Is possession with intent to distribute a “substantial step” towards committing a crime, thereby establishing federal venue?

Jul 26, 2012

On July 16, 2012, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in United States v. Pariseau that possession with intent to distribute qualifies as a substantial step towards the commission of a crime; therefore, it established federal venue in the district where the crime began.

Two cases from other circuits have addressed this issue directly: United States v. Muhammad, 502 F.3d 646 (7th Cir. 2007) and United States v. Zidell, 323 F.3d 412 (6th Cir. 2003). Both cases affirmed venue on the principle that possession with intent to distribute is a continuing crime, and venue is proper wherever the crime began, continued or was completed. 18 U.S.C. § 3237(a).

It was held in United States v. Scott, 767 F.2d 1308, 1312 (9th Cir. 1985) that prior conduct may “be of such a nature that a reasonable observer, viewing it in context, could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that it was undertaken in accordance with a design to violate the underlying statute.”

In United States v. Pariseau, the defendants’ girlfriend testified that he traveled from Alaska to Arizona to obtain the methamphetamine, and strapped the drugs to his legs with ACE bandages to avoid detection. Thus, it was held that the defendant’s prior conduct established sufficient substantial steps taken towards completing the offense.

The district court did not err in finding that venue was proper in Alaska because possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine is a continuing offense, and the defendant took substantial steps in Alaska in pursuit of that offense.

The judgment was affirmed.

United States v. Pariseau; 9th Cir; July 16, 2012; 10-30237