Victor Qiu

Volume 75, Issue 4, 1139-1164

By the time federal appellate courts began to examine the withdrawal of money from an ATM and the question of to whom that money belongs pursuant to the first paragraph of the Federal Bank Robbery Act (“FBRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a), the FBRA had been law for over seventy years and automated teller machines (“ATM”) had been in use for around thirty-five years. Since then, the circuit courts have disagreed as to whom the money belongs when an individual forces a victim to withdraw money and give it to the perpetrator. This question stems from competing methods of statutory interpretation and analysis. This Note examines the facts and holdings of the federal appellate court cases that gave rise to this circuit split as well as the analysis in federal and state court cases that have come after the split. Further examination of the case law shows that the courts representing the majority approach—which holds that forcing a victim to withdraw money from an ATM constitutes bank robbery under federal law—not only ignored the intent of Congress when it passed the FBRA, but also erroneously followed an “unwilling agent” theory in their analysis. As such, this Note contends that the circuit minority approach reflects the proper construction of § 2113(a) and demonstrates that, under the textualist and purposive theories of statutory interpretation and the rule of lenity, the action of an individual forcing a victim to withdraw money from an ATM does not constitute federal bank robbery under § 2113(a). This Note also argues that the majority errs in applying the “unwilling agent” theory without properly analyzing § 2113(a). This Note concludes by proposing possible resolutions by the Supreme Court and Congress to resolve this split and discussing how this case study is an exemplar of why courts must clarify existing law or pass new laws to adapt to rapidly changing technology.