390 U.S. 85 (1968), 236, Haynes v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 236
Citation:390 U.S. 85, 88 S.Ct. 722, 19 L.Ed.2d 923
Party Name:Haynes v. United States
Case Date:January 29, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 85

390 U.S. 85 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 722, 19 L.Ed.2d 923

Haynes

v.

United States

No. 236

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 29, 1968

Argued October 11, 1967

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner was charged by information with violating 26 U.S.C. § 5851 (part of the National Firearms Act, an interrelated statutory system for the taxation of certain classes of firearms used principally by persons engaged in unlawful activities) by knowingly possessing a defined firearm which had not been registered as required by 26 U.S.C. § 5841. Section 5841 obligates the possessor of a defined firearm to register the weapon, unless he made it or acquired it by transfer or importation, and the Act's requirements as to transfers, makings and importations "were complied with." Section 5851 declares unlawful the possession of such firearm which has "at any time" been transferred or made in violation of the Act, or which "has not been registered as required by section 5841." Additionally, § 5851 provides that "possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction, unless the defendant explains such possession to the satisfaction of the jury." Petitioner moved before trial to dismiss the charge, sufficiently asserting that § 5851 violated his privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The motion was denied, petitioner pleaded guilty, and his conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Held:

1. Congress, subject to constitutional limitations, has authority to regulate the manufacture, transfer, and possession of firearms, and may tax unlawful activities. Pp. 90, 98.

2. Petitioner's conviction under § 5851 for possession of an unregistered firearm is not properly distinguishable from a conviction under § 5841 for failure to register possession of a firearm, and both offenses must be deemed subject to any constitutional deficiencies arising under the Fifth Amendment from the obligation to register. Pp. 90-95.

3. A proper claim of the privilege against self-incrimination provides a full defense to prosecutions either for failure to register under § 5841 or for possession of an unregistered firearm under § 5851. Pp. 95-100.

4. Restrictions upon the use by federal and state authorities of information obtained as a consequence of the registration requirement,

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suggested by the Government, is not appropriate. Marchetti v. United States, ante, p. 39, and Grosso v. United States, ante, p. 62. Pp. 99-100.

5. Since any proceeding in the District Court upon a remand must inevitably result in the reversal of petitioner's conviction, it would be neither just nor appropriate to require such needless action, and accordingly the judgment is reversed. Pp. 100-101.

372 F.2d 651, reversed.

HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was charged by a three-count information filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas with violations of the National Firearms Act. 48 Stat. 1236. Two of the counts were subsequently dismissed upon motion of the United States Attorney. The remaining count averred that petitioner, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5851, knowingly possessed a firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. § 5848(1), which had not been registered with the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate, as required by 26 U.S.C. § 5841. Petitioner moved before trial to dismiss this count, evidently asserting that § 5851 violated his privilege against self-incrimination, as [88 S.Ct. 725] guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.1 The motion was denied, and petitioner thereupon

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entered a plea of guilty.2 The judgment of conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. 372 F.2d 651. We granted certiorari to examine the constitutionality under the Fifth Amendment of petitioner's conviction. 388 U.S. 908. For reasons which follow, we reverse.

I

Section 58513 forms part of the National Firearms Act, an interrelated statutory system for the taxation of certain classes of firearms. The Act's requirements are applicable only to shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long; rifles with barrels less than 16 inches long; other weapons, made from a rifle or shotgun, with an overall length of less than 26 inches; machine guns and other automatic firearms; mufflers and silencers, and other firearms, except pistols and revolvers, "if such weapon is capable of being concealed on the person. . . ." 26 U.S.C. 5848(1); Treas.Reg. § 179.20, 26 CFR § 179.20. These limitations were apparently intended to guarantee that only weapons used principally by persons engaged in unlawful activities would be subjected to taxation.4

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Importers, manufacturers, and dealers in such firearms are obliged each year to pay special occupational taxes, and to register with the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate. 26 U.S.C. §§ 5801, 5802. Separate taxes are imposed on the making and transfer of such firearms by persons other than those obliged to pay the occupational taxes. 26 U.S.C. §§ 5811, 5821. For purposes of these additional taxes, the acts of making and transferring firearms are broadly defined. Section 5821 thus imposes a tax on the making of a firearm "whether by manufacture, putting together, alteration, any combination thereof, or otherwise." Similarly, to transfer encompasses "to sell, assign, pledge, lease, loan, give away, or otherwise dispose of" a firearm. 26 U.S.C. § 5848(10).

