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Ninth Circuit: Congress Can Criminalize Federal Sex Crimes Committed in State Facilities

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in August 2015 that Congress is authorized to criminalize sexual assaults in facilities where federal prisoners are held by agreement with state and local governments.

On March 5, 2009, Sabil Mumin Mujahid drove to Anchorage, Alaska’s Nesbett Courthouse for a bail hearing on state drug charges. Officers found a firearm in the trunk of his car and arrested him.

Mujahid was jailed on a federal firearms charge and his bail was revoked for the state drug offense. As a result, he was confined in the Anchorage Correctional Complex (ACC), which houses state prisoners as well as federal prisoners pursuant to a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.

While at ACC, Mujahid repeatedly sexually assaulted other prisoners. He was charged with several federal sex offenses, including aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2242 and 2244.

Mujahid was convicted of the federal firearms charge and sentenced to 120 months in prison. After the drug offense was resolved, he was transferred to a federal prison in Washington state on June 28, 2010.

He then moved to dismiss the federal sex offenses, arguing that “the Constitution does not confer upon the National Government the power to suppress violent crime that occurs in state jails.” The district court denied his motion, concluding as a matter of law that ACC “is a facility in which persons are held in custody pursuant to an agreement with the United States Marshals Service, a federal agency.” Mujahid was convicted of seven federal sex crimes and sentenced to 480 months in prison.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the convictions, concluding that the district court correctly refused to dismiss the indictment. The Court of Appeals first determined that the statutes were not facially unconstitutional. It then held that “18 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2242, and 2244 are plainly constitutional as applied to an individual in federal custody who is being held in a state facility pursuant to a contract with a federal agency.”

Likewise, “in prosecutions under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2242, and 2244, the district court may determine as a matter of law whether the facility at which the alleged crime took place is one ‘in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the head of any Federal department or agency,’” the appellate court wrote. “The question whether the crime occurred at the facility must be submitted to the jury, as it was here.”

A petition for certiorari review was filed with the Supreme Court on March 4, 2016 and remains pending. See: United States v. Mujahid, 799 F.3d 1228 (9th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

United States v. Mujahid,