The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether Congress left a gaping loophole in a federal carjacking law. The court will hear the argument of a New York man who says he never intended to seriously hurt the people whose cars he stole at gunpoint.
The justices said they will review Francois Holloway's arguments that lower courts misread a federal anti-carjacking law by concluding it covers crimes committed with "conditional intent" to harm victims who refuse to comply with the robber's demands.
Holloway was convicted and sentenced to over 50 years in prison for his part in a carjacking ring that sold parts from stolen vehicles dismantled in a Queens shop.
In other cases the court:
- Said it will tackle a big-stakes dispute over pension funds, setting the stage for a decision that could affect the 33 million American workers and retirees who participate in defined-benefit plans. The justices will review a ruling that allowed five retired Hughes Aircraft Co., employees to pursue a 1992 lawsuit over what they say was a $1.2 billion surplus in the company's contributory pension plan.
- Agreed to use a California case to decide whether some local governments can avoid the need for federal approval to change their election systems by getting them ratified through state law.
- Rejected Rockwell International Corp.'s attempt to get out from under any further federal liability for its past operation of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver.
- Let stand rulings that require the federal government to repay New York Life Insurance Co. near-ly $32 million - taxes and interest the Internal Revenue Service said the insurance firm owed for 1984.
- Rejected a challenge to a Minnesota school district's operation of a rural school rented from a religious sect and attended only by children of the sect's members.
- Let stand a $71.8 million antitrust award against Eastman Kodak Co. won by competitors who repair Kodak equipment.
In the carjacking case, prosecutors said Holloway, on several occasions in the fall of 1994, confronted motorists with a gun and demanded that they surrender their car keys. When one man hesitated, Holloway punched him in the face.
The federal law makes it a crime to take a motor vehicle by force "with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm."
The federal judge who presided over Holloway's trial told jurors they could find such intent if they thought Holloway would have seriously hurt victims who did not comply with his demands. The jury then convicted him.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Holloway's conviction, ruling that such a common-sense interpretation was valid despite the law's somewhat ambiguous language.
In the appeal acted on Monday, Holloway argued that the appeals court's ruling violated "fundamental principles of statutory construction" and his due-process rights.
The Supreme Court turned away two similar challenges last year but had asked Justice Department lawyers to file a brief in response to Holloway's arguments. That brief urged rejection of his appeal.
The justices Monday did not follow the government's advice. The court's decision in Holloway's case is expected sometime in 1999.