348 U.S. 147 (1954), 52, Smith v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 52
Citation:348 U.S. 147, 75 S.Ct. 194, 99 L.Ed. 192
Party Name:Smith v. United States
Case Date:December 06, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 147

348 U.S. 147 (1954)

75 S.Ct. 194, 99 L.Ed. 192



United States

No. 52

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 6, 1954

Argued October 21-22, 1954




Petitioner was convicted under § 145 of the Internal Revenue Code of willful attempts to evade his income taxes for 1946 through 1949. In addition to the net worth method of proof considered in Holland v. United State, ante, p. 121, the Government relied on an extrajudicial written net worth statement signed by petitioner and delivered to government agents, plus independent evidence of petitioner's expenditures, savings, and investments. Petitioner contended (a) that his extrajudicial statement was not sufficiently corroborated by other evidence, and (b) that it should not have been admitted in evidence, because it was procured pursuant to an understanding with a government agent that the case would be closed and petitioner granted immunity. At a pretrial hearing, the trial judge denied a motion to suppress this statement as evidence. At the trial, he refused to hold a hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine preliminarily the admissibility of the statement, and he submitted the issue to the jury with instructions that they should reject the statement and all evidence obtained through it, if "trickery, fraud or deceit" were practiced on petitioner or his accountant.

Held: the conviction is affirmed. Pp. 149-159.

1. The issue of fraud or deceit on the part of the government agent was properly submitted to the jury, and the jury, in arriving at its general verdict, could have found from the conflicting evidence that no fraudulent inducements had been offered petitioner or his accountant. Pp. 150-151.

2. Denial of a voir dire during the trial, on the issue of fraud or deceit on the part of the government agent, did not deprive petitioner of any substantial right. The trial judge had already held a hearing on this issue in passing on the pretrial motion to suppress evidence, the only evidence offered in seeking a voir dire during the trial was that which had been heard in the pretrial hearing, and that evidence was narrated again to judge and jury after the voir dire had been denied. P. 151.

3. There was sufficient independent evidence to corroborate petitioner's extrajudicial admission that he did not have sufficient assets

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at the beginning of the computation period to account for the increases in net worth attributed to him. Pp. 151-159.

(a) The requirement of corroboration of extrajudicial confessions is applicable to the crime of tax evasion. Pp. 153-154.

(b) The rule requiring corroboration of extrajudicial confessions is applicable to the statement involved in this case, which, though not a confession admitting all of the elements of the offense, was made after the fact to an official charged with investigating the possibility of wrongdoing, and which embraced an element vital to the Government's case. Pp. 154-156.

(c) Corroboration is necessary for all elements of the offense established by admissions alone, but it is sufficient if the corroboration merely fortifies the truth of the admission, without independently establishing the crime charged. P. 156.

(d) All elements of the offense must be established by independent evidence or corroborated admissions, but one available mode of corroboration is for the independent evidence to bolster the confession itself, and thereby prove the offense through the statements of the accused. P. 156.

(e) The Government may provide the necessary corroboration by introducing substantial evidence, apart from the taxpayer's admissions, tending to show that he willfully understated his taxable income. P. 157.

(f) This may be accomplished by substantiating the opening net worth computation directly, since that figure, together with the remainder of the net worth computation, amply establishes a consistent understatement by petitioner of his taxable income; and from this the jury could infer willfulness. P. 157.

(g) In this case, petitioner's tax returns adequately corroborated his extrajudicial statements as to his financial history, and the two together corroborated the Government's computation of his net worth. Pp. 157-158.

(h) Petitioner's extrajudicial statements were further corroborated by independent evidence showing substantial expenditures, savings, and investments during the period involved. Pp. 158-159.

210 F.2d 496 affirmed.

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CLARK, J., lead opinion

[75 S.Ct. 195] MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is the third of the net worth cases, and the first dealing with the Government's use of extrajudicial statements made by the accused. Petitioner and his wife were jointly tried on five counts charging them with willful attempts to evade and defeat their income taxes for the years 1946 through 1950. A motion for acquittal was granted as to the wife on all five counts, and as to petitioner on the fifth count (for the year 1950). The jury found petitioner guilty on the first four counts, and the conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. 210 F.2d 496. We granted certiorari in order to pass on the issues raised by the prosecution's use of defendant's extrajudicial statements. 347 U.S. 1010.

The Government's theory was that the increases in the net worth of petitioner and his wife exceeded their reported income for each of the prosecution years, and that these increments represented taxable income. The evidence tended to show that petitioner and his wife were persons of moderate means prior to 1945, and that, toward the end of that year, petitioner acquired a racing news service. In the four succeeding years, the prosecution years here in issue, petitioner and his wife acquired a large amount of visible wealth in the form of bank accounts, real estate, securities, and other assets. The evidence, taken as a whole, [75 S.Ct. 196] tended to prove that petitioner and his wife had understated their income for the four-year period of by over $190,000.

The issues in this case stem from a statement signed by the petitioner and delivered to the Government agents

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along with a check, the latter supposedly representing the amount of tax he thought due and owing.1 The statement, a...

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