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Litigation United States Supreme Court White Collar Crime

Van Buren Continues Supreme Court’s Pattern of Statutory Interpretation to Avoid Criminalizing Trivial Acts

The Van Buren decision fits into a pattern of the court’s modern criminal law jurisprudence that appears motivated by concerns about the ever-expanding reach and severity of federal criminal law.

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We have previously joined the widespread prognostication about what the advent of the Supreme Court’s new majority may mean for the evolution of the law. (See, Anello and Albert, “Implications of a More Conservative Supreme Court for White-Collar Practitioners,” in the December 2020 issue of Business Crimes Bulletin). Although it is too early to render judgment, the court’s June 3, 2021 decision in Van Buren v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1648 (2021), one of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s first majority opinions and her first addressing criminal law as a member of the court, provides some clues. In narrowly construing a provision of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA) to avoid criminalizing “a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity,” Justice Barrett’s opinion likely will be welcomed by those concerned about overcriminalization and untethered prosecutorial discretion in the federal system.

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