United States v. Hastings, No. 22

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHUGHES
Citation296 U.S. 188,80 L.Ed. 148,56 S.Ct. 218
Docket NumberNo. 22
Decision Date09 December 1935
PartiesUNITED STATES v. HASTINGS

296 U.S. 188
56 S.Ct. 218
80 L.Ed. 148
UNITED STATES

v.

HASTINGS.

No. 22.
Argued Nov. 12, 1935.
Decided Dec. 9, 1935.

[Syllabus from pages 188-190 intentionally omitted]

Page 190

Messrs. Homer S. Cummings, Atty. Gen., and Joseph B. Keenan, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the United States.

Mr. James M. Beck, of Washington, D.C., for appellee.

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

Defendant was indicted in the District Court of the United States for violation of the United States Warehouse Act, 7 U.S.C. § 270 (7 USCA § 270). The indictment contained three counts, each charging the 'removal and stealing' of a numbered bale of cotton from a licensed warehouse contrary to the statute and regulations.1 A demurrer was

Page 191

sustained and the government brings this appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act. 18 U.S.C. § 682 (18 USCA § 682).

The penal provision of the statute, so far as pertinent here, is as follows:

'Every person who shall * * * remove from a licensed warehouse contrary to this chapter or the regulations promulgated thereunder, any agricultural products stored or to be stored in such warehouse, and for which licensed receipts have been or are to be issued, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be fined not more than $10,000, or double the value of the products involved if such double value exceeds $10,000, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both, in the discretion of the court.'

The District Judge certified his grounds for sustaining the demurrer as follows:

'(1) That said indictment fails to charge any offense against the laws of the United States.

'(2) That the indictment fails to charge that the cotton alleged to have been removed and stolen was the property of any person.

'(3) That the indictment fails to allege the name of the owner of said cotton, and does not charge any intent to defraud the owner thereof.

'(4) That the indictment does not allege the value of the cotton alleged to have been removed and stolen, or that the cotton was of any value.

'(5) That section 270, title 7, of the United States Code, being the section under which the indictment is drawn, is unconstitutional, in that, Congress is without authority under the Constitution to make it an offense

Page 192

against the laws of the United States to remove agricultural products from a Federal licensed warehouse as alleged in the indictment.'

1. The juridiction of this Court. If the first four grounds of the decision, as stated in the certificate of the District Judge, are to be taken as wholly independent of the questions of the construction and validity of the United States Warehouse Act, those grouns may not be challenged on this appeal. The statute conferring jurisdiction on appeal by the government in criminal prosecutions confines that jurisdiction to cases where the decision of the District Court, on demurrer, motion to quash, or in arrest of judgment, 'is based upon the invalidity, or construction of the statute upon which the indictment is founded,' or where the District Court has sustained 'a special plea in bar, when the defendant has not been put in jeopardy.' 18 U.S.C. § 682 (18 USCA § 682). The proposal to confer a broader jurisdiction was considered by the Congress and rejected.2 Thus the construction of the indictment and its sufficiency merely as a pleading, as distinguished from the construction of the statute, are questions for the District Court. We must accept the construction of the indictment as that court gives it. And where that court has rested its decision upon the invalidity or construction of the statute which underlies the indictment, this Court will not go beyond those grounds and consider other objections to the indictment. United States v. Keitel, 211 U.S. 370, 397, 398, 29 S.Ct. 123, 53 L.Ed. 230; United States v. Miller, 223 U.S. 599, 602, 32 S.Ct. 323, 56 L.Ed. 568; United States v. Carter, 231 U.S. 492, 493, 34 S.Ct. 173, 58 L.Ed. 330; United States v. Moist, 231 U.S. 701, 702, 34 S.Ct. 255, 58 L.Ed. 444; United States v. Colgate & Co., 250 U.S. 300, 301, 302, 39 S.Ct. 465, 63 L.Ed. 992, 7 A.L.R. 443; United States v. A. Schrader's Son, 252 U.S. 85, 98, 40 S.Ct. 251, 64 L.Ed. 471; United States v. Yuginovich, 256 U.S. 450, 461, 41 S.Ct. 551, 65 L.Ed. 1043.

Page 193

A distinct question is presented where the District Court has not placed its decision solely upon the invalidity or construction of the statute, but has also sustained the demurrer or granted the motion to quash the indictment upon wholly independent grounds of insufficiency. In such a case the judgment of the District Court would remain in effect, and the defendant would go free of the indictment, whatever views we might express upon appeal as to the construction or validity of the statute. We could not reverse the judgment upon questions not before us. An indictment not merely attacked, but found to be invalid on grounds not open here, would be made the vehicle of an effort to obtain from this Court an expression of an abstract opinion, which might or might not fit a subsequent prosecution of the same defendant or others, but would not determine the instant case. Review of a judgment which we cannot disturb, because it rests adequately upon a basis not subject to our examination, would be an anomaly.

