues, RICO would be reduced to "glorified proscription of multi-object conspiracies extending over time."

    In response, the United States carefully distinguishes RICO crimes from ordinary conspiracies, and emphasizes that, unlike an association-in-fact RICO enterprise, proving a conspiracy only requires proving intent to commit a crime, and no actual criminal coordination is required. Furthermore, the United States argues that "it is certainly not the case that any series of crimes committed by conspirators would almost always violate RICO."

    Statutory Purpose, Legislative History and Constitutional Arguments

    Boyle contends that his proposed ascertainable structure requirement is consistent with RICO's purpose and legislative history. According to Boyle, RICO was enacted to combat crimes perpetrated by structured business or quasi business entities such as organized crime families, businesses, labor unions and governments-all entities with ascertainable structures. Thus, according to Boyle, requiring some kind of ascertainable structure to be proven "advances the goal of the statute without limiting its scope." Though conceding that RICO was not specifically constrained to combating organized crime, Boyle argues that the enterprise requirement was added to RICO with the express purpose of limiting the statute's reach to traditional structured criminal syndicates.

    The United States counters at the outset that "the authoritative statement of Congress is the statutory text," and argues that RICO's reach was never intended to be narrowly circumscribed to the traditional perpetrators of organized crimes. Furthermore, the United States argues that the Court, while recognizing that the statute was enacted to combat organized crime, has consistently found that Congress intended RICO to have broad application.

    Finally, the Boyle argues that a number of constitutional principles favor a finding of an ascertainable structure requirement. Citing a slew of recent Court decisions reinforcing a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determination of every element of a charged criminal act, Boyle argues that not requiring proof of an ascertainable structure would implicate Boyle's fundamental rights because it substantially reduces the government's burden of proof. Furthermore, Boyle argues that because of these serious constitutional implications, the rule of lenity requires an ascertainable structure requirement where the statute is otherwise silent.

    The United States counters these arguments by asserting that the rules of lenity and principles of avoiding constitutional questions apply only when, after construing congressional intent, there is a grievous ambiguity or uncertainty in the statute. Here, according to the United States, there is no ambiguity problem because RICO is simply and unambiguously broad on its face, as intended by Congress. Finally, the United States argues that there is no constitutional problem with RICO because, contrary to Boyle's contention, the absence of an ascertainable structure requirement does not in fact merge RICO's "enterprise" and "pattern" requirements.


    Does Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") require an association-in-fact "enterprise" to have a structure or organization independent of the underlying criminal acts performed, or are the acts themselves, when performed by a group, enough to show the existence of an association-in-fact enterprise? Central to this case is the RICO Act, which Congress enacted in the 1970's primarily to prosecute organized crime. Congress broadly defined the key terms in the statute to maximize law enforcements' ability to charge all of the participants in, and beneficiaries of, such criminal organizations with a federal crime. RICO has now grown to cover groups well outside the world of organized crime, sparking a debate in the lower courts as to the scope of RICO. The Supreme Court's decision in Boyle v. United States will resolve a three-way circuit split by defining the scope of an enterprise under RICO.

    Petitioner Boyle argues that the Unites States must prove the enterprise has an organized structure aside from the underlying crimes, while the United States claims that it need not prove there is such an ascertainable structure. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers ("NACDL") is deeply concerned with the Unites States' less stringent interpretation of "enterprise" by the courts, and thinks it could subject criminal defendants to the harsh penalties of RICO for committing acts far less egregious than Congress intended for RICO to cover. Indictments under RICO allow for seizure of assets prior to the trial, and convictions under RICO allow for jail sentences of up to twenty years per count of racketeering, and the recovery of treble damages, litigation costs, and punitive damages. , The NACDL asserts that Congress intended RICO to capture organized criminal activity-the type of activity that went above and beyond that of regular conspiracy or racketeering. They contend, however, that the Second Circuit's ruling turns RICO into a "sanction against multiple criminality of almost any sort," meaning RICO could be applied broadly anytime multiple crimes are committed. This not only goes against the Congressional intent of the Act, but it would effectively allow the underlying offenses to merge with RICO and radically affect the sentences criminal defendants are subject to.

    This concern is echoed by groups that fear they will be the targets of RICO indictments should the broad definition of the enterprise be affirmed. If the definition of enterprise is taken to the extreme, the United States Chamber of Commerce fears that legitimate businesses will become the targets of frivolous RICO lawsuits, sued by litigants drawn in by RICO's broad definitions and lucrative penalties. This could result in financial ruin for some businesses, create inefficiencies in the marketplace, and prevent normal transactions between businesses out of fear that their association will be viewed as a RICO enterprise.

    The United States argues, however, that a broad interpretation of RICO's sweeping language is exactly what Congress intended when they drafted RICO. The United States claims this type of language is necessary to net both the formal and informal groups of criminal associates that were the targets of this legislation. Some suggest that Congress knew there would be consequences such as the ones feared above, yet still chose to draft the statute broadly because "Congress was so intent on catching the sharks that it cast its statutory net as broadly as it could, ensuring more than a few minnow would be swept up as well." The very nature of the organized crime is that it could pervade almost any type of legitimate business, from hotel and restaurant management to trash collection, and Congress purposely created the broad and vague language in order to give law enforcement a wide berth for bringing RICO charges. And although a driving force behind the statute was to prosecute organized crime, it was not the sole purpose. The United States argues that Congress meant for this statute to enable law enforcement to crack down on all types of associations that resulted in or revolved around criminal activity, and this congressional intent will be rendered moot should the key terms in RICO be narrowed or limited.

    In addition to these concerns, there is also a fear that failure to require a structure or organization beyond the underlying criminal activity could result in an imbalance between the enforcement of state and federal laws. This would allow for the federalization of certain state crimes, so long as they were committed by a group of individuals. The Center on the Administration of Criminal Law claims Congress gave the federal government new jurisdiction over certain state crimes with the intent that this interference would only take place if the heightened RICO criteria were met, and not simply to prosecute a "pattern of racketeering activity." This sort of interference could undermine state sovereignty and strike a blow to the core of federalism by undermining the policy judgments of local authorities, causing confusion over who should be held politically accountable for such prosecutions and resulting in a misallocation of judicial and law enforcement resources.


    Boyle v. United States will provide the Court with an opportunity to clarify the specific quantum of proof necessary to prove an enterprise by association-in-fact under RICO and clarify a split amongst the lower courts. By choosing to adopt the petitioner's proposed ascertainable structure requirement, which has been followed by a number of the circuit courts, prosecutors in future RICO actions would be required to show that a criminal enterprise exists independently of its predicate crimes. On the contrary, by finding in favor of the United States, the Court would not only uphold Boyle's conviction but also firmly establish the approach of a number of other circuit courts: that a RICO enterprise by association-in-fact can be inferred from evidence of a series of predicate crimes committed by the same group.

    Edited by 


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