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Justices To Weigh Carjacking Law

April 27, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether people who steal vehicles at gunpoint can avoid prosecution under a federal carjacking law by claiming they never intended to seriously hurt anyone.

Lawyers for Francois Holloway, convicted and sentenced to over 50 years in prison for a series of carjackings, believe the law used to prosecute him has a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.

They argue that lower courts misread the federal law by concluding that it covers crimes committed with ``conditional intent″ to harm victims who refuse to comply with the robber’s demands.

The 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 though Holloway would have seriously hurt victims who did not surrender their cars. The jury then convicted him.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, ruling that such a common-sense interpretation was valid despite the law’s ambiguous language.

Holloway’s appeal, which should yield a ruling by the nation’s highest court sometime next year, contends that the appeals court ruling violated ``fundamental principles of statutory construction″ and, as a result, his due-process rights.

Holloway was convicted for his part in a carjacking ring that sold parts from stolen vehicles dismantled in a New York City ``chop shop.″

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.

Clinton administration lawyers had urged the justices to reject the appeal.

In other action Monday, the court:

_Heard arguments over the validity of the line-item veto law, in which Congress empowered the president to cancel specific items in tax and spending legislation. A decision is expected by late June.

_Agreed to decide a Hughes Aircraft Co. dispute over fixed-benefit pension plan surpluses, setting the stage for a decision that could affect the 33 million American workers and retirees who participate in such plans.

_Rejected an effort by Santa Fe, N.M., businessman Gregg Bemis to have himself declared sole owner of the sunken British liner Lusitania and all of its contents. Lower courts said he owns the ship and already-salvaged contents but no still-submerged cargo and passengers’ personal effects.

_Let stand a $71.8 million antitrust award won against Eastman Kodak Co. by competitors who repair Kodak equipment.

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