An analogous situation is found in cases where the jurisdiction of this Court has been invoked on writs of error or appeals from judgments of state courts, and it appears that, notwithstanding the existence of a federal question, and its consideration and determination by the state court, the judgment rests upon a non-federal ground adequate to support it and hence would not be affected by a decision by this Court of the federal question. In such cases, we refuse review. While the earlier practice was to affirm the judgment without considering the federal question, the later practice has been to dismiss the writ of error or appeal. Murdock v. Memphis, 20 Wall. 590, 634, 635, 22 L.Ed. 429; Jenkins v. Lowenthal, 110 U.S. 222, 3 S.Ct. 638, 28 L.Ed. 129; Hale v. Akers, 132 U.S. 554, 565, 10 S.Ct. 171, 33 L.Ed. 442; Hammond v. Johnston, 142 U.S. 73, 78, 12 S.Ct. 141, 35 L.Ed. 941; Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U.S. 361, 370, 14 S.Ct. 131, 37 L.Ed. 1111; Enterprise Irrigation District v. Farmers' Canal Co., 243 U.S. 157, 164, 166, 37 S.Ct. 318, 61 L.Ed. 644; Petrie v. Nampa Irrigation District, 248

Page 194

U.S. 154, 157, 39 S.Ct. 25, 63 L.Ed. 178; Ex parte Steckler, 292 U.S. 610, 54 S.Ct. 781, 78 L.Ed. 1470; Capital Endowment Company v. Ohio (Nov. 11, 1935), 296 U.S. 546, 56 S.Ct. 174, 80 L.Ed. 387.

It was in the light of the considerations governing the exercise of the judicial power that the Criminal Appeals Act was enacted and appeals by the government were subjected to the prescribed limitations. United States v. Evans, 213 U.S. 297, 300, 29 S.Ct. 507, 53 L.Ed. 803. We think that the provision which limits the government's appeal to those cases where the decision or judgment of the District Court is 'based' upon the invalidity or construction of the statute should be taken to refer to cases where that determination, and not a wholly independent grounds, is the foundation of the judgment. If the judgment is independently based, and in that respect is not open to correction or...

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20 practice notes
  • Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Nos. 403
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1936
    ...our decisions rigidly to questions essential to the disposition of the case before the court is evidenced by United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 56 S.Ct. 218, 80 L.Ed. 148, decided at this term. There, we overruled United States v. Stevenson, 215 U.S. 190, 195, 30 L.Ed. 35, 54 L.Ed. 15......
  • City of Mesquite v. Aladdin Castle, Inc, No. 80-1577
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 1982
    ...simply dismiss the appeal insofar as the city seeks review of the invalidation of the age requirement. Cf. United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 193, 56 S.Ct. 218, 220, 80 L.Ed. 148.15 The city contends, however, that the Court of Appeals did not place independent reliance on Texas law b......
  • South Dakota v. Neville, No. 81-1453
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 22, 1983
    ...706 (1981); Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U.S. 549, 568-569, 67 S.Ct. 1409, 1419, 91 L.Ed. 1666 (1947); United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 193, 56 S.Ct. 218, 220, 80 L.Ed. 148 (1935). The policy of avoiding advisory opinions on federal constitutional issues is a consistent theme......
  • U.S. v. Ricciardelli, No. 92-1424
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • January 5, 1993
    ...F.2d 723, 726 (1st Cir.1984)). The long standing rationale for this rule is to avoid issuing advisory opinions. United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 193, 56 S.Ct. 218, 220, 80 L.Ed. 148 (1935). Because the search warrant in this case was utterly unsupported by probable cause, addressing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Nos. 403
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1936
    ...our decisions rigidly to questions essential to the disposition of the case before the court is evidenced by United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 56 S.Ct. 218, 80 L.Ed. 148, decided at this term. There, we overruled United States v. Stevenson, 215 U.S. 190, 195, 30 L.Ed. 35, 54 L.Ed. 15......
  • City of Mesquite v. Aladdin Castle, Inc, No. 80-1577
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 1982
    ...simply dismiss the appeal insofar as the city seeks review of the invalidation of the age requirement. Cf. United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 193, 56 S.Ct. 218, 220, 80 L.Ed. 148.15 The city contends, however, that the Court of Appeals did not place independent reliance on Texas law b......
  • South Dakota v. Neville, No. 81-1453
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 22, 1983
    ...706 (1981); Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U.S. 549, 568-569, 67 S.Ct. 1409, 1419, 91 L.Ed. 1666 (1947); United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 193, 56 S.Ct. 218, 220, 80 L.Ed. 148 (1935). The policy of avoiding advisory opinions on federal constitutional issues is a consistent theme......
  • U.S. v. Ricciardelli, No. 92-1424
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • January 5, 1993
    ...F.2d 723, 726 (1st Cir.1984)). The long standing rationale for this rule is to avoid issuing advisory opinions. United States v. Hastings, 296 U.S. 188, 193, 56 S.Ct. 218, 220, 80 L.Ed. 148 (1935). Because the search warrant in this case was utterly unsupported by probable cause, addressing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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