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Supreme Court hears indictment harmless error case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in United States v. Resendiz-Ponce [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 05-998, a case that asks justices to decide whether leaving an element of a crime out of an indictment is harmless error. Juan Resendiz-Ponce was deported because of a kidnapping conviction but was subsequently convicted after attempting to re-enter the United States illegally from Mexico in 2003 with false identification. His second conviction was overturned [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit because his indictment did not allege an overt act showing that he tried to enter the US. During arguments Tuesday, Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben conceded that more information should have been included in the indictment. He argued, however, that the conviction should be upheld since "such an error violates the Fifth Amendment, but it is harmless." Atmore Baggot, Resendiz-Ponce's lawyer, argued the government should be forced to correct indictment errors. Justice Samuel Alito said that he did not see any defect in the indictment. AP has more.

Also Tuesday, the Court heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] in BP America Production Company v. Watson [Duke Law backgrounder, merit briefs], 05-669, where justices will decide whether a six-year statute of limitations on lawsuits to recover damages applies to agency enforcement actions. BP America [corporate website] sued the US Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] to prevent the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official website], the DOI agency that manages natural gas, oil and other mineral resources, from collecting methane gas royalties that were more than six years old. BP America is appealing the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision [opinion, PDF] which affirmed a district court ruling that the statute of limitations does not apply to MMS's administrative order.

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