“Proceeds” From Money Laundering

In US v. Santos (06-1005), the United States Supreme Court sent confusion into what is required for a conviction under the federal money laundering statue: 18 U.S.C. 1956.The problem is the use of the word “proceeds” in 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1). Does “proceeds” meean gross receipts or profits?

The justinces could not get together in a clear decision with “Justice Scalia announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg join, and in which Justice Thomas joins as to all but Part IV,” with Justice Stevens in a concurring opinion.  The result was to dismiss the money laundering charge against Efrain Santos and Benedicto Diaz.

But it is unclear if the government needs to find profits for a conviction. Proving profits would mean comparing gross receipts against expenes and seeing there was a profit. As the government argued, criminals do not keep good records.