Justices Rule Against Algerian Man in LAX Terrorism Case

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The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against an Algerian convicted of conspiring to detonate explosives at Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium holiday travel rush.

In its 8-1 decision, the court upheld Ahmed Ressam's conviction on an explosives charge, one of nine convictions that resulted in a 22-year prison sentence. At issue was whether Ressam should be convicted of carrying explosives during the commission of another serious crime, in Ressam's case, lying on a U.S. Customs form when he crossed the border in December 1999.

Click here to read the opinion (pdf).

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said that "the most natural reading" of federal law goes against Ressam. Stevens said it is undisputed that Ressam was carrying explosives when he falsely identified himself on a U.S. customs form as a Canadian citizen named Noris. Ressam is Algerian. In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the court's interpretation is too broad. Breyer said such a holding would permit conviction of anyone on an explosives charge, even if they were carrying explosives legally while engaging in a totally unrelated crime.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had set aside Ressam's conviction on the explosives count. The appeals court said the law required proof that the explosives were carried "in relation to" the underlying crime of filing a false form. Prosecutors established no such relationship, the appeals court said.

The case is U.S. v. Ressam, 07-455.