Spies v. United States, No. 278

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJACKSON
Citation63 S.Ct. 364,87 L.Ed. 418,317 U.S. 492
Docket NumberNo. 278
Decision Date11 January 1943
PartiesSPIES v. UNITED STATES

317 U.S. 492
63 S.Ct. 364
87 L.Ed. 418
SPIES

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 278.
Argued Dec. 18, 1942.
Decided Jan. 11, 1943.

Mr. David V. Cahill, of New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. Samuel O. Clark, Asst. Atty. Gen., for respondent.

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner has been convicted of attempting to defeat and evade income tax in violation of § 145(b) of the Revenue Act of 1936, 49 Stat. 1648, 1703, now § 145(b) of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code § 145(b). The Circuit Court of Appeals found the assignment of error directed to the charge to the jury the only one of importance enough to notice. The charge followed the interpretation put upon this section of the statute in O'Brien v. United States, 7 Cir., 51 F.2d 193, and United States v. Miro, 2 Cir., 60 F.2d 58,

Page 493

which followed it. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that 'we must continue so to construe the section until the Supreme Court decided otherwise.' 128 F.2d 743. One Judge said that as a new matter he would decide otherwise and expressed approval of the dissent in the O'Brien case. As the construction of the section raises an important question of federal law not passed on by this Court, we granted certiorari. 317 U.S. 610, 63 S.Ct. 56, 87 L.Ed. —-.

Petitioner admitted at the opening of the trial that he had sufficient income during the year in question to place him under a statutory duty to file a return and to pay a tax, and that he failed to do either. The evidence during nearly two weeks of trial was directed principally toward establishing the exact amount of the tax and the manner of receiving and handling income and accounting, which the Government contends shows an intent to evade and defeat tax. Petitioner's testimony related to his good character, his physical illness at the time the return became due, and lack of willfulness in his defaults, chiefly because of a psychological disturbance, amounting to something more than worry but something less than insanity.

Section 145(a) makes, among other things, willful failure to pay a tax or make a return by one having petitioner's income at the time or times required by law a misdemeanor.1 Section 145(b) makes a willful attempt in any

Page 494

manner to evade or defeat any tax such as his a felony.2 Petitioner was not indicted for either misdemeanor. The indictment contained a single count setting forth the felony charge of willfully attempting to defeat and evade the tax, and recited willful failure to file a return and willful failure to pay the tax as the means to the felonious end.

The petitioner requested an instruction that 'You may not find the defendant guilty of a willful attempt to defeat and evade the income tax, if you find only that he had willfully failed to make a return of taxable income and has willfully failed to pay the tax on that income.' This was refused, and the Court charged that 'If you find that the defendant had a net income for 1936 upon which some income tax was due, and I believe that is conceded, if you find that the defendant willfully failed to file an income tax return for that year, if you find that the defendant willfully failed to pay the tax due on his income for that year, you may, if you find that the facts and circumstances warrant it find that the defendant willfully attempted to evade or defeat the tax.' The Court refused a request to instruct that an affirmative act was necessary to constitute a willful attempt and charged that 'Attempt means to try to do or accomplish. In order to find an attempt it is not necessary to find affirmative steps to accomplish the prohibited purpose. An attempt may be found on the basis of inactivity or on refraining to act, as well.'

It is the Government's contention that a willful failure to file a return together with a willful failure to pay the

Page 495

tax may, without more, constitute an attempt to defeat or evade a tax within § 145(b). Petitioner claims that such proof establishes only two misdemeanors under § 145(a) and that it takes more than the sum of two such misdemeanors to make the felony under § 145(b). The legislative history of the section contains nothing helpful on the question here at issue, and we must find the answer from the section itself and its context in the revenue laws.

The United States has relied for the collection of its income tax largely upon the taxpayer's own disclosures rather than upon a system of withholding the tax from him by those from whom income may be received. This system can function successfully only if those within and near taxable income keep and render true accounts. In many ways taxpayers' neglect or deceit may prejudice the orderly and punctual administration of the system as well as the revenues themselves. Congress has imposed a variety of sanctions for the protection of the system and the revenues. The relation of the offense of which this petitioner has been convicted to other and lesser revenue offenses appears more clearly from its position in this structure of sanctions.

