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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Court: Sixth Amendment applies to Guam, Article III doesn’t

Under the Organic Act, the District Court of Guam has the same jurisdiction as any other U.S. federal court; therefore, it is a legitimate venue for any case that falls under its jurisdiction, according to the Ninth Circuit Court.

While Guam may not be a “state,” the appellate court noted that Congress has recognized the territory as a “district,” where the Sixth Amendment fully applies.

But Article III Section 2 — which determines, among other things, the proper state venue for a jury trial of a criminal case— is not extended to Guam.

The Ninth Circuit clarified the application of these two constitutional provisions in a recent decision, in which it upheld the conviction of a drug dealer who pleaded guilty before the U.S. District Court of Guam.

The appeals court’s opinion on the case against Frederick A. Obak has established a new jurisprudence, amid the continuing dissection of the colonial nature of Guam and the recurring questions about what provisions of the Constitution apply and do not apply to Guam.

The opinion stemmed from Obak’s appeal of his guilty plea for attempted possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Obak, a Palauan citizen who has been a resident of Guam for 40 years, was sentenced to 16 years for his role in the shipment of a package containing methamphetamine sent from Washington State.

“The appeal arises from venue objection, disguised as a jurisdictional challenge,” the court states.

Obak claimed his constitutional right under Article III, Section 2, clause 3 and the Sixth Amendment to be tried in a state or district where the crime was committed was violated because Guam “is neither a state nor a district.”

Article III Section 2 provides that a jury trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, “shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any state, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.”

The court struck down Obak’s Article III argument, holding that “unlike certain other provisions of the United States Constitution, Congress never extended Article III, Section 2, clause 3 to Guam.”

In contrast, the court says, “Congress did extend the Sixth Amendment in its entirety to Guam.” The appeals panel thus held that Obak’s Sixth Amendment “right to a jury trial in the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed was not violated” when his case was heard and decided on Guam.

“To hold otherwise,” the court concluded, “would require ignoring the constitutional and statutory framework established for Guam, overturn established precedent, and effectively strip federal district courts located in unincorporated territories of the ability to hear certain cases.”


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