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Name: People v. Yeager-Reiman (2024) 99 Cal.App.5th 843
Case #: B331175
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 02/16/2024

Defendant’s prosecution for grand theft based on defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was not preempted by federal law. Defendant pleaded guilty to misdemeanor grand theft. On appeal, defendant argued his prosecution was preempted by federal law because he was a veteran and his alleged offenses concerned the theft of benefits from the VA. Held: Affirmed. The Court of Appeal disagreed with defendant’s argument that his prosecution was preempted by federal law—“field” and “obstacle” preemption—and that the trial court was thus without jurisdiction to hear his case. Field preemption exists when Congress intended to foreclose any state regulation in the area. In such situations, Congress has forbidden the State to take action in the field that the federal statute pre-empts. In support of field preemption, defendant cited to several provisions that he argued authorize the VA to report false statements to the U.S. Attorney General, not the state Attorney General. However, none of these provisions contain language that suggests exclusivity or supports the assertion that Congress intended to occupy the field of criminal prosecution of veterans in connection with the theft of veterans’ education benefits. Obstacle preemption “requires proof Congress had particular purposes and objectives in mind, a demonstration that leaving state law in place would compromise those objectives, and reason to discount the possibility the Congress that enacted the legislation was aware of the background tapestry of state law and content to let that law remain as it was.” Defendant argued obstacle preemption applies because the purpose of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is to help veterans, and any effort by the state to prosecute veterans for failing to comply with the bill’s requirements will interfere with the bill’s purpose. However, the provisions defendant relied on do not support the assertion that Congress intended that states be precluded from prosecuting veterans for the theft of veterans’ education benefits.