195 U.S. 65 (1903), Schick v. United States

Citation:195 U.S. 65, 24 S.Ct. 826, 49 L.Ed. 99
Party Name:Schick v. United States
Case Date:May 31, 1904
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 65

195 U.S. 65 (1903)

24 S.Ct. 826, 49 L.Ed. 99

Schick

v.

United States

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1904

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS

Syllabus

A written waiver of a jury by a defendant in an action brought by the United States to recover a penalty of fifty dollars under § 11 of the act of 1886 as amended by the Act of May 9, 1902, is not in conflict with the laws and Constitution of the United States, and does not invalidate the judgment.

McCray v. United States, ante, p. 27, followed as to constitutionality of the oleomargarine legislation.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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BREWER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The constitutionality of the oleomargarine legislation having

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been settled in McCray v. United States, just decided, there is in these two cases only a single question. The plaintiffs in error were severally prosecuted by information in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, under section 11 of the Act of August 2, 1886, 24 Stat. 209, which reads:

That every person who knowingly purchases or receives for sale any oleomargarine which has not been branded or stamped according to law shall be liable to a penalty of fifty dollars for each such offense.

In each case, the parties in writing waived a jury and agreed to submit the issues to the court. Judgments were entered in favor of the United States, and their collection ordered by only the civil process of execution. That the defendants had failed to comply with the section was proved. Indeed, it was not seriously disputed, the defense resting only on the alleged unconstitutionality of the act. The waiver of a jury was not assigned as error nor referred to by counsel at the hearing before us either in brief or argument. The question of its effect upon the judgment was suggested by this Court, and briefs were called for from the respective parties. Such briefs have been filed, and both agree that the waiver of a jury did not invalidate the proceedings. Notwithstanding this, the fact of the waiver appears in the record.

We entertain no doubt that the parties could rightfully make such a waiver, and that the judgments are in no way invalidated thereby. It will be noticed that the section characterizes the act prohibited as an offense, and subjects the party to a penalty of fifty dollars. So small a penalty for violating a revenue statute indicates only a petty offense. It is not one necessarily involving any moral delinquency. The violation may have been the result of ignorance or thoughtlessness, and must be classed with such illegal acts as acting as an auctioneer or peddler without a license, or making a deed without affixing the proper stamp. That by other sections of this statute more serious offenses are described, and more grave punishments provided, does not lift this one to the

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dignity of a crime. Not infrequently, a single statute in its several sections provides for offenses of different grades, subject to different punishments and to prosecution in different ways. In some states, in the same act are gathered all the various offenses against the person, ranging from simple assault to murder, and imposing punishments, from a mere fine to death. This very statute furnishes an illustration. By one clause, the knowingly selling of adulterated butter in any other than the prescribed form subjects the party convicted thereof to a fine of not more than $1,000 and [24 S.Ct. 827] imprisonment for not more than two years. An officer of customs violating certain provisions of the act is declared guilty of a misdemeanor, and subject to a fine of not less than one thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars and imprisonment for not less than six months nor more than three years. Obviously, these violations of certain provisions of the statute must be classed among serious criminal offenses, and can be prosecuted only by indictment, while the violations of the statute in the cases before us were prosecuted by information. The truth is, the nature of the offense and the amount of punishment prescribed, rather than its place in the statutes, determine whether it is to be classed among serious or petty offenses -- whether among crimes or misdemeanors. Clearly both indicate that this particular violation of the statute is only a petty offense.

In such a case, there is no constitutional requirement of a jury. In the third clause of Section 2, Article 3, of the Constitution it is provided that "the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury," and in Article VI of the Amendments, that,

in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.

If there be any conflict between these two provisions, the one found in the Amendments must control, under the well understood rule that the last expression of the will of the lawmaker prevails over an earlier

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one. But that in the body of the Constitution does not include a petty offense like the present. It must be read in the light of the common law. "That," said Mr. Justice Bradley in Moore v. United States, 91 U.S. 270, 274, referring to the common law,

is the system from which our judicial ideas and legal definitions are derived. The language of the Constitution and of many acts of Congress could not be understood without reference to the common law.

Again, in Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465, 478, is this declaration by Mr. Justice Matthews:

The interpretation of the Constitution of the United States is necessarily influenced by the fact that its provisions are framed in the language of the English common law, and are to be read in the light of its history.

In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 654, Mr. Justice Gray used this language:

In this as in other respects, it must be interpreted in the light of the common law, the principles and history of which were familiarly known to the framers of the Constitution. Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162; Ex Parte Wilson, 114 U.S. 417, 422; Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 624-625; Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465.

See also Kepner v. United States, post, p. 100; 1 Kent, Com. 336.

Blackstone's Commentaries are accepted as the most satisfactory exposition of the common law of England. At the time of the adoption of the federal Constitution, it had been published about twenty years, and it has been said that more copies of the work had been sold in this country than in England, so that undoubtedly the framers of the Constitution were familiar with it. In this treatise, vol. 4, p. 5. is given a definition of the word "crimes:"

A crime or misdemeanor, is an act committed or omitted in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it. This general definition comprehends both crimes and misdemeanors, which, properly speaking, are mere synonymous terms, though in common usage the word "crimes" is made to denote such offenses as are of a deeper and more atrocious

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dye; while smaller faults and omissions of less consequence are comprised under the gentler name of "misdemeanors" only.

In the light of this definition, we can appreciate the action of the convention which framed the Constitution. In the draft of that instrument as reported by the committee of five, the language was "the trial of all criminal offenses . . . shall be by jury," but, by unanimous vote, it was amended so as to read "the trial of all crimes." The significance of this change cannot be misunderstood. If the language had remained "criminal offenses," it might have been contended that it meant all offenses of a criminal nature, petty as well as serious; but when the change was made from "criminal offenses" to "crimes," and made in the light of the popular understanding of the meaning of the word "crimes" as stated by Blackstone, it is obvious that the intent was to exclude from the constitutional requirement of a jury the trial of petty criminal offenses. But we need not go beyond the express rulings of this Court. In Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540, reference was made to many decisions of state courts holding that the trial of petty offenses was not within any constitutional provision requiring a jury in the trial of crimes, and on page 557, it was said:

Except in that class or grade of offenses called petty offenses, which, according to the common law, may be proceeded against summarily in any tribunal legally constituted for that purpose, the guaranty of an impartial jury to the accused in a criminal prosecution, conducted either in the name, or by or under the authority, of the United States, secures to him the right to enjoy that mode of trial from the first moment, and in whatever court, he is put on trial for the offense charged.

By section 563, Rev.Stat., the district courts are given jurisdiction

of all crimes and offenses cognizable under the authority of the United States, committed within their respective districts, or upon the high seas, the punishment of which is not capital.

There is no act of Congress requiring that

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the trial of all offenses shall be by jury, and a court is fully organized and competent for the transaction of business without the presence of a jury. There is no public policy which forbids the waiver of a jury in the trial of petty offenses. On the contrary, by section 44 of the Code of Law for the District of Columbia, Congress provided, in respect to the police court, that --

In all prosecutions within the jurisdiction of said court in which, according to the...

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