Court Could Judicially Notice That a Federal Prison Hospital Was Within the “Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction” of the United States, Holds Eighth Circuit

Upholding the conviction of a federal prisoner for assaulting a fellow inmate, the Eighth Circuit holds in United States v. Love, No. 20-3386 (8th Cir. Dec. 14, 2021) that it did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights for the court rather than the jury to find that the place of the assault was within the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction” of the United States.

“Love was serving a sentence at the U. S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He entered the room of another inmate and attacked him, causing severe injuries, emergency intubation, and facial reconstruction surgery.” Love was charged with assault in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6). “For a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6), the government must prove: (1) an intentional assault of another person (2) who suffered serious bodily injury (3) within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” The jury convicted Love and the district court sentenced him to 84 months.

On appeal, Love argued that the district court erred in finding itself, rather than submitting to a jury, the issue of where the assault took place for purposes of federal jurisdiction. “At trial, the government requested judicial notice that the United States has special maritime and territorial jurisdiction over the Center. Love countered that the Sixth Amendment required the government to prove this jurisdiction as an element of the offense . . . .  On the second day [of trial], the district court said, based on its extensive historical research about the Center, it would take judicial notice of special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.”

The Eighth Circuit, following authority from the Second Circuit, affirms. Love argued “that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment rights by its judicial notice of special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.” The Eighth Circuit holds that the finding was subject to judicial notice under Fed. R. Evid. 201.

“The Enclave Clause of the United States Constitution empowers the federal government to acquire land within a state. U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 17 . . . . For the United States to exercise jurisdiction over the acquired land, the state must agree to it, and the federal government must accept it . . . . State agreement may be expressed by consent at the time of acquisition, or by cession of legislative authority after a nonconsensual acquisition . . . . For land acquired before 1940, federal acceptance of jurisdiction is presumed in the absence of contrary evidence . . . . For land acquired after 1940, there is a presumption against federal acceptance of jurisdiction.”

Love disputed that the federal government accepted jurisdiction, but the district court, relying on its own research, held that this condition was met.

“Because this Circuit has not addressed who decides whether a particular place is ‘within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,’ the district court applied United States v. Hernandez-Fundora, 58 F.3d 802 (2d Cir. 1995). The Second Circuit had held that because jurisdiction “turn[s] on a fixed legal status that does not change from case to case and involving consideration of source materials (such as deeds, statutes, and treaties) that judges are better suited to evaluate than juries,” it was a “legal question that a court may decide on its own.”

The Eighth Circuit adopts the Second Circuit’s reasoning. “First, federal jurisdiction over a particular place is a question of law. Offenses within the Major Crimes Act have a jurisdictional element like the one in 18 U.S.C. § 113(a). For instance, 18 U.S.C. § 1153(a) penalizes Indians who commit certain crimes (including felony assault under section 113) ‘within the Indian country.’” While the question of where the crime occurred belongs to the jury, the question of whether the locus of the crime is within federal jurisdiction is an issue of law for the court.

“Second, facts that resolve the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction question are legislative, not adjudicative” within the rubric of judicial notice. “[W]hether a particular facility is within federal jurisdiction is a universal truth” not subject to reasonable dispute. Finally, “judicially noticed legislative facts need not be submitted to the jury” under Fed. R. Evid. 201. Thuis, “[a] district court may take judicial notice that a place is within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and not submit that issue to the jury, without violating a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.”

It was unnecessary for the panel to determine, ultimately, whether the district court abused its discretion in so finding because it exercised its own authority to make the finding anew, based in part on “several public records, including a certified copy of the deed conveying the Center land to the United States in 1931—when federal acceptance of jurisdiction was presumed.”

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