397 U.S. 112 (1970), 441, Toussie v. United States

Docket NºNo. 441
Citation397 U.S. 112, 90 S.Ct. 858, 25 L.Ed.2d 156
Party NameToussie v. United States
Case DateMarch 02, 1970
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 112

397 U.S. 112 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 858, 25 L.Ed.2d 156

Toussie

v.

United States

No. 441

United States Supreme Court

March 2, 1970

Argued January 14, 1970

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, who was required to register for the draft between June 23 (his 18th birthday) and June 28, 1959, in accordance with a presidential proclamation issued pursuant to § 3 of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, did not register at. any time. Section 3 make it

the duty of every male citizen . . . who, on the day or days fixed for the first or any subsequent registration, is between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, to present himself for and submit to registration

at the time and place and in such manner "as shall be determined by proclamation of the President and by rules and regulations prescribed thereunder." Petitioner was indicted in May, 1967, for failing to register, and was convicted. The District Court held that the Act imposes a continuing duty to register which lasts until age 26, and thus the prosecution was not barred by the five-year statute of limitations in 18 U.S.C. § 3282. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The offense is not a continuing one, but was committed by petitioner's failure to register in 1959, when the statute of limitations began to run. P. 114-124.

410 F.2d 1156, reversed.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Robert Toussie was convicted, after a jury trial, of failing to register for the draft. His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, 410 F.2d 1156

Page 113

(C.A.2d Cir.), and we granted certiorari, 396 U.S. 875 (1969). For the reasons hereafter set forth, we conclude that this prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, and therefore reverse the conviction.

Section 3 of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, 65 Stat. 76, provides that:

Except as otherwise provided in this title, it shall be the duty of every male citizen . . . who, on the day or days fixed for the first or any subsequent registration, is between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, to present himself for and submit to registration at such time or times and place or places, and in such manner, as shall be determined by proclamation of the President and by rules and regulations prescribed hereunder.1

The applicable presidential proclamation provides that

[p]ersons who were born on or after September 19, 1930, shall be registered on the day they attain the eighteenth anniversary of the day of their birth, or within five days thereafter.2

Since Toussie, an American citizen, was born on June 23, 1941, he was required to register sometime between June 23 and June 28, 1959. He did not do so during that period or at any time thereafter. On May 3, 1967, he was indicted for failing to register, and that indictment led to the conviction under review.

Page 114

Before trial Toussie moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, which provides that,

[e]xcept as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense, not capital, unless the indictment is found . . . within five years next after such offense shall have been committed.

18 U.S.C. § 3282. Since there is no express provision to the contrary in the Draft Act, Toussie argued that his crime was complete in 1959, and it could not be the subject of a prosecution based on an indictment returned in 1967 -- eight years thereafter. The Government agreed that the crime was complete in 1959, but argued that it continued to be committed each day that Toussie did not register. The District Court held that the Act imposes a continuing duty to register which lasts until age 26, and that prosecution for failing to perform that duty before the man becomes 26 is timely if the indictment is returned before the defendant becomes 31 years old -- in this case, any time prior to June 23, 1972. 280 F.Supp. 473, 474 (D.C.E.D.N.Y.1967). The Court of Appeals agreed. 410 F.2d at 1157-1158. If the offense is a continuing one, the prosecution was timely, but, if not, the District Court erred in not dismissing the indictment.

In deciding when the statute of limitations begins to run in a given case, several considerations guide our decision. The purpose of a statute of limitations is to limit exposure to criminal prosecution to a certain fixed period of time following the occurrence of those acts the legislature has decided to punish by criminal sanctions. Such a limitation is designed to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time, and to minimize the danger of official punishment

Page 115

because of acts in the far-distant past. Such a time limit may also have the salutary effect of encouraging law enforcement officials promptly to investigate suspected criminal activity. For these reasons and others, we have stated before

the principle that criminal limitations statutes are "to be liberally interpreted in favor of repose," United States v. Scharton, 285 U.S. 518, 522 (1932).

United States v. Habig, 390 U.S. 222, 227 (1968). We have also said that "[s]tatutes of limitations normally begin to run when the crime is complete." Pendergast v. United States, 317 U.S. 412, 418 (1943); see United States v. Irvine, 98 U.S. 450, 452 (1879). And Congress has declared a policy that the statute of limitations should not be extended "[e]xcept as otherwise expressly provided by law." 18 U.S.C. § 3282. These principles indicate that the doctrine of continuing offenses should be applied in only limited circumstances, since, as the Court of Appeals correctly observed in this case,

[t]he tension between the purpose of a statute of limitations and the continuing offense doctrine is apparent; the latter, for all practical purposes, extends the statute beyond its stated term.

410 F.2d at 1158. These considerations do not mean that a particular offense should never be construed as a continuing one. They do, however, require that such a result should not be reached unless the explicit language of the substantive criminal statute compels such a conclusion, or the nature of the crime involved is such that Congress must assuredly have intended that it be treated as a continuing one.

The statute in this case provides that all young men, with certain exceptions, between the ages of 18 and 26 shall register "at such time or times and place or places" as the President may prescribe. The Government refers to a regulation promulgated under the Act which provides

Page 116

that

[t]he duty of every person subject to registration . . . shall continue at all times, and if for any reason any such person is not registered on he day or one of the days fixed for his registration, he shall immediately present himself for and submit to registration. . . .

32 CFR § 1611.7(c). It is urged that this regulation only makes explicit what Congress implicitly said in the Act itself, that is that registration is a duty that continues until age 26, and failure to register before then is a criminal offense that can be punished as late as five years after the 26th birthday.

The statute admittedly might be construed as the Government urges, but, in light of the history of the draft laws and the principle that continuing offenses are not to be too readily found, we do not feel this particular Act incorporates such a doctrine. The draft law of 1917 provided in § 5 that certain persons were subject to registration and that,

upon proclamation by the President . . . stating the time and place of such registration, it shall be the duty of all [such] persons . . . to present themselves for and submit to registration.

40 Stat. 80. Pursuant to that authority, the President proclaimed June 5, 1917, as the first registration day,3 and, on that day, approximately 10,000,000 young men were registered.4 There were no more general draft registrations until August 24, 1918, when the President required all those men who had become subject to registration since June 5, 1917, to come in and register.5 Later that year, Congress amended the statute, expanded the age group subject to registration,6 and provided that,

upon

Page 117

proclamation by the President . . . stating the time or times and place or places of . . . registration, it shall be the duty of all persons of the designated ages . . . to present themselves for and submit to registration. . . .

40 Stat. 955-956. Although this provision seemingly would have authorized registrations on different days, the President again issued a proclamation designating a single day, September 12, 1918, as registration day for all those so subject.7 That registration was the last under the World W&r I draft. It is thus clear that, throughout the administration of the first draft law, registration was thought of as a single, instantaneous act to be performed at a given time, and failure to register at that time was a completed criminal offense.

As events developed prior to what became World War II, Congress again decided to draft young men for service in the Armed Forces. In the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, it was provided that men subject to registration were to register

at such time or times and place or places, and in such manner and in such age group or groups, as shall be determined by rules and regulations prescribed hereunder.

54 Stat. 885. While this language would again have authorized registration on different days for different men, the first proclamation under the new Act set a uniform date, October 16, 1940, for the registration of all men.8 It was not until two years later that the President first issued a proclamation setting forth different dates for the...

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