Jordan v. De George

Citation341 U.S. 223,95 L.Ed. 886,71 S.Ct. 703
Decision Date07 May 1951
Docket NumberNo. 348,348
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

See 341 U.S. 956, 71 S.Ct. 1011.

Mr. John F. Davis, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Thomas F. Dolan, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents only one question: whether conspiracy to defraud the United States of taxes on distilled spirits is a 'crime involving moral turpitude' within the meaning of § 19(a) of the Immigration Act of 1917.1

Respondent, a native and citizen of Italy, has lived continuously in the United States since he entered this country in 1921.2 In 1937, respondent was indicted under 18 U.S.C. § 883 for conspiring with seven other defendants to violate twelve sections of the Internal Revenue Code. The indictment specifically charged him with possessing whiskey and alcohol 'with intent to sell it in fraud of law and evade the tax thereon.' He was further accused of removing and concealing liquor 'with intent to defraud the United States of the tax thereon.'4 After pleading guilty, respondent was sentenced to imprisonment in a federal penitentiary for a term of one year and one day.

Respondent served his sentence under this conviction, and was released from custody. Less than a year later, he returned to his former activities and in December 1939, he was indicted again with eight other defendants for violating the same federal statutes. He was charged with conspiring to 'unlawfully, knowingly, and willfully defraud the United States of tax on distilled spirits.'5 After being tried and found guilty in 1941, he was sentenced to imprisonment for two years.

While serving his sentence under this second conviction, deportation proceedings were commenced against the respondent under § 19(a) of the Immigration Act which provides:

'* * * any alien * * * who is hereafter sentenced more than once to such a term of imprisonment (one year or more) because of conviction in this country of any crime involving moral turpitude, committed at any time after entry * * * shall, upon the warrant of the Attorney General, be taken into custody and deported. * * *'6

After continued hearings and consideration of the case by the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization and by the Board of Immigration Appeals, respondent was ordered to be deported in January 1946, on the ground that he had twice been convicted and sentenced to terms of one year or more of crimes involving moral turpitude.7 Deportation was deferred from time to time at respondent's request until 1949, when the District Director of Immigration and Naturalization moved to execute the warrant of deportation.

Respondent then sought habeas corpus in the District Court, claiming that the deportation order was invalid because the crimes of which he had been convicted did not involve moral turpitude. The District Court held a hearing, and dismissed the petition. The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the District Court and ordered that the respondent be discharged. 1950, 183 F.2d 768. The Court of Appeals stated that 'crimes involving moral turpitude,' as those words were used in the Immigration Act, 'were intended to include only crimes of violence, or crimes which are commonly thought of as involving baseness, vileness or depravity. Such a classification does not include the crime of evading the payment of tax on liquor, nor of conspiring to evade that tax.' 183 F.2d at page 772. We granted certiorari to review the decision, 1950, 340 U.S. 890, 71 S.Ct. 207, as conflicting with decisions of the courts of appeals in other circuits.

This Court has interpreted the provision of the statute before us 'to authorize deportation only where an alien having committed a crime involving moral turpitude and having been convicted and sentenced, once again commits a crime of that nature and is convicted and sentenced for it.' Fong Haw Tan v. Phelan, 1948, 333 U.S. 6, 9—10, 68 S.Ct. 374, 375, 92 L.Ed. 433. Respondent has on two separate occasions been convicted of the same crime, conspiracy to defraud the United States of taxes on distilled spirits. Therefore, our inquiry in this case is narrowed to determining whether this particular offense involves moral turpitude. Whether or not certain other offenses involve moral turpitude is irrelevant and beside the point.

The term 'moral turpitude' has deep roots in the law. The presence of moral turpitude has been used as a test in a variety of situations, including legislation governing the disbarment of attorneys8 and the revocation of medical licenses.9 Moral turpitude also has found judicial employment as a criterion in disqualifying and impeaching witnesses,10 in determining the measure of contribution between joint tortfeasors,11 and in deciding whether certain language is slanderous.12

In deciding the case before the Court, we look to the manner in which the term 'moral turpitude' has been applied by judicial decision. Without exception, federal and state courts have held that a crime in which fraud is an ingredient involves moral turpitude. In the construction of the specific section of the Statute before us, a court of appeals has stated that fraud has ordinarily been the test to determine whether crimes not of the gravest character involve moral turpitude. United States ex rel. Berlandi v. Reimer, 2 Cir., 1940, 113 F.2d 429.