The penalties imposed by Congress to enforce the tax laws embrace both civil and criminal sanctions. The former consist of additions to the tax upon determinations of fact made by an administrative agency and with no burden on the Government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The latter consist of penal offenses enforced by the criminal process in the familiar manner. Invocation of one does not exclude resort to the other. Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391, 58 S.Ct. 630, 82 L.Ed. 917.

The failure in a duty to make a timely return, unless it is shown that such failure is due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect, is punishable by an addition to the tax of 5 to 25 per cent thereof, depending on

Page 496

the duration of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1551 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Hoang Anh Thi Duong, No. CR. 01-126-A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • July 24, 2001
    ...himself had initiated the action by failing properly to file a federal income tax return. See id. at 390-91. 28. Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 499, 63 S.Ct. 364, 87 L.Ed. 418 (1943). In this regard, evidence showing that defendants "ke[pt] a double set of books, ma[de] false entries......
  • Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Co. Account. over., No. 07-5127.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 22, 2008
    ...F.3d 684 taken "willfully," see supra n. 5, the meaning of that word "is often being influenced by its context," Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 497, 63 S.Ct. 364, 87 L.Ed. 418 (1943), and the Fund points to no basis for assuming that the Commission would view 15 U.S.C. § 7217(d)(3) a......
  • United States v. Rodella, No. CR 14-2783 JB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • February 6, 2015
    ...word of 'many meanings, its construction often being influenced by its context.'" Screws, 325 U.S. at 101 (quoting Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 497 (1943)). The Supreme Court also noted that, in a criminal statute, willfully "generally means an act done with a bad purpose" and that......
  • Koyen v. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc., No. 82 Civ. 1258.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 24, 1983
    ...has defined the term `willful'"). See generally Wehr v. Burroughs Corp., 619 F.2d 276, 279-83 (3d Cir.1980). 23 Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 497, 63 S.Ct. 364, 367, 87 L.Ed. 418 (1943) (citing United States v. Murdock, 290 U.S. 389, 394-96, 54 S.Ct. 223, 225-26, 78 L.Ed. 381 (1933)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1546 cases
  • Konvalinka v. Chattanooga-Hamil. Cty Hosp., No. E2006-00064-SC-R11-CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • February 13, 2008
    ...has been characterized as a word of many meanings whose construction depends on the context in which it appears. Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 497, 63 S.Ct. 364, 87 L.Ed. 418 (1943); United States v. Phillips, 19 F.3d 1565, 1576-77 (11th Cir.1994). Most obviously, it differentiates ......
  • United States v. Shorter, Crim. No. 84-00421.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 26, 1985
    ...act of willful evasion. Sansone v. United States, 380 U.S. 343, 351, 85 S.Ct. 1004, 1010, 13 L.Ed.2d 882 (1965); Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 63 S.Ct. 364, 87 L.Ed. 418 (1943).1 An act constituting evasion which occurs during the limitations period brings the prosecution within the......
  • United States v. Chestnut, No. 74 Cr. 1191.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 25, 1975
    ...11 (1972). 5 Pipefitters Local Union v. United States, 407 U.S. 385, 409, 92 S.Ct. 2247, 33 L.Ed.2d 11 (1972). 6 Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 499, 63 S.Ct. 364, 368, 87 L.Ed. 418 7 Defendant's Post Trial Memorandum p. 18. 8 Trial Transcript 561. 9 Platt v. Minnesota Mining & Mf......
  • Boggs v. Commissioner, Docket No. 6824-82.
    • United States
    • United States Tax Court
    • August 15, 1985
    ...conduct must be considered, and fraudulent intent can be established by circumstantial evidence. Spies v. United States 43-1 USTC ¶ 9243, 317 U. S. 492 (1943); Gajewski v. Commissioner, supra, 67 T. C. at 200; Stone v. Commissioner Dec. 30,767, 56 T. C. 213, 223-224 (1971); Otsuki v. Commis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
1 books & journal articles
  • TAX VIOLATIONS
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...prima facie evidence of a def‌iciency and “may be challenged by the defendant accused of tax evasion.” Id. 95. See Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 497–98 (1943) (holding that crimes of intent, such as tax evasion, require an aff‌irmative act); United States v. Carlson, 235 F.3d 466, 4......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT