New opinion—Third Circuit rejects challenges to conviction for possessing prison contraband

U.S. v. Hendrickson—criminal—affirmance—Shwartz

A Virgin Islands man being held in a territorial facility on territorial charges was found in possession of a cell phone without a SIM card, which he told guards he was using to play music. He was charged with and convicted of the federal crime of possessing prison contraband. On appeal, he challenged his conviction on two grounds.

First, he argued that the SIM-cardless phone wasn’t contraband: it wasn’t “a phone … used by a user of commercial mobile service … in connection with such service.” The Third Circuit rejected this argument, interpreting the statutory phrase to mean “a phone generally used by users,” not “a phone that has been used by a user” (my words, not the court’s).

Second, he argued that he wasn’t subject to federal prosecution because he was being held in a territorial facility on territorial charges, not on federal charges. The court rejected this argument too, holding that the prison-contraband-possession statute applied to persons being held, whether on federal charges or not, at a facility where federal prisoners were being held. Since the facility here also held federal prisoners, the court affirmed.

Joining Shwartz were Smith and McKee. The appeal was decided without oral argument.