352 U.S. 322 (1957), 132, Prince v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 132
Citation:352 U.S. 322, 77 S.Ct. 403, 1 L.Ed.2d 370
Party Name:Prince v. United States
Case Date:February 25, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 322

352 U.S. 322 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 403, 1 L.Ed.2d 370



United States

No. 132

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 25, 1957

Argued December 11, 1956




Petitioner was convicted under the Federal Bank Robbery Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2113, on a two-count indictment charging (1) robbery of a federally insured bank, and (2) entering the bank with intent to commit a felony. He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for the robbery and 15 years for the entering, the two sentences to run consecutively.

Held: the sentence was illegal, and he must be resentenced on the conviction on the robbery count only. Pp. 323-329.

(a) This interpretation of the language of the Act is uncontradicted by anything in the legislative history. Pp. 325-328.

(b) The obvious purpose of the 1937 amendment was to establish offenses less serious than robbery; there is no indication that Congress intended thereby to pyramid the authorized penalties. Pp. 327-328.

(c) The gravamen of the unlawful entry offense is the intent to commit a felony, and, when a robbery is consummated following an entry, this intent is merged into the robbery and there is only one crime. P. 328.

(d) When Congress made either robbery or an entry for that purpose a crime, it intended that the maximum prison term for robbery should remain at 20 years (or 25 years if aggravated by assault with a deadly weapon), but that, even if the culprit should fall short of accomplishing his purpose, he could be imprisoned similarly for entering with the felonious intent. P. 329.

(e) This conclusion is consistent with the policy of not attributing to Congress an intention to punish more severely than the language of its laws clearly imports in the light of pertinent legislative history. P. 329.

230 F.2d 568, reversed and remanded.

Page 323

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this case calls for interpretation of the Federal Bank Robbery Act. 18 U.S.C. § 2113.1 That statute creates and defines several crimes incidental to and related to thefts from banks organized or insured under federal laws. Included are bank robbery and entering a bank with intent to commit a robbery.2

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We must decide here whether unlawful entry and robbery are two offenses consecutively punishable in a typical bank robbery situation.

Petitioner entered the Malone State Bank, in Malone, Texas, through an open door and during regular banking hours. He asked for and received certain directions. Thereupon he displayed a revolver, intimidating a bank employee and putting his life in jeopardy, and thus consummated a robbery. A grand jury returned a two-count indictment against him. The first charged the robbery offense; the second, entering the bank with the intent to commit a felony. Petitioner was convicted on both counts, and the district judge sentenced him to 20 years for robbery and 15 years for entering. The sentences were directed to be served consecutively. Some years thereafter, petitioner filed a "Motion to Vacate or Correct Illegal Sentence." The District Court, treating it as a proceeding under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, denied relief without conducting a hearing. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. 230 F.2d 568.

[77 S.Ct. 405] Whether the crime of entering a bank with intent to commit a robbery is merged with the crime of robbery when the latter is consummated has puzzled the courts for several years. A conflict has arisen between the circuits.3 We granted certiorari because of the recurrence

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of the question and to resolve the conflict. 351 U.S. 962. In addition to the Court of Appeals cases on the precise question, both petitioner and the Government cite as analogous other cases that involved fragmentation of crimes for purposes of punishment.4 None of these is particularly helpful to us, because we are dealing with a unique statute of limited purpose and an inconclusive legislative history. It can and should be differentiated from similar problems in this general filed raised under other statutes. The question of interpretation is a narrow one, and our decision should be correspondingly narrow.

The original Bank Robbery Act was passed in 1934. 48 Stat. 783. It covered only robbery, robbery accompanied by an aggravated assault, and homicide perpetrated in committing a robbery or escaping thereafter. In 1937, the Attorney General requested that the Act be amended. In his letter proposing the bill, the Attorney General declared that

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"incongruous results" had developed under the existing law. He cited as a striking instance the case of

. . . a man [who] was arrested in a national bank while...

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