Bozza v. United States

Decision Date17 February 1947
Docket NumberNo. 190,190
Citation330 U.S. 160,91 L.Ed. 818,67 S.Ct. 645
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 160-162 intentionally omitted] Mr. W. Marvin Smith, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Harold Simandl, of Newark, N.J., for petitioner.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner and one Chirichillo were convicted in a Federal District Court on all counts of a five-count indictment against them which charged violation of the Internal Revenue laws in connection with the operation of a still. The Court of Appeals reversed petitioner's conviction on counts four and five because of insufficient evidence, but affirmed as to counts one, two, and three. 3 Cir., 155 F.2d 592. We granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 698, 67 S.Ct. 58. Count one charged that the defendants had carried on 'the business of a distiller * * * with intent willfully to defraud the * * * United States of the tax on * * * spirits so distilled * * *' in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 2833(a), 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 2833(a). Count two charged them with having had possession and custody of the still in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 2810(a), 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 2810(a). Count three charged that they had made and fermented mash for the production of alcohol in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 2834, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 2834. It is argued that the evidence was insufficient to support any of the three counts here at issue. The Government concedes its insufficiency as to counts two and three.

There was testimony to show the following: Chirichillo rented a farmhouse under an assumed name and installed a 300-gallon still with all equipment necessary to ferment mash and distill alcohol. The still was operated day and night. Chirichillo himself mixed the ingredients to make the mash in the attic of the 2 1/2-story frame building, but the alcohol distillation was carried on in another part of the building. Petitioner was at the house two or three times a week. When there he took instructions from Chirichillo and helped him in the operation of the still; he helped manufacture the alcohol. When Chirichillo carried his products to Newark, the car in which he carried the illicitly distilled alcohol would follow along behind another car—sometimes petitioner's, sometimes another helper's. The farmhouse where the illicit business was carried on appeared from the outside to be deserted; the windows were without shades and the house had been practically stripped of furniture.

We accept the Government's concession that the evidence fails to show that this petitioner had made, or helped to make, the mash as charged in count three. All of the evidence showed that Chirichillo alone handled and mixed the ingredients of the mash, and there is nothing whatever to indicate that the petitioner ever took any part in, or aided and abetted, this particular part of the unlawful process in any manner, or, indeed, that he was ever in or around the attic where the mash was made from ingredients stored there. The Internal Revenue statutes have broken down the various steps and phases of a continuous illicit distilling business and made each of them a separate offense. Thus, these statutes have clearly carved out the conduct of making mash as a separate offense, thereby distinguishing it from the other offenses involving other steps and phases of the distilling business. Consequently, testimony to prove this separate offense of making mash must point directly to conduct within the narrow margins which the statute alone d fines. One who neither engages in the conduct specifically prohibited, nor aids and abets it, does not violate the section which prohibits it.

The sufficiency of the evidence as to count two which charged that the petitioner had custody or possession of the still is a closer question. It might be possible that petitioner's helping to make the alcohol aided and abetted in its 'custody or possession.' But that would be a very strained inference under any circumstances. Here again the statutes treat custody or possession as a wholly distinct offense. Yet there was no testimony that the petitioner ever exercised, or aided the exercise of, any control over the distillery. His participation in carrying the finished product by car does not fit the category of 'custody and possession' so nearly as it resembles the transportation of illegal liquor, 26 U.S.C. § 2803, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 2803—an offense which the Circuit Court of Appeals has found the evidence insufficient to prove. Nor was there any testimony that the petitioner acted in any other capacity calculated to facilitate the custody or possession, such as, for illustration, service as a caretaker, watchman, lookout, or in some other similar capacity. Under these circumstances, we accept the Government's concession that a judgment of guilty should not have been rendered on the second count.

We think there was adequate evidence to support a finding of guilt on the first count which charged operation of the business of distilling to defraud the Government of taxes. There was certainly ample evidence to show that Chirichillo carried on the business of a distiller and that the petitioner helped him to do it. 18 U.S.C. § 550, 18 U.S.C.A. § 550, provides that one who aids and abets another to commit a crime is guilty as a principal. Consequently, the jury had a right to find, as it did, that the petitioner and Chirichillo were equally guilty of operating the business of the distillery. See United States v. Johnson, 319 U.S. 503, 515, 518, 63 S.Ct. 1233, 1239, 1240, 87 L.Ed. 1546.

But, it is argued, there was no evidence that the petitioner acted with knowledge that the distillery business was carried on with an intent to defraud the Government of its taxes. The same evidence as to knowledge of this guilty purpose, however, that applied to Chirichillo was almost, if not quite, equally persuasive against both defendants. Petitioner assisted in the manufacture of alcohol in Chirichillo's still which was operated under con- ditions of secretiveness in an apparently abandoned farmhouse. The finished alcohol was carried to Newark in a car which followed another car, sometimes the petitioner's. The members of the jury could properly draw on their own experience and observations that lawful stills, unlike the still in which petitioner worked, usually are not operated clandestinely and do not deliver their products in the fashion employed here. The members of the jury were not precluded from drawing inferences as to fraudulent purposes from these circumstances, nor were they compelled to believe that this petitioner was oblivious of the purposes of what went on around him. Men in the jury box, like men on the street, can conclude that a person who actively helps to operate a secret distillery knows that he is helping to violate Government revenue laws. That is a well known object of an illicit distillery. Doubtless few who ever worked in such a place, or even heard about one, would fail to understand the cry: 'The Revenuers are coming!' We hold that the verdict of guilty on the first count must stand.

The only statute for violation of which petitioner's conviction is sustained by us carries a minimum mandatory sentence of fine of one hundred dollars and imprisonment, 26 U.S.C. § 2833(a), 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 2833(a). In announcing sentence at a morning session, the trial judge mentioned imprisonment only. Thereafter the petitioner was taken briefly to the U.S. Marshal's office and then to a local federal detention jail awaiting transportation to the penitentiary where he was finally to be confined. But about five hours after the sentence was announced, the judge recalled the petitioner and according to stipulation, stated in the presence of petitioner and his counsel that 'in the imposition of sentence this morning * * * it has been called to my attention that there are certain mandatory fines and penalties which I omitted to impose. For the record now minimum mandatory fines and penalties will be imposed.' Thus a one hundred dollar fine was fixed as required by law, along with the imprisonment sentence. Petitioner charges that this action constituted double jeopardy forbidden by the Federal Constitution.

It is well established that a sentence which does not comply with the letter of the criminal statute which authorizes it is so erroneous that it may be set aside on appeal, Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 168, 169, 8 Otto 145, 168, 169, 25 L.Ed. 244; Murphy v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 177 U.S. 155, 157, 20 S.Ct. 639, 640, 44 L.Ed. 711, or in habeas corpus proceedings. In re Bonner, 151 U.S. 242, 14 S.Ct. 323, 38 L.Ed. 149. But in those cases it was recognized that an excessive sentence should be corrected,...

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