Ratzlaf means that for a jury to find willfulness for structuring, the Government must prove each of the following: (i) the defendant knew of the legal duty not to structure, (ii) the defendant intended to violate that known legal duty, and (iii) the defendant knew that it was a crime to intentionally violate that known legal duty.
Congress changed the structuring statute shortly after the Ratzlaf decision to eliminate the willfully element for structuring. See § 5324(a), here (as amended); the pre-amendment statute is quoted in Ratzlaf; see also USAM Criminal Resource Manual 2033, Structuring, here. After, the amendment, all that is required for conviction for structuring is (i) the defendant knew of the legal duty not to structure, and (ii) the defendant intended to violate that known legal duty. The defendant need not know that it was a crime to violate that known legal duty.
The question I raise here is whether the civil FBAR willful penalty in Section 5321(a)(5), here, requires that key third element that the Supreme Court so clearly held in Ratzlaf was required by the term willfully in that sister BSA provision, Section 5324 (prior to amendment for structuring only). Ratzlaf seems to answer that question:
A term appearing in several places in a statutory text is generally read the same way each time it appears. See Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U.S. 469, 479 (1992). We have even stronger cause to construe a single formulation, here § 5322(a), the same way each time it is called into play. See United States v. Aversa, 984 F.2d 493, 498 (CA1 1993) (en banc) ("Ascribing various meanings to a single iteration of [§ 5322(a)'s willfulness requirement] — reading the word differently for each code section to which it applies — would open Pandora's jar. If courts can render meaning so malleable, the usefulness of a single penalty provision for a group of related code sections will be eviscerated and . . . almost any code section that references a group of other code sections would become susceptible to individuated interpretation.").I suppose that one could argue that perhaps the Ratzlaf element (iii) is not required because the FBAR willful penalty is a civil penalty rather than a criminal penalty as involved in Ratzlaf. I don't see how that can change the meaning of the same word "willfully" simply because there is a civil penalty with the same textual requirements of the criminal penalty. (In this regard, the mens rea required for the Section 6663 civil fraud penalty is the same as the tax crimes willfully element (often not worded crisply as intent to violate a known legal duty, but meaning that in practical effect) [I will post authority on this tomorrow]; the only practical difference is in the burden of proof.)
I hope that someone litigating an FBAR willful civil penalty will explore this issue further.
And, to extend this line of thinking, readers will recall that willfully for purposes of most Title 26 tax crimes means "voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty." See Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192, 201 (1991), here. This formulation seems to require only the first two elements of Ratzlaf's formulation -- in an income tax setting, (i) the defendant knew the tax duty (such as reporting and paying tax on all income) and (ii) the defendant intended to violate that known tax duty (by intentionally not reporting the income). I think that that is the way Cheek is read today and the standard jury instructions so reflect that reading.
The following are typical tax evasion instructions on the willfully element (both are in the CTM Proposed Jury Inst. No. 26.7201-18):
To act willfully means to act voluntarily and deliberately and intending to violate a known legal duty. Negligent conduct is not sufficient to constitute willfulness.
From the Seventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions.
The term “willfully” means the voluntary and intentional violation of a known legal duty, in other words, acting with the specific intent to avoid paying a tax imposed by the income tax laws or to avoid assessment of a tax that it was the legal duty of the defendant to pay to the government, and that the defendant knew it was his/her legal duty to pay.These instructions clearly do not include requirement (iii). [Note: the CTM quotes an earlier version of the Seventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions; the current version, the 2012 edition, available here, does not include this instruction. I don't think the omission was meaningful, and the instruction highlights the issue discuss here that requirement (iii) is not required for tax willfulness.]
