Irina Manta on the constitutional flaws of intellectual property prosecutions

February 19

A while ago, over at our old site, I posted about a technical but important question at the intersection of constitutional law and criminal procedure: when some fact is necessary in order for a federal criminal statute to be constitutional (sometimes called, a “jurisdictional fact”), does the government have to prove it, and to whom?

A new article by my friend Irina Manta provides an excellent example of how this can come up. Manta argues that current criminal prosecutions for copyright and trademark violations fall short of the constitutional standard. From the abstract:

Our current methods of imposing criminal convictions on defendants for copyright and trademark infringement are constitutionally defective. Previous work has argued that due process under the Sixth Amendment requires prosecutors to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, including the jurisdictional element. Applying this theory to criminal trademark counterfeiting results in the conclusion that prosecutors should have to demonstrate that an infringing mark needs to have traveled in or affected interstate commerce, which is currently not mandated. Parallel to this construction of the Commerce Clause, criminal prosecutors would also have to prove that Congress has the power to reach individual copyright infringers under the Intellectual Property Clause. This presents little difficulty under the traditional understanding of the clause as prosecutors would only need to show that convicting a defendant serves to secure the rights of authors. Some contemporary scholars have argued, however, that the text of the Intellectual Property Clause must be understood to mean that Congress can only enact copyright legislation if it serves to promote progress. If this notion is correct and is combined with this article’s theory of the requirements of the Sixth Amendment, prosecutors would have to prove that individual convictions will serve to promote progress before courts can impose sentences in given cases. While this could raise costs and has the potential to reduce the number of cases brought, prosecutors may have little choice but to introduce expert testimony to demonstrate an effect on progress, similar to the use of expert evidence in antitrust litigation and related contexts.

Will Baude is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and federal courts. His recent articles include Rethinking the Federal Eminent Domain Power, (Yale Law Journal, 2013), and Beyond DOMA: State Choice of Law in Federal Statutes, (Stanford Law Review, 2012). You can follow him on Twitter as @crescat. This summer he is writing about originalism; liquidation; United States v. Bond and the police power; marijuana and federalism; and the Supreme Court.
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Sasha Volokh | February 19