358 U.S. 415 (1959), 137, Heflin v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 137
Citation:358 U.S. 415, 79 S.Ct. 451, 3 L.Ed.2d 407
Party Name:Heflin v. United States
Case Date:February 24, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 415

358 U.S. 415 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 451, 3 L.Ed.2d 407

Heflin

v.

United States

No. 137

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1959

        Argued January 14-15, 1959

        CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

        FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

        Syllabus

        Petitioner was indicted and convicted on three counts charging violations of the Federal Bank Robbery Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2113, by taking property by force and violence and assaulting and jeopardizing the lives of several persons in the course of the taking, in violation of § 2113(d), receiving the stolen property, in violation of § 2113(c), and conspiring to violate the Act. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on the first of these counts, three years on the conspiracy count, and a year and a day on the count charging receipt of the stolen property, the three sentences to run consecutively. While still in custody under the admittedly valid 10-year sentence, he moved for correction of the sentence, claiming that he could not be lawfully convicted under both subsection (c) and (d) of § 2113 for feloniously receiving and feloniously taking the same property.

        Held:

        1. Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is available only to attack a sentence under which the prisoner is in custody, but relief was available to petitioner under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which authorizes the correction of an illegal sentence "at any time." Pp. 417-418.

        2. The separate sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(c) for receiving the stolen property was invalid, since that subsection was not designed to increase the punishment for one who robs a bank, but only to provide punishment for those who receive the loot from the robber. Prince v. United States, 352 U.S. 322. Pp. 419-420.

        251 F.2d 69, reversed.

Page 416

        DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

        MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

        Petitioner and two others were indicted and convicted under three counts charging violations of the Federal Bank Robbery Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2113. One count charged taking the property by force and violence, and assaulting and jeopardizing the lives of several persons in the course of the taking, in violation of § 2113(d).1 Another count charged that they did "receive, possess, conceal, store, and dispose" of the stolen money in violation of § 2113(c).2 A third count charged a conspiracy. The sentence imposed3 was 10 years on the first count mentioned above, 3 years on the conspiracy count to begin to run on expiration of the first, and 1 year and 1 day on the count charging receipt of the stolen property, this sentence to begin to run on expiration of the sentence on the conspiracy count.

        All these events took place before our decision in Prince v. United States, 352 U.S. 322. Shortly thereafter, petitioner instituted this proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255,4

Page 417

complaining that he could not be lawfully convicted under both subsections (c) and (d) of § 2113, i.e., of feloniously receiving and feloniously taking the same property. The District Court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 251 F.2d 69. We granted certiorari (357 U.S. 935) because of an apparent conflict between that decision and the Prince case.

       I. There is a preliminary question of jurisdiction. Petitioner is now in custody under the 10-year sentence, which admittedly is valid. Since he has not completed that sentence [79 S.Ct. 453] nor the consecutive conspiracy sentence, it is argued that relief by way of § 2255 may not be had.

        We reviewed in United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, the history of § 2255 and emphasized that its purpose was to minimize some of the difficulties involved in the use of habeas corpus. It is now argued that, when consecutive

Page 418

sentences are imposed, § 2255, no more than habeas corpus (McNally v. Hill, 293 U.S. 131, 138), can be used to question a sentence which the prisoner has not begun to serve. The Court is divided on that issue. Some think that, when § 2255 says "A motion for such relief may be made at any time," it means what it says. To them, the correction of sentence, if made, will affect "the right to be released," protected by § 2255, even though that right will not be immediately realized. A majority, however, are of the view, shared by several Courts of Appeals,5 that § 2255 is available only to attack a sentence under which a prisoner is in custody. Yet, in their view, relief under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure6 is available (at least where matters dehors the record are not involved), the only question here being whether the sentence imposed was illegal on its face.7

Page 419

        II. We held in Prince v. United States, supra, that the crime of entry into a bank with intent to rob was not intended by Congress to be a separate offense from the consummated robbery. We ruled that entering with intent to steal, which is "the heart of the crime," id. at 328, "merges into the completed crime if the robbery is consummated." Ibid. We gave the Act that construction because we resolve an ambiguity in favor of lenity when required to determine the intent of Congress in punishing multiple aspects of the same criminal act.

        Subsection (c) of § 2113, with which we are now primarily concerned, came into the law in 1940. The legislative history is meagre. The Senate Report (S.Rep.No.1801, 76th Cong., 3d Sess.) is captioned "Punishment for Receivers of Loot From Bank Robbers." The Report states,

This bill would add another subsection to further make it a crime, with less severe penalties (maximum $5,000 fine and 10 years imprisonment, or both) to willfully become a receiver or possessor of property taken in violation of the statute,

        p. 1. Similarly the House Report states,

Present law does not make it a separate substantive offense knowingly [79 S.Ct. 454] to receive or possess property stolen from a bank in violation of the Federal Bank Robbery Act, and this bill is designed to cover the omission.

        H.R.Rep.No.1668, 76th Cong., 3d Sess., p. 1.

        This clue to the purpose of Congress argues strongly against the position of the Government. From these Reports, it seems clear that subsection (c) was...

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