568 F.2d 445 (5th Cir. 1978), 77-5226, United States v. Chatham

Docket Nº77-5226.
Citation568 F.2d 445
Party NameUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Albert Butler CHATHAM, Defendant-Appellant.
Case DateFebruary 27, 1978
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 445

568 F.2d 445 (5th Cir. 1978)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Albert Butler CHATHAM, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 77-5226.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

February 27, 1978

Page 446

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Tom Allen, Atlanta, Ga., for defendant-appellant.

Wm. L. Harper, U. S. Atty., Jerome J. Froelich, Jr., Asst. U. S. Atty., Atlanta, Ga., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before BROWN, Chief Judge, and THORNBERRY and MORGAN, Circuit Judges.

THORNBERRY, Circuit Judge:

This is a Dyer Act case. 1 The defendant, Albert Butler Chatham, in the words of his attorney, is a spoiled rich kid with a mania for automobiles. This mania particularly for the Mercedes Benz 450 SL resulted in his conviction for knowingly transporting a stolen automobile in interstate commerce.

Chatham, the profligate son of a wealthy manufacturer, is the beneficiary of several trusts established in the Wachovia Bank and Trust Company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The trusts are discretionary, meaning that Chatham has no right to the money unless the trustees approve its disbursement. The corpus of the trusts amounts to something less than $300,000, and without invasion of the principal, produces approximately $14,000 annually, after taxes. Unfortunately, Chatham has not been able to live within his means.

In July 1974, Chatham purchased a 450 SL Mercedes Benz from RBM Motors in Atlanta, Georgia. Finding this vehicle to be less than satisfactory, he purchased a second 450 SL from RBM in March 1975 with a check that was not backed by sufficient funds. Subsequently, his trustees decided to honor the check and invaded the principal of the trust for the $17,000 purchase price. Chatham's trust officer, Ms. Holtzclaw, also informed him that the trustees would pay for no more cars.

Several months later, in July 1975, Chatham again experienced overdraft difficulties, and Ms. Holtzclaw told the defendant that something had to be done about the problem. She testified that Chatham agreed to close the checking account and solemnly promised not to draw any more checks on the Wachovia Bank.

Nevertheless, Chatham issued a multitude of worthless checks. Among those was a check to RBM for a third Mercedes Benz 450 SL. This time Chatham's father came to the rescue, paying off the debt for this car along with approximately $50,000 in other debts in October 1975.

A month later, the defendant found himself in Denver, Colorado. He made a long distance call to RBM Motors and arranged to purchase a fourth Mercedes Benz 450 SL. Chatham then flew to Atlanta and took delivery on November 8, 1975. He gave RBM two worthless post-dated checks and additionally agreed to pay the purchase price by January 6, 1976. RBM retained the title to the car. 2

Chatham drove the Mercedes to Colorado and ten days later, after representing that he owned the car free of encumbrances, entered into a contract with Thoroughbred Car Company of Colorado Springs to exchange his Mercedes Benz 450 SL for a Chevrolet Blazer and $7,055.45 cash. Thoroughbred Motors advanced Chatham $2,000 immediately and was to pay him the remaining $5,000 on receipt of the title for the Mercedes. Of course, he did not own the Mercedes, the title was never delivered to Thoroughbred Motors, and the defendant never returned for the $5,000.

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Chatham, not lacking gall, and RBM, not lacking gullibility, entered into a contract for a fifth Mercedes Benz 450 SL on February 5, 1976. This time the defendant gave RBM a check for $38,495 to cover the fourth and fifth cars. It was also worthless.

A federal grand jury indicted Chatham for violating the Dyer Act on January 5, 1977. The indictment charged that the defendant transported a 1975 Mercedes Benz 450 SL (number four) from Atlanta, Georgia, to Denver, Colorado, knowing it to be stolen. After a jury trial, Chatham was convicted and he takes this appeal.


The defendant's first argument is that the district court erred in refusing to grant his motion for acquittal. Chatham contends that under Murphy v. United States, 206 F.2d 571 (5 Cir. 1953), a conviction under the Dyer Act cannot be sustained if the automobile was obtained in a lawful manner. 3 In Murphy we held that "stolen" as used in the Dyer Act required common law larceny as a basis for conviction. 4 Murphy is no longer the law. In United States v. Turley, 352 U.S. 407, 77 S.Ct. 397, 1 L.Ed.2d 430 (1957), the Supreme Court disagreed with our narrow reading of the word "stolen":

A typical example of common-law larceny is the taking of an unattended automobile. But an automobile is no less "stolen" because it is rented, transported interstate, and sold without the permission of the owner (embezzlement). The same is true where an automobile is purchased with a worthless check, transported interstate, and sold (false pretenses). . . .

We conclude that the Act requires an interpretation of "stolen" which does not limit it to situations which at common law would be considered larceny. . . . "Stolen" . . . includes all felonious takings of motor vehicles with intent to deprive the owner of the rights and benefits of ownership, regardless of whether or not the theft constitutes common-law larceny.

In Dennison v. United States, 385 F.2d 905 (5 Cir. 1967), the Fifth Circuit recognized the effect of Turley on Murphy :

(Turley ) in effect overruled the narrow construction which this court and others had previously given the statute by construing it to require common law larceny as a basis for conviction.

Id. at 906.

In view of Turley, this court and other courts have consistently held that the test to be applied in Dyer Act cases is whether the defendant deprived the real owner of

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the beneficial effects of ownership. 5 The common law difference between theft by false pretenses and larceny by trick has presented no problem in sustaining convictions under the Dyer Act. Courts have consistently upheld convictions under the Dyer Act in which the defendant gave the owner a worthless check and the jury found that it was the intention of the issuer to deprive the owner of his beneficial rights of ownership. Bridges v. United States, 427 F.2d 544 (9 Cir. 1970); United States v. Gunter, 393 F.2d 511 (7 Cir. 1968) (This case erroneously labels the offense theft by false pretenses, since title was not given to the defendant, the crime, properly was larceny by trick.); Love v. United States, 386 F.2d 260 (8 Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 985, 88 S.Ct. 1111, 19 L.Ed.2d 1286 (1968); Dennison v. United States, 385 F.2d 905 (5 Cir. 1967); Landwehr v. United States, 304 F.2d 217 (8 Cir. 1962). The defendant's reliance on Murphy is clearly without merit.


In his next point of error, Chatham contends that the trial judge excluded testimony relevant to his defense and improperly commented on his defense. Under the Dyer Act, a defendant must have had the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the...

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