271 U.S. 354 (1926), 726, United States v. Katz

Docket Nº:No. 726, 727
Citation:271 U.S. 354, 46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986
Party Name:United States v. Katz
Case Date:May 24, 1926
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 354

271 U.S. 354 (1926)

46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986

United States



No. 726, 727

United States Supreme Court

May 24, 1926

Argued March 11, 1926




1. Section 10 of the Prohibition Act, in providing that no person shall manufacture, purchase for sale, or transport any liquor with out making a record of the transaction in detail, applies to persons authorized by other sections of the Act to deal in nonbeverage liquor under government permit; it was not intended to add to the crime of unauthorized dealing a second offense whenever the person so dealing should fail to make a record of his own wrongdoing. P. 356.

2. General terms descriptive of a class of persons made subject to a criminal statute may and should be limited where the literal application of the statute would lead to extreme or absurd results, and where the legislative purpose gathered from the whole Act would be satisfied by a more limited interpretation. P. 362.

5 F.2d 527 affirmed.

Error to judgments of the district court quashing indictments.

STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The two defendants in error in each of these cases were indicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for a conspiracy to sell intoxicating liquors without making a permanent record of the sale, in violation of § 10, Title II

Page 355

of the National Prohibition Act of October 28, 1919, c. 85, 41 Stat. 305, 310.

The indictment in No. 726 charged that the defendant Katz conspired with the defendant Senn to sell for the Stewart Distilling Company to Senn a quantity of whisky, without making a record of the sale. A similar offense was charged against the defendants named in the indictment in No. 727.

Demurrers and motions to quash were interposed to both indictments on the ground that they failed to charge any crime. In support of this contention, it was argued that § 10, which requires a permanent record to be made of sales of intoxicating liquors, applies only to persons authorized by the National Prohibition Act to sell alcoholic liquor, and that the indictment failed to allege that either of the defendants charged with making the sales or the Stewart Distilling Company held a permit or was otherwise authorized to sell. The indictments were quashed by the district court. 5 F.2d 527. The cases come here on writ of error to the district court, under the provisions of the Criminal Appeals Act of March 2, 1907, c. 2564, 34 Stat. 1246.

The overt act charged in each indictment was the sale of whisky by one defendant to the other. This is an offense under the National Prohibition Act, but, as the defendants in each case were only one buyer and one seller, and as the agreement of the parties was an essential element in the sale, an indictment of the buyer and seller for a conspiracy to make the sale would have been of doubtful validity. Compare United States v. N.Y.C. & H. R. Co., 146 F. 298; United States v. Dietrich, 126 F. 664; Vannata v. United States, 289 F. 424, 427. This embarrassment could be avoided in an indictment for a criminal conspiracy only if the buyer and seller were [46 S.Ct. 514] charged with conspiring to commit a substantive offense having an ingredient in addition to the sale, not requiring

Page 356

the agreement of two persons for its completion. See Chadwick v. United States, 141 F. 225.

Hence, the government takes the position that the seller of intoxicating liquor is required by the statute to keep a permanent record of his sales, whether lawful or unlawful, and that failure to do so is itself a crime, from which it would follow that a conspiracy to effect a sale without such a record is an indictable offense. No question is made but that persons authorized to deal in alcoholic liquors under the Prohibition Act are required to make permanent records of their transactions. But the government, to support a charge of conspiracy applicable to buyer and seller, relies on the literal application of Title II, § 10:

No person shall manufacture, purchase for sale, sell, or transport any liquor without making at the time a permanent record thereof showing in detail the amount and kind of liquor manufactured, purchased, sold, or transported. together with the names and addresses of the persons to whom sold, in case of sale, and the consignor and consignee in case of transportation, and the time and place of such manufacture, sale, or transportation. The Commissioner may prescribe the form of such record, which shall at all times be open to inspection as in this Act provided.

Section 34 provides:

All records and reports kept or filed under the provisions of this Act shall be subject to inspection at any reasonable hour by the Commissioner or any of his agents or by any public prosecutor or by any person designated by him, or by any peace officer in the state where the record is kept, and copies of such records and reports duly certified by the person with whom kept or filed may be introduced in evidence with like effect as the originals thereof, and verified copies...

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