326 U.S. 455 (1946), 31, Chatwin v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 31
Citation:326 U.S. 455, 66 S.Ct. 233, 90 L.Ed. 198
Party Name:Chatwin v. United States
Case Date:January 02, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 455

326 U.S. 455 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 233, 90 L.Ed. 198



United States

No. 31

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 2, 1946

Argued October 10, 1945




1. In a prosecution for violation of the Federal Kidnapping Act, the stipulated facts as to the circumstances in which a 15-year-old girl undertook and continued a "celestial" marriage relationship with a cultist, failed to establish that she had been "held" within the meaning of the words "held for ransom or reward or otherwise" as used in the Act, and therefore convictions of the petitioners under the Act cannot be sustained.

P. 459.

(a) For aught that appears from the stipulated facts, the alleged victim was free to leave the petitioners when and if she desired; therefore, there was no proof of unlawful restraint. P. 460.

(b) There was no proof that any of the petitioners willfully intended, by force, fear, or deception, to hold the alleged victim against her will. Petitioners' beliefs are not shown to involve unlawful restraint of celestial wives. P. 460.

(c) There was no competent or substantial proof that the girl was of such an age or mentality as necessarily precluded her from understanding the doctrine of celestial marriage and from exercising her own free will; therefore, the consent of the parents or guardian is not a factor in the case. P. 461.

Page 456

(d) In the absence of evidence of the method of testing the girl's mental age, and of proof as to the weight and significance to be attached to the particular mental age, the stipulated fact that, a year before the alleged inveiglement and detention, the girl was of the mental age of 7 cannot be said necessarily to have precluded her from judging the principles of celestial marriage and from acting in accordance with her beliefs in the matter. There must be competent proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a victim's mental incapacity in relation to the very acts in question before the consent of the victim's parents or guardian can become a factor. P. 462.

2. Involuntariness of the victim's seizure and detention is of the essence of the crime of kidnapping, and if that essential element is absent, the act of participating in illicit relations or contributing to the delinquency of a minor or entering into a celestial marriage followed by interstate transportation does not violate the Federal Kidnapping Act. P. 464.

3. The purpose of the Federal Kidnapping Act was to outlaw interstate kidnappings, rather than general transgressions of morality involving the crossing of state lines, and the broad language of the Act must be interpreted and applied in the light of that purpose. P. 464.

146 F.2d 730 reversed.

Certiorari, 324 U.S. 835, to review the affirmance of convictions, 56 F.Supp. 890, of violations of the Federal Kidnapping Act.

MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Federal Kidnapping Act1 punishes any one who knowingly transports or aids in transporting in interstate or foreign commerce

any person who shall have been unlawfully

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seized, confined, inveigled, decoyed, kidnapped, abducted, or carried away by any means whatsoever and held for ransom or reward or otherwise, except, in the case of a minor, by a parent thereof.

The sole issue confronting us in these cases is whether the stipulated facts support the convictions of the three petitioners under this Act, the indictment having charged that they unlawfully inveigled, decoyed, and carried away a minor child of the age of 15, held her for a stated period, and transported her from Utah to Arizona with knowledge that she had been so inveigled and held. We are not called upon to determine or characterize the morality of their actions. Nor are we concerned here with their liability under any other statute, federal or state.

Petitioners are members of the Fundamentalist cult of the Mormon faith, a cult that sanctions plural or "celestial" marriages. In August, 1940, petitioner Chatwin, who was then a 68-year old widower, employed one Dorothy Wyler as a housekeeper in his home in Santaquin, Utah. This girl was nearly 15 years old at this time, although the stipulation indicates that she had only a mental age of 7.2 Her employment by Chatwin was approved by her parents. While residing at Chatwin's home, the girl was continually taught by Chatwin and one Lulu Cook, who also resided there, that plural marriage was essential to her salvation. Chatwin also told her that it was her grandmother's desire that he should take her in celestial marriage, and that such a marriage was in conformity with the true principles of the original Mormon Church. As a result of these teachings, the girl was converted to the principle of celestial marriage and entered into a cult marriage with Chatwin

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on December 19, 1940. Thereafter she became pregnant, which fact was discovered by her parents on July 24, 1941. The parents then informed the juvenile authorities of the Utah of the situation, and they took the girl into custody as a delinquent on August 4, 1941, making her a ward of the juvenile court.

On August 10, 1941, the girl accompanied a juvenile probation officer to a motion picture show at Provo, Utah. The officer left the girl at the show and returned later to all for her. The girl asked to be allowed to stay on for a short time, and the officer consented. Thereafter, and prior to the second return of the officer, the girl "left the picture show and went out onto the street in Provo." There she met two married daughters of Chatwin who gave her sufficient money to go from [66 S.Ct. 235] Provo to Salt Lake City. Shortly after arriving there, she was taken to the home of petitioners Zitting and Christensen. They, together with Chatwin, convinced her that she should abide, as they put it, "by the law of God, rather than the law of man," and that she was perfectly justified in running away from the juvenile court in order to live with Chatwin. They further convinced her that she should go with them to Mexico to be married legally to Chatwin and then remain in hiding until she had reached her majority under Utah law. Thereafter, on October 6, 1941, the three petitioners transported the girl in Zitting's automobile from Salt Lake City of Juarez, Mexico, where she went through a civil marriage ceremony with Chatwin on October 14. She was then brought back to Utah, and thence to Short Creek, Arizona. There she lived in hiding with Chatwin under assumed names until discovered by federal authorities over two years later, December 9, 1943. While in Short Creek, she gave birth to two children by Chatwin. The transportation of the girl from Provo to Salt Lake City, thence to Juarez, Mexico, and finally to Short Creek was without the consent and against the wishes of her

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parents and without authority from the juvenile court officials.3

Having waived jury trials, the three petitioners were found guilty as charged and were given jail sentences. United States v. Cleveland, 56 F.Supp. 890. The court below affirmed the convictions. 146 F.2d 730. We granted certiorari, 324 U.S. 835, because of our doubts as to the correctness of the judgment that the petitioners were guilty under the Federal Kidnapping Act on the basis of the foregoing facts.

The Act, by its own terms, contemplates that the kidnapped victim shall have been (1) "unlawfully seized, confined, inveigled, decoyed, kidnapped, abducted, or carried away by any means whatsoever" and (2) "held for ransom or reward or otherwise." The Government contends that both elements appear from the stipulated facts in this case. The petitioners, it is argued, unlawfully "inveigled" or "decoyed" the girl away from the custody of her parents and the juvenile court authorities, the girl being "incapable of understanding the full significance of petitioners' importunities" because of her tender years and extremely low mentality. It is claimed, moreover, that...

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