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Reed

United States Supreme Court

323 U.S. 273

UNITED STATES  v.  JOHNSON et al.

 Argued: Nov. 8, 1944. --- Decided: Dec 18, 1944


Mr. Justice REED, dissenting.

The statute under consideration condemns the 'use' of 'the mails or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for the purpose of sending or bringing into any State or Territory' any denture which has been made without compliance with the laws of that State or Territory, relating to the furnishing of such appliances. The Court narrowly interprets the term 'use' to condemn as criminal only the first use of the mails; in this way the Court restricts venue for prosecution to Illinois for trial of an offender who mails a denture in Illinois which is subsequently delivered through 'use' of the mails in Delaware. We think, however, that the statute condemns and makes criminal any use of the mails for the prohibited purpose. Under this interpretation the respondents' use of the mails is punishable in Delaware and the dismissal of the information in this case should be reversed.

The venue of a crime may be fixed at any place where the acts denounced as crimes occur. [1] There is no disagreement as to this rule of law. The Court reaches its conclusion upon venue under the Federal Denture Act not upon any compulsion of Constitution or statute but because a restriction of the venue to the place of mailing seemed to it more consonant with the underlying purposes of the Constitutional provisions as to venue. These purposes are thought, as the Court expresses it, to include a trial in an environment which is not alien to the accused.

We think the Court misapprehends the purpose of the Constitutional provisions. We understand them to assure a trial in the place where the crime is committed and not to be concerned with the domicile of the criminal nor with his familiarity with the environment of the place of trial. Haas v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462, 30 S.Ct. 249, 54 L.Ed. 569, 17 Ann.Cas. 1112. Indeed in the present information nothing appears as to residence or domicile of the accused or as to their place of business.

Congress by its specification of the precise acts denounced as crimes fixes venue at the place where those acts are committed. Our inquiry, then, must be directed to a determination of what constitutes the crime denounced by the Denture Act. The statute condemns as unlawful the 'use' of the 'mails or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for the purpose of sending or bringing into any State' the prohibited dentures. It is not the deposit of the article or its delivery which is forbidden but the use of the transportation facilities. The sending or bringing of the dentures is not denounced as a substantive crime apart from the use of mails or instrumentalities to accomplish the purpose. The crime consists of the use of the mails to send a prohibited denture 'into' or bring it 'into' another state. The language leads us to the conclusion that a use for the prohibited purpose occurs at whatever place the proscribed denture is handled by the mails or an instrumentality of commerce.

The 'use' for the 'purpose' results in a continuous offense. [2] Since the offense is committed wherever the mails or the instrumentalities of interstate commerce are used for the purpose of sending or bringing the denture into a state contrary to the statute and the act has no provision otherwise limiting the place of trial, the venue is at whatever place these acts are committed. One of the places in the present case is Delaware 'into' which the dentures were brought by appellees' use of the mails in that state. [3] If this analysis is correct, there was no occasion for Congress to follow the suggestion as to venue of the Postmaster General to which the Court refers.

The title of the act indicates that it is directed at practices thought to lead to dental disorders and 'to prevent the circumvention of certain State or Territorial laws regulating the practice of dentistry.' 56 Stat. 1087. These state laws regulated the fabrication of prosthetic dental appliances. From the hearings [4] it is clear that the purpose of Congress was to protect the public against the evils of ill-fitting dental appliances by restricting interstate commerce to dental appliances which were approved by licensed practitioners of the state into which the appliances were brought. Such was declared to be its purpose by the report of the Senate Committee. S.Rep. No. 1779, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., p. 1. As the injury would occur normally at the place of delivery and as the act is designed to protect only those states which have laws regulating the furnishing of appliances by unlicensed practitioners, Congress would naturally enact legislation which might punish violations in the state of delivery. The prosecuting officers of that state would be most interested in enforcement and would best understand the scope of the laws of the state of delivery. Congress would not wish to leave immune shipments from foreign countries. Cf. United States v. Freeman, 239 U.S. 117, 36 S.Ct. 32, 60 L.Ed. 172.

The CHIEF JUSTICE, Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE join in this dissent.

NotesEdit

^1  Constitution of the United States, Art. III, Sec. 2, cl. 3; Sixth Amendment. Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U.S. 56, 73-77, 28 S.Ct. 428, 432, 433, 52 L.Ed. 681; Salinger v. Loisel, 265 U.S. 224, 232-235, 44 S.Ct. 519, 522, 523, 68 L.Ed. 989; Horner v. United States, No. 1, 143 U.S. 207, 213, 12 S.Ct. 407, 409, 36 L.Ed. 126; In re Palliser, 136 U.S. 257, 265, 10 S.Ct. 1034, 34 L.Ed. 514; Hyde v. Shine, 199 U.S. 62, 78, 25 S.Ct. 760, 762, 50 L.Ed. 90; Haas v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462, 473, 30 S.Ct. 249, 251, 54 L.Ed. 569, 17 Ann.Cas. 1112.

^2  Cf. United States v. Kissel, 218 U.S. 601, 31 S.Ct. 124, 54 L.Ed. 1168; Hyde v. United States, 225 U.S. 347, 360-367, 32 S.Ct. 793, 799-802, 56 L.Ed. 1114, Ann.Cas.1914A, 614; United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 250, 60 S.Ct. 811, 856, 84 L.Ed. 1129; In re Snow, 120 U.S. 274, 7 S.Ct. 556, 30 L.Ed. 658; Clark & Marshall, Crimes (4th Ed.), § 504; Wharton Criminal Law (12th Ed.), § 338. See also In re Richter, D.C., 100, F. 295, 298; Morris v. United States, 8 Cir., 229 F. 516, 521.

^3  Cf. Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U.S. 56, 72 74, 28 S.Ct. 428, 431, 432, 52 L.Ed. 681; United States v. Midstate Co., 306 U.S. 161, 165, 59 S.Ct. 412, 414, 83 L.Ed. 563; and see United States v. Lombardo, 241 U.S. 73, 77, 36 S.Ct. 508, 509, 60 L.Ed. 897; United States v. Freeman, 239 U.S. 117, 36 S.Ct. 32, 60 L.Ed. 172, and In re Palliser, 136 U.S. 257, 10 S.Ct. 1034, 34 L.Ed. 514. The latter two cases illustrate the difference between a continuous offense and one begun in one state and completed in another. Compare Judicial Code, Section 42, 28 U.S.C. § 103, 28 U.S.C.A. § 103, with § 3237 of H.R. 5450, 78th Cong., 2d Sess.

^4  Hearing before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, February 3 and 4, 1942, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., on H.R. 5674; Hearing before a Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce, July 15, 16, 17 and 20, 1942, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., on S. 2371.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).