312 U.S. 19 (1941), 87, Gorin v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 87
Citation:312 U.S. 19, 61 S.Ct. 429, 85 L.Ed. 488
Party Name:Gorin v. United States
Case Date:January 13, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

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312 U.S. 19 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 429, 85 L.Ed. 488



United States

No. 87

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 13, 1941

Argued December 19, 1940




1. In order to constitute the crimes denounced by §§ 1(b) and 2 of the Espionage Act -- the obtaining of documents connected with or relating to the national defense and their delivery to an agent of a foreign country with an intent, or reason to believe, in each case, that they are to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation -- it is not necessary that the documents contain information concerning the places or things (such as vessels, aircraft, forts, signal stations, codes or signal books) which are specifically mentioned in § 1(a) of the Act. P. 25.

2. "National defense" as used in §§ 1(b) and 2 of the Espionage Act refers to the military or naval establishments and to related activities of national preparedness for war. P. 28.

3. With this meaning of "national defense" and with the elements of scienter and bad faith which must be present, the sections are sufficiently definite to apprise the public of the activities they prohibit, and they accord with due process. P. 27.

4. Information taken from reports in the files of the Naval Intelligence, giving a detailed picture of counter-espionage work, held capable of use to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation within the meaning of §§ 1 and 2 of the Espionage Act. P. 29.

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5. In establishing violations of §§ 1(b) and 2 of the Espionage Act, where it was proved that the forbidden information was to be used to the advantage of a foreign nation, it was not necessary to prove also that it was to be used to the injury of the United States. P. 29.

6. In a prosecution under §§ 1(b) and 2 of the Espionage Act, the jury determines whether the acts of the defendants were connected with or elated to the national defense under proper tests laid down by the instructions. P. 30.

The function of the court is to instruct as to the kind of information which is violative of the statute, and that of the jury to decide whether the information secured is of the defined kind. It is not the function of the court, where reasonable men may differ, to determine whether the acts do or do not come within the ambit of the statute. The question of the connection of the information with national defense is a question of fact to be determined by the jury as negligence upon disputed fact is determined.

111 F.2d 712 affirmed.

Certiorari, 310 U.S. 622, to review the affirmance of sentences for violations of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917.

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This certiorari brings here a judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the sentences of the two petitioners who were convicted of violation of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, 111 F.2d 712. As the affirmance turned upon a determination of the scope of the Act and its constitutionality as construed, the petition

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was allowed because of the questions, important in enforcing this criminal statute.

The joint indictment in three counts charged in the first count violation of § 1(b) by allegations in the words of the [61 S.Ct. 431] statute of obtaining documents "connected with the national defense;" in the second count violation of § 2(a) in delivering and inducing the delivery of these documents to the petitioner, Gorin, the agent of a foreign nation, and in the third count of § 4 by conspiracy to deliver them to a foreign government and its agent, just named. The pertinent statutory provisions appear below.1 A third party, the wife of Gorin, was joined in

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and acquitted on all three counts. The petitioners were found guilty on each count and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, to run concurrently, and fines of $10,000 each. The longest term of Gorin is six years, and of Salich, four years.

The proof indicated that Gorin, a citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, acted as its agent in gathering information. He sought and obtained from Salich for substantial pay the contents of over fifty reports relating chiefly to Japanese activities in the United States. These reports were in the files of the Naval Intelligence branch office at San Pedro, California. [61 S.Ct. 432] Salich,

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a naturalized, Russian-born citizen, had free access to the records as he was a civilian investigator for that office. Speaking broadly, the reports detailed the coming and going on the west coast of Japanese military and civil officials, as well as private citizens whose actions were deemed of possible interest to the Intelligence Office. Some statements appear as to the movements of fishing boats suspected of espionage and as to the taking of photographs of American war vessels.

Petitioners object to the convictions principally on the grounds (1) that the prohibitions of the act are limited to obtaining and delivering information concerning the specifically described places and things set out in the act, such as a vessel, aircraft, fort, signal station, code or signal book, and (2) that an interpretation which put within the statute the furnishing of any other information connected with or relating to the national defense than that concerning these specifically described places and things would make the act unconstitutional as violative of due process because of indefiniteness.

The philosophy behind the insistence that the prohibitions of §§ 1(b) and 2(a), upon which the indictment is based, are limited to the places and things which are specifically set out in § 1(a) relies upon the traditional freedom of discussion of matters connected with national defense which is permitted in this country. It would require, urge petitioners, the clearest sort of declaration by the Congress to bring under the statute the obtaining and delivering to a foreign government for its advantage of reports generally published and available which deal with food production, the advances of civil aeronautics, reserves of raw materials, or other similar matters not directly connected with, and yet of the greatest importance to, national defense. The possibility of such an interpretation of the terms "connected with" or "relating to" national defense is to be avoided by construing

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the act so as

to make it a crime only to obtain information as to places and things specifically listed in § 1 as connected with or related to the national defense.

Petitioners argue that the statute should not be construed so as to leave to a jury to determine whether an innocuous report on a crop yield is "connected" with the national defense.

Petitioners rely upon the legislative history to support this position.2 The passage of the Espionage Act3 during the World War year of 1917 attracted the close scrutiny of Congress, and resulted in different bills in the two Houses which were reconciled only after a second conference report. Nothing more definite appears in this history as to the Congressional intention in regard to limiting the act's prohibitions upon which this indictment depends to the places and things in § 1(a) than that a House definition of "national defense" which gave it a broad meaning was stricken out,4 and the conference report stated as to the final form of the present act: "Section 1 sets out the places connected with the national defense to which the prohibitions of the section apply." Neither change seems significant on this inquiry. The House bill had not specified the places under surveillance. The Conference change made them definite. The fact that the clause "or other place connected with the national defense" is also included in § 1(a) is

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not an unusual manner of protecting enactments against inadvertent omissions. With this specific designation of prohibited places, the broad definition of § 1202 of the House was stricken as no longer apt, and, as stated in Conference Report No. 69, § 6 of the act was therefore adopted. Obviously the purpose was to give flexibility to the designated places.5 We see nothing in this legislative history to affect our conclusion, [61 S.Ct. 433] which is drawn from the meaning of the entire act.6

An examination of the words of the statute satisfies us that the meaning of national defense in §§ 1(b) and 2(a) cannot be limited to the places and things specified in § 1(a). Certainly there is no such express limitation in the later §s. Section 1(a) lays down the test of purpose and intent, and then defines the crime as going upon or otherwise obtaining information as to named things and places connected with the national defense. Section 1(b) adopts the same purpose and intent of 1(a), and then defines the crime as copying, taking or picturing certain articles such as models, appliances, documents, and so forth of anything connected with the national defense. None of the articles specified in 1(b) is the same as the things specified in 1(a). Apparently the draftsmen of the act first set out the places to be protected, and included in that connotation ships and planes, and then, in 1(b), covered much of the contents of such places in the nature of plans and documents. Section 2(a), it will be observed, covers in much the same way the delivery of these movable articles or information to a foreign nation or its agent. If a government

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model of a new weapon were obtained or delivered, there seems to be little logic in making its transfer a crime only when it is connected in some undefined way with the places catalogued under 1(a). It is our view that it is a crime to obtain or deliver, in violation of the intent and purposes specified, the things described in §§ 1(b) and 2(a) without regard to their connection with the places and things of 1(a).


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