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U.S. Anti-Carjacking Law Upheld

March 2, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court preserved the broad sweep of a federal anti-carjacking law Tuesday, rejecting a legal challenge that would have limited it to cases in which robbers intend to hurt their victims no matter what.

The court, by a 7-2 vote, ruled that the law also covers crimes committed with the ``conditional intent″ of harming victims who refuse to comply with the robbers’ demands.

The decision upheld the federal carjacking conviction of a New York man who insists he never intended to seriously hurt people whose cars he stole at gunpoint.

As amended by Congress in 1994, the law makes it a crime to take a motor vehicle by force ``with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm.″

Francois Holloway, sentenced to 50 years in prison for his part in a carjacking ring that sold parts of stolen vehicles dismantled in a Queens ``chop shop,″ challenged his conviction by arguing he never harbored such an intent.

But Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court, ``The intent requirement ... is satisfied when the government proves that at the moment the defendant demanded or took control over the driver’s automobile the defendant possessed the intent to seriously harm or kill the driver if necessary to steal the car.″

Prosecutors said Holloway, on at least three occasions in the fall of 1994, confronted motorists with a gun and demanded that they surrender their car keys.

An accomplice testified that their plan was to steal cars without harming the drivers but said he would have used his weapon if any of the victims had given him a ``hard time.″

The federal judge who presided over Holloway’s trial told jurors they could find the required intent if they thought Holloway would have seriously hurt victims who did not comply with his demands. The conviction was upheld by a federal appeals court.

Stevens said such a commonsense interpretation of the law is what Congress intended, but Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas disagreed. Writing for the two, Scalia said the law’s wording makes it clear Congress meant to zero in on crimes where the intent was certain, not conditional.

In an extraordinarily rare personal reference, Scalia wrote, ``I have a friend whose father was killed, and whose mother was nearly killed, in just such an incident _ after the car had already been handed over. It is not at all implausible that Congress should direct its attention to this particularly savage sort of carjacking _ where killing the driver is part of the intended crime.″

In other matters Tuesday, the court:

_Said in a Pennsylvania case that federal prison inmates are not entitled to be resentenced every time a judge fails to tell them of their rights to appeal but only when that error results in real harm.

_Ruled in an Arizona case that states can impose taxes on federal contractors for work they do on Indian reservations.

_Heard arguments in a California case in which the justices are to decide by late June whether gifts given to federal officials can be considered illegal gratuities without proof they were intended to influence any particular action.

At issue is an agricultural cooperative’s invalidated conviction for giving gifts to former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who was acquitted of taking gifts.