Your Money or I’ll Bratwurst You

Deangelo Dixon robbed a bank.  No, his name will not loom as large as Jesse James, nor will he be glorified in a romantic crime movie with only modest nudity. If anything, his name will be forever linked with Polish meat, for which he has Judge Frank Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit to thank. Apparently, Judge Posner passed on the opportunity to do personal, off-record research to write the opinion.  Good all.

In United States v. Dixon, the court considered the distinction between bank robbery by use of a dangerous weapon and bank robbery by intimidation.

A more promising argument is that the conviction should have been under §2113(a) (bank robbery by intimidation) rather than §2113(d) (violation of §2113(a) by using a dangerous weapon or device). In one robbery Dixon waved at tellers a bag containing a stiff object and threatened them, saying “Five seconds or I’m gonna shoot”. In the other Dixon brandished an object with a long barrel and directed a teller to “give him the money or he would shoot” The object in both robberies was not a gun but a butane lighter with a long barrel.

You get the picture, even though the court found it important to include a picture in its decision, since the image of a butane lighter with a long barrel really spices up the joint. Is this long barreled lighter the same as, say, a pointed finger in a pocket, giving the appearance of a gun when it’s only a pointed finger in a pocket?

A long neck lighter may not be a “weapon,” but it could be thought a “dangerous device” This sort of lighter is designed to reach into fireplaces or charcoal grills to start fires. It equally could burn a teller’s face or hands. (Dixon pressed the barrel against one teller’s neck when making a threat.)  Yet the United States did not argue to the jury, or to us, that a lighter is a dangerous “device.” Instead it maintains that it should be treated as a dangerous “weapon,” because the tellers might have thought it to be one, and the bank’s guards might have opened fire.

Not for nothing, Easterbrook, but they work on propane grills too. Just sayin’.  And what’s the big deal about whether a long neck lighter is, or should be treated as, a dangerous weapon?

McLaughlin v. United States, 476 U.S. 16 (1986), gives three reasons why an unloaded handgun is a “dangerous weapon” under §2113(d): first, every firearm is potentially dangerous; second, it instills fear in those at which it is pointed; third, it can cause injury when used as a bludgeon. None of these things is true about a kielbasa.

Whoa. Does this mean Dixon was in criminal possession of a kielbasa?

Kielbasa_piwna.JPG (1739×1217)

See Judge? Two can play at the pointless picture game.

Well, no. Dixon did not possess a kielbasa, unless this is a fact not in evidence.  Rather Judge Easterbrook selected kielbasa, of all the sausage meats in the world, as his metaphor.

The statutory question, however, is whether the bank robber used a “dangerous weapon or device” rather than whether a guard or teller mistook a harmless device for a weapon. That would be clear enough if Dixon had placed his hand in his pocket with his finger extended to simulate the barrel of a pistol, or if he had used six inches of wooden dowel sawed from the end of a broomstick to simulate a hidden gun barrel. If the lighter risked gunfire, so might a finger in a pocket or a dowel in a pocket or a water pistol in a pocket or even a kielbasa in a pocket.

This raises deeply disturbing issues of statutory interpretation, clearly by omission, as to the dangerousness of other encased meat droppings. Kosher hot dogs, clearly, are not dangerous weapons.  But what of bratwurst?  A bad brat can kill, or at least cause gas for hours. What about that?

We are skeptical; the statute requires a dangerous weapon or device rather than something a teller believes incorrectly to be dangerous (what if a teller was terrified of rabbits?)…

Rabbits? Don’t laugh. The precedent is strong.

Bet Judge Posner wishes he wrote this opinion now.

H/T Jim “Is that a Kielbasa in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” Tyre

11 thoughts on “Your Money or I’ll Bratwurst You

  1. Jerryskids

    Well now you’re just being silly. The intent of the law against armed robbery is to discourage robbery and therefore a deferential interpretation of the law requires the court to conclude that “use of a weapon or a dangerous device” also means “not with the use of a weapon or a dangerous device”. Let’s keep up with news, shall we?

  2. Not Jim Ardis

    I’m proud of you for not going with a Jimmy Carter joke when it came to the rabbit. It speaks well of you.

  3. Fubar

    This raises deeply disturbing issues of statutory interpretation, clearly by omission, as to the dangerousness of other encased meat droppings. Kosher hot dogs, clearly, are not dangerous weapons. But what of bratwurst? A bad brat can kill, or at least cause gas for hours. What about that?

    To rob banks I use processed cheese food.
    Gooey slices fit well with my mood.
    With its off-yellow hue it
    Is tough to construe it
    As weapons, especially when chewed!

  4. Marc R

    Reminds me of Willie Sutton’s autobiography (Where the Money Was) where he swears he never held or brought a gun inside a bank even once. His MO was because he said he was there to take money and not to hurt people. While because they think they were in imminent harm it could lead to assault without him specifically saying I have a firearm. But under the statute…a gun is a gun, a sausage is a dreg-stuffed meat, and a cigar is still a cigar.

      1. Marc R

        Not at all. I’m astutely aware of the high level of nitrates, without even delving into the protein bases…that’s it’s lethal doesn’t make it a weapon otherwise Terry v Ohio wouldn’t gone the other way when the officer touched that pack of smokes.

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