Friday, August 29, 2008

Toll Free

United States v. Kozeny, No. 07-3107-cr (2d Cir. August 29, 2008) (Sack, Katzmann, Hall, CJJ)

In 2002 and 2003, the government believed that Frederic Bourke was involved in a scheme to bribe senior government officials in Azerbaijan in connection with the privatization of that nation’s state-run oil company. During the investigation, the government made treaty requests for assistance to Switzerland and the Netherlands. And, months later, on July 21, 2003, it applied for an order under 18 U.S.C. § 3292 tolling the statute of limitations based on those requests. By this time, however, more than five years had elapsed since some of Bourke's offenses had been completed.

Despite this, on July 22, 2003, a district judge suspended the statute of limitations for all of the offenses under investigation. Consistent with the statute, the order provided that the suspensions would begin on the date that the treaty requests had been made, and would end when the foreign governments took their final actions.

Bourke was indicted in May of 2005, and moved to dismiss part of the indictment on the ground that the statute of limitations had expired. He argued that § 3292 did not permit the government to toll the limitations period after the five years had already expired. The district court agreed, dismissing four counts that were already time-barred by the time the government sought suspension.

On the government’s appeal, the circuit affirmed. Its analysis began with the plain language of the statute, “liberally” interpreting it “in favor of repose.” Under section 3292(a) district court is supposed to “suspend” the “running” of the statute of limitations once it makes certain findings relating to the request for foreign evidence. But “suspend” means “to cause to stop, at least for a time, something that is in operation or effect,” and a statue of limitations is only in operation or effect if it is running. Moreover, a statute of limitations cannot be “running” if it has already “run.” “To restart the running of an expired statute of limitations would be to ‘revive’ it. We see no basis upon which to read the word "suspend" in section 3292 to include the distinct concept of revival.”

The court rejected the government’s argument that the only time requirement expressly mentioned in § 3292 is the requirement that the application be made before the indictment is returned. The court noted that this requirement and one that the application be made before the statute expires are not mutually exclusive.

Nor did the court agree that § 3292(b) affected this analysis. This subsection sets the commencement date for the suspension as the date on which the government requested the foreign evidence, and not the date that the court grants the 3292 application. But that the statute allows a retroactive start date for the tolling does not mean that the application for the tolling itself can be made after the statute of limitations has expired. This reading of subsection (b) would render the timing provisions of subsection (a) “superfluous.”

Finally, the court held that the “whole act” rule supported its holding. Under this canon, a court should read a single section in light of the objectives and policy of the whole law. Here, the “whole act” includes § 3292 and a parallel provision of the Speedy Trial Act, § 3161(h)(9), which provides for an exclusion of speedy trial time - once an indictment has been returned - of up to one year to allow for requests for foreign evidence. Thus, reading the two sections together, the meaning of § 3292 is clear. “If the government anticipates a delay on account of a request for foreign evidence before indictment, it can seek to suspend the statute of limitations pursuant to section 3292. If it anticipates such a delay after the indictment is returned, but before trial, it can separately apply for relief under section 3161(h)(9) of the Speedy Trial Act.”

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