455 U.S. 642 (1982), 80-6680, McElroy v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 80-6680
Citation:455 U.S. 642, 102 S.Ct. 1332, 71 L.Ed.2d 522
Party Name:McElroy v. United States
Case Date:March 23, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 642

455 U.S. 642 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 1332, 71 L.Ed.2d 522

McElroy

v.

United States

No. 80-6680

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1982

Argued January 12, 1982

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted in Federal District Court of two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2314, which prohibits the transportation "in interstate or foreign commerce [of] any . . . forged . . . securities . . knowing the same to have been . . . forged." The proof at trial showed that blank checks had been stolen in Ohio, and that, several months later, petitioner used two of the checks, on which signatures had been forged, to pay for a car and for a boat and trailer purchased in separate transactions in Pennsylvania. The trial court instructed the jury that, in order to find petitioner guilty, it must find that he transported the checks in a forged condition in "interstate commerce," and that such transportation could take place entirely within Pennsylvania if it was a "continuation of the movement that began out of state." The court rejected petitioner's objection to the instruction on the asserted ground that, under § 2314, the Government had the burden of proving that the checks had been forged in Ohio before being transported across state lines to Pennsylvania. The Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's convictions.

Held: Section 2314 does not require proof that the securities were forged before being taken across state lines, and thus the trial court's jury instructions were correct. Pp. 647-659.

(a) Use of the past tense "forged" in § 2314 does not establish Congress' intent to prohibit only the transportation of securities that were forged before crossing state lines. Congress' use of the phrase "interstate commerce," rather than "state borders," as well as the legislative history of the phrase, shows that Congress intended it to be as broad in scope as this Court's decisions holding that interstate commerce begins well before state lines are crossed and ends only when movement of the item in question has ceased in the destination State. Moreover, § 2314's purpose of aiding the States in detection and punishment of criminals who evade state authorities by using channels of interstate commerce supports the conclusion that Congress could not have intended to require federal prosecutors to prove that the securities had been forged before crossing state lines. Pp. 648-656.

(b) The language of § 2314 does not raise significant questions of ambiguity sufficient to warrant application of the principle of lenity and construction

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in petitioner's favor. United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336 distinguished. Pp. 657-658.

644 F.2d 274, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 659.

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

`JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was convicted of two counts of transporting a forged security in interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2314. He challenges his conviction on the ground that the statute requires proof, concededly lacking at trial, that the securities had been forged before being taken across state lines. Because of a conflict among the Circuits on this issue of statutory construction, we granted certiorari. 454 U.S. 815 (1981). For the reasons stated below, we affirm the petitioner's conviction.

I

Petitioner Charles McElroy was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts. Counts 1 and 3 charged that, on two occasions, the petitioner transported in interstate commerce falsely made and forged securities from Ohio to Pennsylvania in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2314, the National Stolen Property Act.1 Count 2 charged McElroy with transporting

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a stolen car in interstate commerce from Pennsylvania to Ohio in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2312.2

According to the proof at trial, several blank checks3 were stolen from Local 126 of the Laborers' International Union in Youngstown, Ohio, in late March or early April, 1977. After the Union discovered the theft, it closed the account on which the checks were drawn. Seventeen months later, in October, 1978, the petitioner ordered a used Corvette from the Don Allen Chevrolet Agency in Pittsburgh, Pa., for $6,706. Using the name "William Jones," the petitioner told the salesman that he lived in Warrenville Heights, Ohio, but worked in the Pittsburgh area. The petitioner returned the next day and paid for the car with one of the stolen Union checks, on which a signature had been forged. After learning the following day from the drawee bank in Ohio that the account had been closed, the dealership made no effort to negotiate the check. This transaction formed the basis for count 1 (transportation of a forged check in interstate commerce) and count 2 (transportation of a stolen vehicle, the Corvette, in interstate commerce) of the indictment.

In December, 1978, the petitioner sought to purchase a boat and trailer from the Rini Marine Sales Co. in Beaver Falls, Pa. Adhering to his previously successful scheme, he used the fictitious name "William Jones" and gave an Ohio address for his residence. One week after his initial inquiry, he paid for a boat and trailer with one of the stolen Union checks, on

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which a signature had been forged. Too late, Philip Rini, the owner of Rini Marine Sales, became suspicious and telephoned the Youngstown, Ohio, bank only to learn that the check had been stolen and the signature forged. He, too, abandoned hope of negotiating the check, and turned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for help. Count 3 arose from this transaction.

At the conclusion of the Government's case, the petitioner moved for a judgment of acquittal on all three counts on the ground that the Government had not submitted sufficient evidence for the case to go to the jury. The petitioner contended that he was entitled to an acquittal on count 2 because the Government failed to submit any evidence showing that the petitioner had transported the Corvette from Pennsylvania to Ohio, and on counts 1 and 3 because the Government had not adduced any evidence showing that the petitioner had caused the stolen checks to be brought through interstate commerce into Pennsylvania. The trial court denied these motions.4

After the petitioner rested,5 the trial court instructed the jury that, in order to find the petitioner guilty on counts 1 and 3, it must find that he transported the check in a forged condition in "interstate commerce," and that such transportation could take place entirely within the State of Pennsylvania if it was a "continuation of the movement that began out of state." Tr. 164A.6 The petitioner unsuccessfully objected

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to this instruction, contending that, under § 2314, the Government had the burden of proving that the check was forged in Ohio before it was transported across the state line to Pennsylvania. Tr. 92A. The petitioner was convicted on all three counts, and sentenced to serve seven years on each of counts 1 and 3 and five years on count 2, the sentences on all three counts to run concurrently.

The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, vacated the judgment on count 2, holding that the Government had presented insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.7 644 F.2d 274 (CA3 1981) (en banc). The court affirmed the judgment on counts 1 and 3, however, holding that the Government had

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presented sufficient evidence to sustain the convictions, and that the trial judge correctly had instructed the jury that the Government need not prove that the stolen checks had been forged before crossing state lines.

It is immaterial whether the signatures were forged in Ohio or in Pennsylvania. If at any point in the interstate movement the check was in a forged condition, the statute was satisfied.

Id. at 279. All but one judge agreed with the majority's construction of the phrase "interstate commerce" as used in § 2314.8

II

The question presented by this case is one of statutory construction.9 The petitioner claims that the language and legislative history of [102 S.Ct. 1336] § 2314 demonstrate congressional intent to limit the reach of that provision to those persons who transport forged securities across state lines. As a fallback position, the petitioner contends that § 2314's use of the expression "interstate commerce" is sufficiently ambiguous to

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require this Court to apply the principle of lenity and construe the provision in the petitioner's favor.10

A

Petitioner bases his initial argument on Congress' use of the past tense "forged" in § 2314, from which he urges us to infer that Congress intended to prohibit only the transportation of securities that were forged before entering the stream of interstate commerce, that is, before crossing state lines. Fundamental to the petitioner's argument is the unarticulated assumption that "interstate commerce," as used in the section, does not continue after the security has crossed the state border. However, if subsequent movement of the check in the destination State constitutes interstate commerce, then a forgery of the check in the course of that movement involves transportation of a forged security in interstate commerce in violation of § 2314. Thus, the validity of the petitioner's argument turns on whether the statutory phrase "interstate commerce" comprehends movement of a forged security within the destination State.

The paragraph of § 2314 under which the petitioner was convicted prohibits the "transport[ation] in interstate or foreign commerce [of] any...

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