Boyce Motor Lines v. United States, No. 167

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCLARK
Citation342 U.S. 337,96 L.Ed. 367,72 S.Ct. 329
Docket NumberNo. 167
Decision Date28 January 1952
PartiesBOYCE MOTOR LINES, Inc. v. UNITED STATES

342 U.S. 337
72 S.Ct. 329
96 L.Ed. 367
BOYCE MOTOR LINES, Inc.

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 167.
Argued Dec. 4, 1951.
Decided Jan. 28, 1952.

Page 338

Mr. Archie O. Dawson, New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. Robert W. Ginnane, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner is charged with the violation of a regulation promulgated by the Interstate Commerce Commission under 18 U.S.C. § 835, 18 U.S.C.A. § 835. 1 The Regulation provides: 'Drivers of motor vehicles transporting any explosive, inflammable liquid, inflammable compressed

Page 339

gas, or poisonous gas shall avoid, so far as practicable, and, where feasible, by prearrangement of routes, driving into or through congested thoroughfares, places where crowds are assembled, street car tracks, tunnels, viaducts, and dangerous crossings.' 2 The statute directs that '(w)hoever knowingly violates' the Regulation shall be subject to fine or imprisonment or both.3

The indictment, in counts 1, 3, and 5, charges that petitioner on three separate occasions sent one of its trucks carrying carbon bisulphide, a dangerous and inflammable liquid, through the Holland Tunnel, a congested thoroughfare. In each instance, the truck was en route from Cascade Mills, New York, to Brooklyn, New York. On the third of these trips the load of carbon bisulphide exploded in the tunnel and about sixty persons were injured. The indictment further states that 'there were other available and more practicable routes for the transportation of said shipment, and * * * the (petitioner) well knew that the transportation of the shipment of carbon bisulphide * * * into the * * * Holland Tunnel was in violation of the regulations promulgated * * * by the Interstate Commerce Commission. * * *'4 There is no allegation as to the feasibility of prearrangement of routes, and petitioner is not charged with any omission in that respect.

The District Court dismissed those counts of the indictment which were based upon the Regulation in ques-

Page 340

tion, holding it to be invalid on the ground that the words 'so far as practicable and where feasible' are 'so vague and indefinite as to make the standard of guilt conjectural.' 90 F.Supp. 996, 998. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the Regulation, interpreted in conjunction with the statute, establishes a reasonably certain standard of conduct. 3 Cir., 188 F.2d 889. We granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 846, 72 S.Ct. 75.

A criminal statute must be sufficiently definite to give notice of the required conduct to one who would avoid its penalties, and to guide the judge in its application and the lawyer in defending one charged with its violation. 5 But few words possess the precision of mathematical symbols, most statutes must deal with untold and unforeseen variations in factual situations, and the practical necessities of discharging the business of government inevitably limit the specificity with which legislators can spell out prohibitions. Consequently, no more than a reasonable degree of certainty can be demanded. Nor is it unfair to require that one who deliberately goes perilously close to an area of proscribed conduct shall take the risk that he may cross the line. 6

In Sproles v. Binford, 1932, 286 U.S. 374, 52 S.Ct. 581, 587, 76 L.Ed. 1167, these principles were applied in upholding words in a criminal statute similar to those now before us. Chief Justice Hughes, speaking for a unanimous court, there said: "Shortest practicable route' is not an expression too vague to be understood. The requirement of reasonable certainty does not preclude the use of ordinary terms to express ideas which find adequate interpretation in common usage and understand-

Page 341

ing.

* * * The use of common experience as a glossary is necessary to meet the practical demands of legislation.'7

The Regulation challenged here is the product of a long history of regulation of yhe transportation of explosives and inflammables. Congress recognized the need for protecting the public against the hazards involved in transporting explosives as early as 1866.8 The inadequacy of the legislation then enacted led to the passage, in 1908, of the Transportation of Explosives Act, 9 which was later extended to cover inflammables.10 In accordance with that Act, the Commission in the same year issued regulations applicable to railroads. In 1934 the Commission exercised its authority under the Act to promulgate regulations governing moor trucks, including the Regulation here in question.11 In 1940 this Regulation was amended to substantially its present terminology.12 That terminology was adopted only after more than three years of study and a number of drafts. The trucking industry

