342 U.S. 337 (1952), 167, Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States
|Docket Nº:||No. 167|
|Citation:||342 U.S. 337, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367|
|Party Name:||Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States|
|Case Date:||January 28, 1952|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued December 4, 1951
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
A regulation promulgated by the Interstate Commerce Commission under 18 U.S.C. § 835 provides that drivers of motor vehicles transporting inflammables or explosives
shall avoid, so far as practicable, . . . driving into or through congested thoroughfares, places where crowds are assembled, street car tracks, tunnels, viaducts, and dangerous crossings.
Under the statute, "whoever knowingly violates" any such regulation is subject to fine and imprisonment. Petitioner was indicted for having on three separate occasions operated through the Holland Tunnel a truck carrying inflammable carbon bisulphide. The indictment alleged that "there were other available and more practicable routes" for the shipments, and that petitioner "well knew" that the shipments were in violation of the regulation.
Held: the regulation was not void for vagueness, and the District Court should not have dismissed the counts of the indictment based thereon. Pp. 338-343.
1. No more than a reasonable degree of certainty can be demanded in the language of the prohibition contained in a criminal statute, and it is not unfair to require that one who deliberately goes perilously close to an area of proscribed conduct shall take the risk that he may cross the line. P. 340.
2. In order to convict, the Government must prove not only that petitioner could have taken another route which was both commercially practicable and appreciably safer, but also that petitioner knew there was such a practicable, safer route and deliberately took the more dangerous route through the tunnel, or that petitioner willfully neglected to inquire into the availability of such an alternative route. Pp. 342-343.
188 F.2d 889, affirmed.
In a criminal prosecution of petitioner, the District Court, on the ground of the invalidity of the regulation, dismissed the counts of the indictment which were based upon alleged violations of a regulation of the Interstate Commerce Commission. 90 F.Supp. 996. The Court
of Appeals reversed. 188 F.2d 889. This Court granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 846. Affirmed, p. 343.
CLARK, J., lead opinion
MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner is charged with the violation of a regulation promulgated by the Interstate Commerce Commission under 18 U.S.C. § 835.1 The Regulation provides:
Drivers of motor vehicles transporting any explosive, inflammable liquid, inflammable compressed
gas, or poisonous gas shall avoid, so far as practicable, and, where feasible, by prearrangement of routes, driving into or through congested thoroughfares, places where crowds are assembled, street car tracks, tunnels, viaducts, and dangerous crossings.2
The statute directs that "[w]hoever knowingly violates" the Regulation shall be subject to fine or imprisonment or both.3
The indictment, in counts 1, 3, and 5 charges that petitioner on three separate occasions sent one of its trucks carrying carbon bisulphide, a dangerous and inflammable liquid, through the Holland Tunnel, a congested thoroughfare. In each instance, the truck was en route from Cascade Mills, New York, to Brooklyn, New York. On the third of these trips, the load of carbon bisulphide exploded in the tunnel, and about sixty persons were injured. The indictment further states that
there were other available and more practicable routes for the transportation of said shipment, and . . . the [petitioner] well knew that the transportation of the shipment of carbon bisulphide . . . into the . . . Holland Tunnel was in violation of the regulations promulgated . . . by the Interstate Commerce Commission. . . .4
There is no allegation as to the feasibility of prearrangement of routes, and petitioner is not charged with any omission in that respect.
The District Court dismissed those counts of the indictment which were based upon the Regulation in question,
holding it to be invalid on the ground that the words "so far as practicable and where feasible" are "so vague and indefinite as to make the standard of guilt conjectural." 90 F.Supp. 996, 998. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the Regulation, interpreted in conjunction with the statute, establishes a reasonably certain standard of conduct. 188 F.2d 889. We granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 846.
A criminal statute must be sufficiently definite to give notice of the required conduct to one who would avoid its penalties, and to guide the judge in its application and the lawyer in defending one charged with its violation.5 But few words possess the precision of mathematical [72 S.Ct. 331] symbols, most statutes must deal with untold and unforeseen variations in factual situations, and the practical necessities of discharging the business of government inevitably limit the specificity with which legislators can spell out prohibitions. Consequently, no more than a reasonable degree of certainty can be demanded. Nor is it unfair to require that one who deliberately goes perilously close to an area of proscribed conduct shall take the risk that he may cross the line.6
In Sproles v. Binford, 286 U.S. 374 (1932), these principles were applied in upholding words in a criminal statute similar to those now before us. Chief Justice Hughes, speaking for a unanimous court, there said:
"Shortest practicable route" is not an expression too vague to be understood. The requirement of reasonable certainty does not preclude the use of ordinary terms to express ideas which find adequate interpretation in common usage and understanding. . . .
The use of common experience as a glossary is necessary to meet the practical demands of legislation.7
The Regulation challenged here is the product of a long history of regulation of the transportation of explosives and inflammables. Congress recognized the need for protecting the public against the hazards involved in transporting explosives as early as 1866.8 The inadequacy of the legislation then enacted led to the passage, in 1908, of the Transportation of Explosives Act,9 which was later extended to cover inflammables.10 In accordance with that Act, the Commission, in the same year, issued regulations applicable to railroads. In 1934, the Commission exercised its authority under the Act to promulgate regulations governing moor trucks, including the Regulation here in question.11 In 1940, this Regulation was amended to substantially its present terminology.12 That terminology was adopted only after more than three years of study and a number of drafts. The trucking industry
participated extensively in this process, making suggestions relating to drafts submitted to carriers and their organizations, and taking part in several hearings. The Regulation's history indicates the careful consideration which was given to the difficulties involved in framing a regulation which would deal practically with this aspect of the problem presented by the necessary transportation of dangerous explosives on the highways.13
The statute punishes only those who knowingly violate the Regulation. This requirement of the presence of [72 S.Ct. 332] culpable intent as a necessary element of the offense does much to destroy any force in the argument that application of the Regulation would be so unfair that it must be held invalid.14 That is evident from a consideration of the effect of the requirement in this case. To sustain a conviction, the Government not only must prove that petitioner could have taken another route which was both commercially practicable and appreciably safer (in its avoidance of crowded thoroughfares, etc.) than the one it did follow. It must also be shown that petitioner knew that there was such a practicable, safer route, and yet deliberately took the more dangerous route through the tunnel, or that petitioner willfully neglected to exercise its duty under the Regulation to inquire into the availability of such an...
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