However, there is sparse academic debate over whether, for tax crimes, Cheek via the Ratzlaf spin requires (iii) -- that the defendant knew that his intentional violation of the known legal duty was a crime. Kenneth W. Simons, Ignorance and Mistake of Criminal Law, Noncriminal Law, and Fact, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 487, 515-516 (2012); and Peter W. Low and Benjamin Charles Wood, Lambert Revisited, 100 Va. L. Rev. 1603, 1611 at n. 32 (2014). In this regard, Cheek was decided before Ratzlaf, but the Supreme Court in both Ratzlaf and Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184 (1998), here, equated the structuring and tax willfully elements. If that equation were followed, (iii) -- that would be required. It would be a very, very long shot given that the Cheek definition requiring only (i) and (ii) is so entrenched. but defendants with little else of a defense may want to pursue this matter, for the Government’s burden to prove that the defendant knew his violation of the tax law was a crime might be insurmountable.
Here are the relevant quotes from the two articles cited:
From the Low and Wood article (one footnote omitted):
As a general matter with respect to this second characterization, had Lambert been aware of the legal duty to register, but not the fact that failure to register was a crime, her conviction most likely would not have been controversial and undoubtedly the Supreme Court would not have set it aside. n32 The situation is more complex, however, when a duty is created by the non-criminal law, when failure to obey the duty is punished by the criminal law, and when the question is whether the defendant must know about the duty. We will return to this issue later, but for now the answer must be sometimes yes, sometimes no.From the Simons article (some footnotes omitted):
n32. Cf. Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991). Cheek was a prosecution, in part, for "willfully" failing to file a tax return. The Court held that "willfully" required the "voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty." Id. at 201. It was a defense, therefore, if Cheek did not know that the tax laws required him to file a return. But the Court held that it was not a defense to believe that the federal tax structure was unconstitutional or, we would extrapolate, to believe that it was a not a crime to fail to file a return or pay a tax even though it was known that there was an obligation under the Internal Revenue Code to do so. Cheek had to know the legal duties imposed by the tax laws, not that it was a crime to disobey them.
There is debate in the cases and the literature about whether this view of Cheek is correct, see Kenneth W. Simons, Ignorance and Mistake of Criminal Law, Noncriminal Law, and Fact, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 487, 515-16 (2012), but we think it clear that the case does not involve a mistake of criminal law. Cf. People v. Hagen, 967 P.2d 563, 568 n.4 (Cal. 1998) ("[A] taxpayer may defend ... on the basis ... that he mistakenly believed certain deductions were proper under the tax laws, but not on the basis that he was unaware it was a crime to lie on one's tax return.").
2. The criminal law simply criminalizes acts that violate a civil regulatory prohibition
The second problem occurs when the criminal law merely criminalizes behavior that violates a civil prohibition. Thus, suppose a criminal statute makes it a crime to "knowingly" or "willfully" violate a specific civil prohibition, such as a prohibition on emitting specified environmental pollutants or on violating worker safety regulations. Such a statute would at least require the defendant to know the facts that, as a matter of law, constitute violation of the prohibition. But sometimes courts will interpret such a statute as requiring knowledge of unlawfulness, especially if, absent such a requirement, "otherwise innocent conduct" would be punished.
Should this category be understood as M Crim Law or M Noncrim Law? The answer is unclear. For example, consider the well-known case of Cheek v. United States. n77 Cheek was convicted of "willfully" failing to file a required tax return, despite his claim that he sincerely believed that under the tax laws he owed no taxes because he had been advised by an anti-tax group that wages are not income. n78 The Court held that if the jury accepted that he honestly believed that wages are not income, he should be acquitted, even if that belief was unreasonable. n79 The government must prove his knowledge of his legal duty to pay taxes on income, the Court concluded. 80
n77 Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991).
n78 Id. at 192.
n79 Id. at 196-97.
n80 At the same time, however, the Court also held that an honest but unreasonable belief that the tax laws are unconstitutional is not a defense. Id. at 205-06.
