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United States v. Serrano

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

July 3, 2018




         Defendant Christopher Lee Serrano, proceeding pro se, faces an Indictment charging him with conspiring to knowingly and intentionally distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & 846. See DE #15 (Indictment). Serrano moves the Court to dismiss the Indictment as to him “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” DE #46 (Motion). The motion asserts three general dismissal theories. See Id. The United States responded. DE #50 (Response). The matter is ripe for consideration.

         First-Defendant argues that 18 U.S.C. § 3231's textual phrasing deprives the Court of jurisdiction. See DE #46-1, at 1 (Serrano differentiating between § 3231's “district courts of the United States” and “United States district courts”). This is frivolous. The Court properly has jurisdiction in this case, which charges an “offense[] against the laws of the United States.” See § 3231; see also 28 U.S.C. § 97. The minor verbal variance between “district courts of the United States” and “United States district courts” makes no substantive difference; the terms are synonyms. United States v. Bacon, 884 F.3d 605, 609 (6th Cir. 2018) (“Federal courts have original jurisdiction to adjudicate all offenses against the laws of the United States. 18 U.S.C. § 3231.” (internal quotation marks removed; emphasis added)); United States v. Stewart, 306 F.3d 295, 321 (6th Cir. 2002) (“Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3231, district courts ‘have original jurisdiction ... over all offenses against the laws of the United States.'” (emphasis added)); United States v. Harris, 397 F.3d 404, 409 (6th Cir. 2005) (“The district court properly had jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 3231 because Harris and Holmes were charged with violations of federal criminal law.” (emphasis added)); United States v. Pryor, 842 F.3d 441, 447-48 (6th Cir. 2016); United States v. Al-Maliki, 787 F.3d 784, 791 (6th Cir. 2015); 28 U.S.C. § 132(a) (“There shall be in each judicial district a district court which shall be a court of record known as the United States District Court for the district.”) (emphasis added).

         Second-Serrano contends that a United States district court “is not a true United States Court established under Article III” and that “§ 3231 is not in effectuation with Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution.” DE #46-1, at 1-2. These arguments, too, are wrong. See Pryor, 842 F.3d at 447-48 (rejecting Article III argument and citing, without perceiving infirmity with, § 3231);[1] Al-Maliki, 787 F.3d at 791 (enforcing § 3231, which properly “gives federal courts subject-matter jurisdiction over criminal cases.”); United States v. Penwell, 455 Fed.Appx. 181, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2011) (“The validity of § 3231 has been affirmed by every court to address it.” (citing cases)); United States v. Levy, 849 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1354-57 (S.D. Fla. 2012) (comprehensively collecting cases supporting the validity of § 3231).[2]

         Third-Defendant argues that “21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. § 846 are both Constitutionally invalid.” DE #46-1, at 2. This claim, like the others, inarguably flounders in the face of precedent. See Pryor, 842 F.3d at 447 (stating that §§ 841(a)(1) & 846 are “federal statutes properly passed by Congress”); United States v. Martinez, 253 F.3d 251, 256 n.6 (6th Cir. 2001) (declining “to find that 21 U.S.C. § 841 is unconstitutional”); Gilbert v. United States, 165 F.3d 470, 474 (6th Cir. 1999) (“Appellants' claim of facial unconstitutionality with regard to drug trafficking statutes was rejected by this Court in United States v. Tucker, 90 F.3d 1135, 1139-41 (6th Cir. 1996). As pointed out in that case, ‘Drug trafficking is an ‘economic enterprise' that substantially affects interstate commerce in numerous ways.' Id. at 1140.”) (rejecting argument that “21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) [and] 846[ ] are unconstitutional”); United States v. Bell, 90 F.3d 318, 321 (8th Cir. 1996) (“Courts have determined consistently . . . that § 841(a)(1) is a valid exercise of congressional Commerce Clause power.” (collecting cases)); United States v. Kim, 94 F.3d 1247, 1250 & n.3 (9th Cir. 1996) (“[E]very circuit that has considered a Commerce Clause challenge to § 841(a)(1) . . . has upheld the provision's constitutionality.” (collecting cases)); see also 21 U.S.C. § 801 (setting forth jurisdictional findings relative to subchapter, including as to Part D).[3]

         For these reasons, the Court DENIES DE #46.



[1] The only law Serrano cites on this point is Balzac v. Porto Rico, 42 S.Ct. 343 (1922). Balzac's statement that “[t]he United States District Court is not a true United States court established under article 3 of the Constitution to administer the judicial power of the United States therein conveyed, ” id. at 348, concerned the particularities, nearly a century ago, of the administration of justice in Puerto Rico. Defendant's “reliance on that 1922 case is misguided because in 1966 Congress replaced Puerto Rico's Article IV territorial court with an Article III court.” Vilanova-Delgado v. Ramirez, No. 5:17-2381-RMG 3, 2017 WL 6622507, at *2 (D.S.C. Dec. 27, 2017). Balzac simply “is not about the source of this or any other Article III court's power.” United States v. Robertson, No. 2:13-cr-141-JAD-VCF, 2014 WL 4956208, at *6-7 (D. Nev. Oct. 2, 2014).

[2] In further substantiation of jurisdiction, see United States v. Cerna, 36 F.3d 1098, Nos. 94-1433, 94-1437, 1994 WL 542757 (6th Cir. Oct. 4, 1994) (table) (discussing subject matter jurisdiction over drug crimes, citing Article III, Section 2, and stating, “[t]he drug conspiracy crimes of which the Cernas were convicted constituted cases arising under the laws of the United States”).

[3] Indeed, the Sixth Circuit held, in United States v. Collier, 246 Fed.Appx. 321, 337 (6th Cir. 2007), “Like § 860, § 841(a)(1) ‘addresses a clearly commercial activity that has long been within federal power to regulate.'” (quoting Tucker, 90 F.3d at 1140). The statutes Serrano faces ...

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