318 U.S. 101 (1943), 325, Jerome v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 325
Citation:318 U.S. 101, 63 S.Ct. 483, 87 L.Ed. 640
Party Name:Jerome v. United States
Case Date:February 01, 1943
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 101

318 U.S. 101 (1943)

63 S.Ct. 483, 87 L.Ed. 640



United States

No. 325

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 1, 1943

Argued January 7, 1943




In § 2(a) of the federal Bank Robbery Act, which provides that

whoever shall enter or attempt to enter any bank, or any building used in whole or in part as a bank, with intent to commit in such bank or building, or part thereof, so used, any felony or larceny

shall be subject to the penalty therein prescribed, the word "felony" embraces only offenses which are felonies under federal law and affect banks protected by the Act. P. 108.

130 F.2d 514, reversed.

Certiorari, 317 U.S. 606, to review the affirmance of a conviction for violation of the federal Bank Robbery Act.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Sec. 2(a) of the Bank Robbery Act (48 Stat. 783, 50 Stat. 749, 12 U.S.C. § 588b) provides in part that

whoever shall enter or attempt to enter any bank,1 or any building used in whole or in part as a bank, with intent to commit in such bank or building, or part thereof, so used, any felony or larceny, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned

Page 102

not more than twenty years, or both.

Petitioner was indicted under that section for entering a national bank in Vermont with intent to utter a forged promissory note, and thereby to defraud the bank. He was convicted after trial before a jury, and was sentenced to imprisonment for one year and a day. The utterance of a forged promissory note is a felony under the laws of Vermont (P.L.1933, 8485, 8750), but not under any federal statute. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction by a divided vote, holding that "felony" as used in § 2(a) includes offenses which are felonies under state law. 130 F.2d 514. We granted the petition for a writ of certiorari, 317 U.S. 606, because of the importance of the problem in the administration of justice and because of the diversity of views which have developed as respects the meaning of "felony" in § 2(a). Compare with the decision below Hudspeth v. Melville, 127 F.2d 373; Hudspeth v. Tornello, 128 F.2d 172.

Prior to 1934, banks organized or operating under federal law were protected against embezzlement and like offenses by R.S. 5209, 40 Stat. 972, 12 U.S.C. § 592. But such crimes as robbery, burglary, and larceny2 directed against such banks were punishable only under state law. By 1934, great concern had been expressed over interstate operations by [63 S.Ct. 485] gangsters against banks -- activities with which local authorities were frequently unable to cope. H.Rep. No. 1461, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., p. 2. The Attorney General, in response to that concern, recommended legislation embracing certain new federal offenses. S. 2841, 73d Cong., 2d Sess. And see 78 Cong.Rec. 5738. Sec. 3 of that bill made it a federal crime to break into or attempt to break into such banks with intent to commit "any offense defined by this Act, or any felony under any law

Page 103

of the United States or under any law of the State, District, Territory, or possession" in which the bank was located. Sec. 2 made it an offense to take or attempt to take money or property belonging to or in the possession of such a bank without its consent, or with its consent obtained "by any trick, artifice, fraud, or false or fraudulent representation." This bill was reported favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee (S.Rep. No. 537, 73d Cong., 2d Sess.), and passed the Senate. 78 Cong.Rec. 5738. The House Judiciary Committee, however, struck out § 2, dealing with larceny, and § 3, dealing with burglary. H.Rep. No. 1461, supra, p. 1. And the bill was finally enacted without them. But it retained the robbery provision3 now contained in the first clause of § 2(a) of the Bank Robbery Act.

In 1937, the Attorney General recommended the enlargement of the Bank Robbery Act "to include larceny and burglary of the banks" protected by it. H.Rep. No. 732, 75th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 1. The fact that the 1934 statute was limited to robbery was said to have produced "some incongruous results" -- a "striking instance" of which was the case of a man who stole a large sum from a bank but who was not guilty of robbery because he did not display force or violence, and did not put anyone in fear. Id., pp. 1-2. The bill, as introduced (H.R. 5900, 75th Cong., 1st Sess., 81 Cong.Rec. 2731), added to § 2(a) two new clauses -- one defining larceny, and the other making it a federal offense to enter or attempt to enter any bank with intent to commit therein "any larceny or other depredation." For reasons not disclosed in the legislative history,

Page 104

the House Judiciary Committee substituted "any felony or larceny" for "any larceny or other depredation." H.Rep. No. 732, supra, p. 2. With that change and with an amendment to the larceny clause4 distinguishing between grand and petit larceny (81 Cong.Rec. 5376-5377), § 2(a) was enacted in its present form.

We disagree with the Circuit Court of Appeals. We do not think that "felony," as used in § 2(a), incorporates state law.

At times, it has been inferred from the nature of the problem with which Congress was dealing that the application of a federal statute should be dependent on state law. Examples under federal revenue acts are common. Douglas v. Willcuts, 296 U.S. 1; Helvering v. Stuart, 317 U.S. 154, and cases cited. But we must generally assume, in the absence of a plain indication to the contrary, that Congress, when it enacts a statute, is not making the application of the federal act dependent on state law. That assumption is based on the fact that the application of federal legislation is nationwide (United States v. Pelzer, 312 U.S. 399), and at times on the fact that the federal program would [63 S.Ct. 486] be impaired if state law were to control. Seaboard Air Line Ry. v. Horton, 233 U.S. 492, 503. When it comes to federal criminal laws such as the present one, there is a consideration in addition to the desirability of uniformity in application which supports the general principle. Since there is no common law offense against the United States ( United States v. Hudson,

Page 105

7 Cranch 32; United States v. Gradwell, 243 U.S. 476, 485), the administration of criminal justice under our federal system has rested with the states, except as criminal offenses have been explicitly prescribed by Congress. We should be mindful of that tradition in determining the scope of federal statutes defining offenses which duplicate or build upon state law. In that connection, it should be noted that the double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment does not stand as a bar to federal prosecution though a state conviction based on the same acts has already been obtained. See United States v. Lanza, 260 U.S. 377; Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U.S. 312. That consideration gives additional weight to the view that, where Congress is creating offenses which duplicate or build upon state law, courts should be reluctant to expand the defined offenses beyond the clear requirements of the terms of the statute.

There is no plain indication in the legislative history of § 2(a) that Congress...

To continue reading