[88 S.Ct. 726] All these taxes are supplemented by comprehensive requirements calculated to assure their collection. Any individual who wishes to make a weapon, within the meaning of § 5821(a), is obliged, "prior to such making," to declare his intention to the Secretary, and to provide to the Treasury his fingerprints and photograph. 26 U.S.C. § 5821(e); Treas.Reg. § 179.78. The declaration must be "supported by a certificate of the local chief of police . . . or such other person whose certificate may . . . be acceptable. . . ." Treas.Reg. § 179.78. The certificate must indicate satisfaction that the fingerprints and photograph are those of the declarant, and that the firearm is intended "for lawful purposes." Ibid. Any person who wishes to transfer such a weapon may lawfully do so only

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if he first obtains a written order from the prospective transferee on an "application form issued . . . for that purpose by the Secretary." 26 U.S.C. § 6814(a). The application, supported by a certificate of the local chief of police, and accompanied by the transferee's fingerprints and photograph, must be approved by the Secretary prior to the transfer. Treas.Reg. §§ 179.98, 179.99. Finally, every person possessing such a firearm is obliged to register his possession with the Secretary, unless he made the weapon, or acquired it by transfer or importation, and the Act's requirements as to transfers, makings, and importations "were complied with." 26 U.S.C. § 5841.5

Failure to comply with any of the Act's requirements is made punishable by fines and imprisonment. 26 U.S.C. § 5861. In addition, § 5851 creates a series of supplementary offenses; it declares unlawful the possession of any firearm which has "at any time" been transferred or made in violation of the Act's provisions, or which "has not been registered as required by section 5841." Finally, § 5851 provides that, in prosecutions conducted under that section,

possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction, unless the defendant explains such possession to the satisfaction of the jury.

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II

At the outset, it must be emphasized that the issue in this case is not whether Congress has authority under the Constitution to regulate the manufacture, transfer, or possession of firearms; nor is it whether Congress may tax activities which are, wholly or in part, unlawful. Rather, we are required to resolve only the narrow issue of whether enforcement of § 5851 against petitioner, despite his assertion of the privilege against self-incrimination, is constitutionally permissible. The questions necessary for decision are two: first, whether petitioner's conviction under § 5851 is meaningfully distinguishable from a conviction under § 5841 for failure to register possession of a firearm, and second, if it is not, whether satisfaction of petitioner's obligation to register under § 5841 would have compelled him to provide information incriminating to himself. If, as petitioner urges, his conviction under § 5851 is essentially indistinguishable from a conviction premised directly upon a failure to register under § 5841, and if a prosecution under § 5841 would have punished petitioner for his failure to [88 S.Ct. 727] incriminate himself, it would follow that a proper claim of privilege should have provided a full defense to this prosecution.6 To these questions we turn.

III

The first issue is whether the elements of the offense under § 5851 of possession of a firearm "which has not been registered as required by section 5841" differ in any significant respect from those of the offense under § 5841 of failure to register possession of a firearm. The United States contends that the two offenses, despite the similarity

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of their statutory descriptions, serve entirely different purposes, in that the registration clause of § 5851 is intended to punish acceptance of the possession of a firearm which, despite the requirements of § 5841, was never registered by any prior possessor, while § 5841 punishes only a present possessor who has failed to register the fact of his own possession. If this construction is correct, nothing in a prosecution under § 5851 would turn on whether the present...

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