349 U.S. 81 (1955), 468, Bell v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 468
Citation:349 U.S. 81, 75 S.Ct. 620, 99 L.Ed. 905
Party Name:Bell v. United States
Case Date:May 09, 1955
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 81

349 U.S. 81 (1955)

75 S.Ct. 620, 99 L.Ed. 905



United States

No. 468

United States Supreme Court

May 9, 1955

Argued April 21, 1955




Petitioner was indicted and pleaded guilty on two counts for violation of the Mann Act, each count referring to a different woman. Petitioner had transported the two women on the same trip and in the same vehicle.

Held: Petitioner committed but a single offense, and was not subject to cumulative punishment under the two counts. Pp. 81-84.

(a) Congress has not made the simultaneous transportation of more than one woman in violation of the Mann Act clearly liable to cumulative punishment for each woman so transported. Pp. 82-83.

(b) Where Congress has not fixed the punishment for a federal offense clearly, doubt will be resolved against turning a single transaction into multiple offenses. Pp. 83-84.

213 F.2d 629, reversed.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Once more it becomes necessary to determine "What Congress has made the allowable unit of prosecution," United States v. Universal C.I.T. Credit Corp., 344 U.S. 218, 221, under a statute which does not explicitly give the answer. This recurring problem now arises under

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what is familiarly known as the Mann Act. The relevant provisions of the Act in its present form are:

Whoever knowingly transports in interstate or foreign commerce . . . any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose. . . .

Shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

§ 2 of the Act of June 25, 1910, 36 Stat. 825, 18 U.S.C. § 2421.

The facts need not detain us long. Petitioner pleaded guilty to violations laid in two counts, each referring to a different woman. Concededly, the petitioner transported the two women on the same trip and in the same vehicle. This was the basis of his claim that he committed only a single offense, and could not be subjected to cumulative punishment under the two counts. The District Court rejected this conception of the statute and sentenced the petitioner to consecutive terms of two years and six months on each of the two counts. On appeal from denial of a motion to correct the sentence, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court. "While the act of transportation was a single one," it ruled,

the unlawful purpose must of necessity have been selective and personal as to each of the women involved. . . . We therefore believe that two separate offenses were committed in this case.

213 F.2d 629, 630. This decision was in accord with decisions of other lower federal courts, but a contrary holding by the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Robinson v. United States, 143 F.2d 276, raised a square conflict for settlement by this [75 S.Ct. 622] Court. This led us to bring the case here. 348 U.S. 895.

The punishment appropriate for the diverse federal offenses is a matter for the discretion of Congress, subject only to constitutional limitations, more particularly the Eighth Amendment. Congress could no doubt...

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