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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Robertson - 514 U.S. 669, 115 S. Ct. 1732 (1995)


The "affecting commerce" test was developed in the Supreme Court of the United States' jurisprudence to define the extent of Congress's power over purely intrastate commercial activities that nonetheless have substantial interstate effects.


18 U.S.C.S. § 1962(a), a provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), rendered it unlawful to invest income derived from a pattern of racketeering activity in the acquisition, establishment, or operation of any enterprise which was engaged in, or the activities of which affected, interstate commerce. Defendant Juan Paul Robertson, a resident of Arizona who practiced law in California, paid $ 125,000 for placer gold-mining claims in Alaska under a partnership agreement whereby he had agreed to finance a gold-mining operation in Alaska. He paid approximately $ 100,000 for mining equipment and supplies, some of which were purchased in California and transported to Alaska. After the partnership dissolved, he continued to operate the mine as a sole proprietorship. On more than one occasion, he hired employees to travel to Alaska to work in the mine. During its operation, the mine produced between $ 200,000 and $ 290,000 worth of gold, $ 30,000 of which he transported out of Alaska. Ultimately, Robertson was convicted in federal district court of various narcotics offenses and of violating § 1962(a) by investing the proceeds of such narcotics offenses in the gold mine. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the § 1962(a) conviction, holding that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the mine had been engaged in, or had affected, interstate commerce.


Was there sufficient evidence to support Robertson's conviction for violating RICO?




On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the gold mine was an enterprise "engaged in" interstate commerce for purposes of RICO. The court reasoned that the proof at trial focused largely on the interstate activities of the mine. The government proved that Robertson purchased at least $ 100,000 worth of equipment and supplies for use in the mine. Contrary to the court of appeals' suggestion, all of those items were not purchased locally. The government proved that some items were purchased in California and transported to Alaska for use in the mine's operations. The government also proved that, on more than one occasion, Robertson sought workers from out of state and brought them to Alaska to work in the mine. Furthermore, Robertson, as the mine's sole proprietor, took 15 percent of the mine's total gold output out of state. These activities brought the gold mine within 18 U.S.C.S. § 1962(a)'s criterion of "any enterprise engaged in interstate or foreign commerce."

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