Joshua Dressler classifies Cheek as involving a mistake of "different-law" n81 -that is, a M Noncrim Law-but the Court itself and most commentators treat the alleged mistake in the case as a M Crim Law (albeit an unusual M Crim Law case in which certain legal mistakes excuse). n82 In one sense, Dressler's characterization of Cheek as an instance of a claim of ignorance or [sic - of] M Noncrim Law is plausible; for the civil tax law requirements have their own distinct rationales (including collecting revenue, redistributing income and wealth, encouraging investment, and creating incentives for particular types of economic and social activities), just as property law and divorce law serve purposes independent of the criminal law. And when criminal sanctions are added to such a civil prohibition, and an additional mens rea requirement is imposed through a term such as "willfully," arguably it is not enough that the defendant is simply aware of the facts that make his conduct a civil violation; sometimes, at least, the legislature means to require more culpability than that, and specifically mens rea as to the illegality of the underlying conduct. n83 On the other hand, this type of case is quite different from larceny or bigamy, where the civil law (property or family law) that is made relevant by the criminal law is the source of a wide range of legal obligations and remedies. n84 In the end, perhaps this category, of criminalization of a civil prohibition, should be treated, not as a typical instance of M Noncrim Law, but as a sui generis category, taking into consideration the policy factors mentioned above. n85
n81 Dressler, supra note 36, at 177.
n82 See Leonard, supra note 10, at 555; LaFave, supra note 29, at 311. The Court justifies this unusual requirement on the basis of the unusual complexity of the tax laws. On the other hand, the California Supreme Court has characterized Cheek as involving a mistake of "nonpenal law" rather than of penal law, in a case permitting a M Law defense to a charge of tax evasion under state law. After describing the reasoning in Cheek, the court says:
We agree malefactors cannot be permitted to redefine the criminal law by their own subjective misconceptions of that law. For that reason, mistake or ignorance of the penal law is almost never a defense. There are a number of circumstances, however, in which violation of a penal statute is premised on the violator's harboring a particular mental state with respect to the nonpenal legal status of a person, thing, or action. In such cases, the principle is "firmly established that defendant is not guilty if the offense charged requires any special mental element, such as that the prohibited act be committed knowingly, fraudulently, corruptly, maliciously or wilfully, and this element of the crime was lacking because of some mistake of nonpenal law." (Perkins & Boyce, Criminal Law (3d ed.1982) pp. 1031-32, italics added.) As Perkins and Boyce emphasize, the mistake must be one of nonpenal law. . . . Thus, a taxpayer may defend against a section 19405(a)(1) charge on the basis, for example, that he mistakenly believed certain deductions were proper under the tax laws, but not on the basis that he was unaware it was a crime to lie on one's tax return. People v. Hagen, 967 P.2d 563, 568 n.4 (Cal. 1998) (citation omitted).
n83 On the other hand, "willfully" might coherently be understood to reflect a more stringent requirement for criminal prosecution, not as to law, but only as to fact. "Willfully" usually requires at least knowledge with respect to the relevant facts. But requiring knowledge of the facts sometimes amounts to a higher mens rea requirement than the civil prohibition alone would demand.
n84 Moreover, the Commentary to § 2.02(9) of the Model Penal Code appears to classify this category of cases as involving culpability as to the governing criminal law, i.e., as a case governed by the final "unless" clause in § 2.02(9): [T]here may be special cases where knowledge of the law defining the offense should be part of the culpability requirement for its commission, i.e., where a belief that one's conduct is not a violation of the law ought to engender a defense. Such a result might be brought about directly by the definition of the crime, e.g., by explicitly requiring awareness of a regulation, violation of which is denominated as an offense. Model Penal Code § 2.02(9) cmt. at 251 (1985).
n85 Another example that seems to belong to this second category (and perhaps to the first as well) is posed by Larry Alexander: defendant knows that he is not allowed to hunt an animal that is on the endangered species list, but does not realize that polar bears have just been added to that list. Alexander, supra note 19, at 243. On the one hand, the list exists for purposes other than criminal punishment; on the other, asking a hunter to check the list before acting is not terribly burdensome.