323 U.S. 338 (1945), 30, Singer v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 30
Citation:323 U.S. 338, 65 S.Ct. 282, 89 L.Ed. 285
Party Name:Singer v. United States
Case Date:January 02, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 338

323 U.S. 338 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 282, 89 L.Ed. 285

Singer

v.

United States

No. 30

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 2, 1945

Argued November 9, 10, 1944

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. The conspiracy clause of § 11 of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, .4 Stat. 85, is not limited to conspiracies to "hinder or interfere in any way by force or violence" with the administration of the Act, but embraces all conspiracies to violate the Act. P. 340.

2. The offense of conspiracy under § 11 of the Selective Training and Service Act, unlike that, under § 37 of the Criminal Code, does not require an overt act. P. 340.

3. The principle of strict construction does not require that a criminal statute be given its narrowest possible meaning. P. 341.

4. Where another interpretation is permissible, a statute should not be given a construction which makes it redundant. P. 344.

5. As to a petitioner who died since the grant of a writ of certiorari to review a judgment of conviction, the writ is dismissed and the cause is remanded to the District Court for such disposition as law and justice require. P. 346.

141 F.2d 262 affirmed.

Certiorari, 322 U.S. 720, to review the affirmance of judgments of conviction for conspiracy to violate the Selective Training and Service Act. See 49 F.Supp. 912.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners are father and son. They and one Walter Weel were indicted in one count charging a conspiracy to

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aid Willard I. Singer in evading service in the armed forces. No overt act was alleged. A demurrer to the indictment was overruled which claimed that an overt act was necessary. Petitioners were tried before a jury, found guilty, and sentenced. Petitioner Willard I. Singer received a sentence of one year and a day; petitioner Martin H. Singer received a suspended sentence, and was placed on probation for two years. Motions in arrest of judgment and for a new trial were denied. 49 F.Supp. 912. The judgments of conviction were affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 141 F.2d 262. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted, 322 U.S. 720, limited to the question whether the conspiracy charged constitutes an offense under § 11 of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 885, 894, 895, 50 U.S.C. App. § 311.

The relevant part of § 11 reads as follows:

Any person charged as herein provided with the duty of carrying out any of the provisions of this Act, or the rules or regulations made or directions given thereunder, who shall knowingly fail or neglect to perform such duty, and any person charged with such duty, or having and exercising any authority under said Act, rules, regulations, or directions who shall knowingly make, or be a party to the making, of any false, improper, or incorrect registration, classification, physical or mental examination, deferment, induction, enrollment, or muster, and any person who shall knowingly make, or be a party to the making of, any false statement or certificate as to the fitness or unfitness or liability or nonliability of himself or any other person for service under the provisions of this Act, or rules, regulations, or directions made pursuant thereto, or who otherwise evades registration or service in the land or naval forces or any of the

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requirements of this Act, or who knowingly counsels, aids, or abets another to evade registration or service in the land or naval forces or any of the requirements of this Act, or of said rules, regulations, or directions, or who in any manner shall knowingly fail or neglect to perform any duty required of him under or in the execution of this Act, or rules or regulations made pursuant to this Act, or any person or persons who shall knowingly hinder or interfere in any way by force or violence with the administration of this Act or the rules or regulations made pursuant thereto, or conspire to do so, shall, upon conviction in the district court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment. . . .

(Italics added.) The section does not require an overt act for the offense of conspiracy. It punishes conspiracy "on the common law footing." Nash v. United States, 229 U.S. 373, 378. Hence, the indictment is sufficient if the words "or conspire to do so" extend to all conspiracies to commit offenses against the Act. It is insufficient if the conspiracy clause is limited to conspiracies to "hinder or interfere in any way by force or violence" with the administration of the Act. If it is so limited, then it would have been necessary to sustain the indictment under § 37 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 88, which requires the commission of an overt act.1 See United States v. Rabinowich, 238 U.S. 78, 86.

Though the matter is not free from doubt, we think the conspiracy clause of § 11 is not limited, but embraces all conspiracies to violate the Act. That is the view of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (United States v.

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O'Connell, 126 F.2d 807) as well as the court below. We think that construction is grammatically permissible, and conforms with the legislative scheme.

Seven offenses precede the conspiracy clause. Each is set off by a comma. A comma also precedes the conspiracy clause, and separates it from the force and violence provision just as the latter is separated by a comma from the clause which precedes it. The punctuation of the sentence indicates that the disjunctive conspiracy clause is the last independent clause of a series, not a part of the preceding clause. A subject of "conspire" must be supplied however the conspiracy clause is read. It is true that the subject must be plural and that the subject of each of the preceding clauses is singular, except "any person or persons" in the force and violence clause. But it does not follow that the conspiracy clause is hitched solely to the preceding clause. When read as applicable to all the substantive offenses, the verb "conspire" is proper, since some of the subjects would be singular and some plural.

A question remains concerning the word "so." The structure of the sentence as a whole suggests that the reference is to all the offenses previously enumerated. The seven offenses which precede the conspiracy clause are substantive offenses. Each carries the same penalty and is punishable in the same manner. The conspiracy clause comes last, and is separated from the preceding one by a comma. If the word "so" is read restrictively, then one type of conspiracy is set apart for special treatment. If our construction is taken, a rational scheme results with the same maximum penalties throughout -- all types of conspiracies being treated equally, just as the substantive offenses are treated alike. No persuasive reason has been advanced why the words "conspire to do so" should not carry their natural significance. The principle of strict construction of criminal statutes does not mean that they

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must be given their narrowest possible meaning. United States v. Giles, 300 U.S. 41, 48.

The legislative history throws only a little light on this problem of the construction of § 11. What appears is a brief statement by Senator Sheppard, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, who explained the bill on the floor of the Senate. He stated that the section which later became § 11 of the present Act

contains the penalty provisions of the bill, which are substantially the same as those of the World War act. Experience with the World War provisions shows that they worked satisfactorily in providing the necessary protection.

86 Cong.Rec. 10095. The Selective Draft Act of 1917, 40 Stat. 76, 50 U.S.C. App. § 201 et seq., contained no conspiracy provision. And the penalties prescribed for the substantive offenses were milder than those contained in the present Act.2 Conspiracies to commit nonviolent offenses were prosecuted under § 37 of the Criminal Code which, as we have noted, requires an overt act.3 Conspiracies involving the use of force were prosecuted [65 S.Ct. 285] under § 6 of the Criminal Code, 35 Stat. 1089, 18 U.S.C. § 6, which punishes conspiracies "by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States."4 Sec. 37 of the Criminal Code provides a punishment

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of not more than two years' imprisonment or a fine of $10,000 or both. Sec. 6 of the Criminal Code provides a punishment of not more than six years' imprisonment or a $5000 fine, or both. Sec. 11 of the present Act provides imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of $10,000 or both. Both § 37 and § 6 of the Criminal Code were in force when the present Act was adopted. The addition of the conspiracy clause of § 11 was a departure from the 1917 Act, and a substantial departure at that. Moreover, the "World War provisions" which, according to Senator Sheppard, had provided "the necessary protection" were certainly not the provisions of the 1917 Act alone, but the conspiracy statutes as well. Hence, we do not take his statement to mean that the penalty provisions of § 11 are substantially the same as those contained in the 1917 Act. We read his somewhat ambiguous comments as indicating that he was comparing the provisions of § 11 with the provisions of the 1917 Act plus the provisions of other statutes which were employed in enforcing that Act. Thus, Senator Sheppard's statement suggests that § 11 was designed to catalogue the various offenses against the Act.5 It suggests that the purpose of including a conspiracy clause in § 11 was to furnish a single basis for prosecuting all conspiracies to commit offenses against the Act. That results in punishments for some...

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