In every deportation case where fraud has been proved, federal courts have held that the crime in issue involved moral turpitude. This has been true in a variety of situ- ations involving fraudulent conduct: obtaining goods under fraudulent pretenses, Bermann v. Reimer, 2 Cir., 1941, 123 F.2d 331; conspiracy to defraud by deceit and falsehood, Mercer v. Lence, 10 Cir., 1938, 96 F.2d 122; forgery with intent to defraud, United States ex rel. Popoff v. Reimer, 2 Cir., 1935, 79 F.2d 513; using the mails to defraud, Ponzi v. Ward, D.C.1934, 7 F.Supp. 736; execution of chattel mortgage with intent to defraud, United States ex rel. Millard v. Tuttle, D.C.1930, 46 F.2d 342; concealing assets in bankruptcy, United States ex rel. Medich v. Burmaster, 8 Cir., 1928, 24 F.2d 57; issuing checks with intent to defraud, United States ex rel. Portada v. Day, D.C.1926, 16 F.2d 328. In the state courts, crimes involving fraud have universally been held to involve moral turpitude.13

Moreover, there have been two other decisions by courts of appeals prior to the decision now under review on the question of whether the particular offense before us in this case involves moral turpitude within the meaning of § 19(a) of the Immigration Act. In United States ex rel. Berlandi v. Reimer, 2 Cir., 1940, 113 F.2d 429, and Maita v. Haff, 9 Cir., 1940, 116 F.2d 337, courts of appeals specifically decided that the crime of conspiracy to violate the internal revenue laws by possessing and concealing distilled spirits with intent to defraud the United States of taxes involves moral turpitude. Furthermore, in Guarneri v. Kessler, 5 Cir., 1938, 98 F.2d 580, a court of appeals held that the crime of smuggling alcohol into the United States with intent to defraud the United States involves moral turpitude.

In view of these decisions, it can be concluded that fraud has consistently been regarded as such a contaminating component in any crime that American courts have, without exception, included such crimes within the scope of moral turpitude. It is therefore clear, under an unbroken course of judicial decisions, that the crime of conspiring to defraud the United States is a 'crime involving moral turpitude.'

But it has been suggested that the phrase 'crime involving moral turpitude' lacks sufficiently definite standards to justify this deportation proceeding and that the statute before us is therefore unconstitutional for vagueness. Under this view, no crime, however grave, could be regarded as falling within the meaning of the term 'moral turpitude.' The question of vagueness was not raised by the parties nor argued before this Court.

It is significant that the phrase has been part of the immigration laws for more than sixty years.14 As dis- cussed above, the phrase 'crime involving moral turpitude' has also been used for many years as a criterion in a variety of other statutes. No case has been decided holding that the phrase is vague, nor are we able to find any trace of judicial expression which hints that the phrase is so meaningless as to be a deprivation of due process.

Furthermore, this Court has itself construed the phrase 'crime involving moral turpitude.' In United States ex rel. Volpe v. Smith, Director of Immigration, 1933, 289 U.S. 422, 53 S.Ct. 665, 77 L.Ed. 1298, the Court interpreted the same section of the Immigration Statute now before us. There, an alien had been convicted of counterfeiting government obligations with intent to defraud, and one question of the case was whether the crime of counterfeiting involved moral turpitude. This question was raised by the parties and discussed in the briefs. The Court treated the question without hesitation, stating that the crime of counterfeiting obligations of the United States was 'plainly a crime involving moral turpitude.' 289 U.S. at page 423, 53 S.Ct. at page 666. (Emphasis supplied.)

The essential purpose of the 'void for vagueness' doctrine is to warn individuals of the criminal consequences of their conduct. Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, decided April 23, 1951; Screws v. United States, 1945, 325 U.S. 91, 103 104, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 1036, 89 L.Ed. 1495. This Court has repeatedly stated that criminal statutes which fail to give due notice that an act has been made criminal before it is done are unconstitutional deprivations of due process of law. Lanzetta v. State of New Jersey, 1939, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888; United States v. L. Cohen Grocery Co., 1921, 255 U.S. 81, 41 S.Ct. 298, 65...

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