26 February 2014

Law in Plain English: United States v. Apel

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Dennis Apel. Photo from Paul Wellman,
Santa Barbara Independent.
SCOTUSblogUnited States v. Apel

Argument: Dec 4 2013 (Aud.)

Background: Dennis Apel is a frequent protester at the front gate of  Vandenberg Air Force Base. He was as subject to a pre-existing order barring him from the base, and was convicted of trespassing under 18 U.S.C. § 1382. After his conviction, the Ninth Circuit ruled in another case that a stretch of highway running through the base was subject to an easement "granted to the State of California, which later relinquished it to the County of Santa Barbara," and as a result the federal government lacked the exclusive right of possession of the area on which the trespass allegedly occurred. Therefore, a trespassing conviction under § 1382 was not valid. In a per curiam decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed Apel's conviction.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether 18 U.S.C. § 1382, which prohibits a person from reentering a military installation after a commanding officer has ordered him not to reenter, may be enforced on a portion of a military installation that is subject to a public roadway easement.

Holding: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that for purposes of § 1382, a military installation emcompasses the commanding officer's area of responsibility; and here, it includes Vandenberg's highways and protest area. As a result, the Ninth Circuit's decision was vacated and Apel's conviction would be reinstated.

The painted green line marks the boundary for peaceful
protest activity, according to Vandenberg Air Force Base.
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