Page 342

participated extensively in this process, making suggestions relating to drafts submitted to carriers and their organizations, and taking part in several hearings. The Regulation's history indicates the careful consideration which was given to the difficulties involved in framing a regulation which would deal practically with this aspect of the problem presented by the necessary transportation of dangerous explosives on the highways.13

The statute punishes only those who knowingly violate the Regulation. This requirement of the presence of culpable intent as a necessary element of the offense does much to destroy any force in the argument that application of the Regulation would be so unfair that it must be held invalid.14 That is evident from a consideration of the effect of the requirement in this case. To sustain a conviction, the Government not only must prove that petitioner could have taken another route which was both commercially practicable and appreciably safer (in its avoidance of crowded thoroughfares, etc.) than the one it did follow. It must also be shown that petitioner knew that there was such a practicable, safer route and yet deliberately took the more dangerous route through the tunnel, or that petitioner willfully neglected to exercise its duty under the Regulation to inquire into the availability of such an alternative route.15

Page 343

In an effort to give point to its argument, petitioner asserts that there was no practicable route its trucks might have followed which did not pass through places they were required to avoid....

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740 practice notes
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register June 25, 2007
    • June 25, 2007
    ...and understanding'' are not the types of terms that have been held to be unconstitutionally vague (Boyce Motor Lines v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 342 (1952)). Some of these very terms have been in use for over 30 years in food CGMP No comments were submitted objecting to the use of such ......
  • Food for human consumption: Current good manufacturing practice— Dietary supplements; manufacturing, packaging, labeling, or holding operations,
    • United States
    • Federal Register June 25, 2007
    • June 25, 2007
    ...and understanding'' are not the types of terms that have been held to be unconstitutionally vague (Boyce Motor Lines v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 342 (1952)). Some of these very terms have been in use for over 30 years in food CGMP No comments were submitted objecting to the use of such ......
  • United States v. Smith, Case No. 13–CR–297 (KMK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 4, 2014
    ...a court views the indictment as a whole and assumes its factual allegations to be true.” (citing Boyce Motor Lines v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 343 n. 16, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952))); United States v. Finazzo, No. 10–CR–457, 2013 WL 619571, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2013) (“[I]n d......
  • U.S. v. Ho, No. 01-20460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 31, 2002
    ...17. Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184, 192, 118 S.Ct. 1939, 141 L.Ed.2d 197 (1998) (quoting Boyce Motor Lines Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 345, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952) (Jackson, J., dissenting)); see also United States v. Baytank (Houston), Inc., 934 F.2d 599, 613 (5th ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
736 cases
  • United States v. Smith, Case No. 13–CR–297 (KMK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 4, 2014
    ...a court views the indictment as a whole and assumes its factual allegations to be true.” (citing Boyce Motor Lines v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 343 n. 16, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952))); United States v. Finazzo, No. 10–CR–457, 2013 WL 619571, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2013) (“[I]n d......
  • U.S. v. Ho, No. 01-20460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 31, 2002
    ...17. Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184, 192, 118 S.Ct. 1939, 141 L.Ed.2d 197 (1998) (quoting Boyce Motor Lines Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 345, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952) (Jackson, J., dissenting)); see also United States v. Baytank (Houston), Inc., 934 F.2d 599, 613 (5th ......
  • Jerman v. CARLISLE, McNELLIE, RINI, KRAMER, No. 08-1200.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 13, 2010
    ...of a statute is factual knowledge as distinguished from knowledge of the law'") (quoting Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 345, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952) (Jackson, J., dissenting)); United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 559, 56......
  • Zenith Radio Corp. v. Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co., Ltd., Civ. A. No. 74-2451
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 4, 1975
    ...a statute, a court can demand "no more than a reasonable degree of certainty" from an Act of Congress. Boyce Motor Lines v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 340, 72 S. Ct. 329, 331, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952). "Nor is it unfair to require that one who deliberately goes perilously close to an area of p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • SECURITIES FRAUD
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...that application of the [statute]’ . . . is unjust [because the statute is vague].” (quoting Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 342 (1952))); Ernst & Ernst v. Hochfelder, 425 U.S. 185, 199 (1976) (holding that Rule 10b-5 does not proscribe negligent conduct); In re Zagg......

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