United States v. Katz United States v. Feuerstein, Nos. 726

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTONE
Citation271 U.S. 354,70 L.Ed. 986,46 S.Ct. 513
Decision Date24 May 1926
Docket NumberNos. 726,727
PartiesUNITED STATES v. KATZ et al. UNITED STATES v. FEUERSTEIN et al

271 U.S. 354
46 S.Ct. 513
70 L.Ed. 986
UNITED STATES

v.

KATZ et al. UNITED STATES v. FEUERSTEIN et al.

Nos. 726, 727.
Argued March 11, 1926.
Decided May 24, 1926.

Mr. William D. Mitchell, Sol. Gen., of Washington, D. C., Mrs. Mabel Walker Willebrandt, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Mr. Mahlon D. Kiefer, of Washington, D. C., for the United States.

Messrs. Wm. T. Connor, John R. K. Scott, and Benjamin M. Golder, all of Philadelphia, Pa., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The two defendants in error in each of these cases were indicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for a conspiracy to sell intoxicating liquors without making a permanent record of the sale, in violation of section 10, title 2

Page 355

of the National Prohibition Act of October 28, 1919, c. 85, 41 Stat. 305, 312 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, § 10138 1/2 e).

The indictment in No. 726 charged that the defendant Katz conspired with the defendant Senn to sell for the Stewart Distilling Company to Senn a quantity of whisky, without making a record of the sale. A similar offense was charged against the defendants named in the indictment in No. 727.

Demurrers and motions to quash were interposed to both indictments, on the ground that they failed to charge any crime. In support of this contention it was argued that section 10, which requires a permanent record to be made of sales of intoxicating liquors, applies only to persons authorized by the National Prohibition Act (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, § 10138 1/4 et seq.) to sell alcoholic liquor, and that the indictment failed to allege that either of the defendants charged with making the sales, or the Stewart Distilling Company, held a permit, or was otherwise authorized to sell. The indictments were quashed by the District Court. 5 F.(2d) 527. The cases come here on writ of error to the District Court, under the provisions of the Criminal Appeals Act of March 2, 1907, c. 2564, 34 Stat. 1246 (Comp. St. § 1704).

The overt act charged in each indictment was the sale of whisky by one defendant to the other. This is an offense under the National Prohibition Act; but as the defendants in each case were only one buyer and one seller, and as the agreement of the parties was an essential element in the sale, an indictment of the buyer and seller for a conspiracy to make the sale would have been of doubtful validity. Compare United States v. N. Y. C. & H. R. R. (C. C.) 146 F. 298; United States v. Dietrich (C. C.) 126 F. 664; Vannata v. United States (C. C. A.) 289 F. 424, 427. This embarrassment could be avoided in an indictment for a criminal conspiracy only if the buyer and seller were charged with conspiring to commit a substantive offense having an ingredient in addition to the sale, not requiring

Page 356

the agreement of two persons for its completion. See Chadwick v. United States, 141 F. 225, 72 C. C. A. 343.

Hence the government takes the position that the seller of intoxicating liquor is required by the statute to keep a permanent record of his sales, whether lawful or unlawful, and that failure to do so is itself a crime, from which it would follow that a conspiracy to effect a sale without such a record is an indictable offense. No question is made but that persons authorized to deal in alcoholic liquors under the Prohibition Act are required to make permanent records of their transactions. But the government, to support a charge of conspiracy applicable to buyer and seller, relies on the literal application of title 2, § 10:

'No person shall manufacture, purchase for sale, sell, or transport any liquor without making at the time a permanent record thereof showing in detail the amount and kind of liquor manufactured, purchased, sold, or transported. together with the names and addresses of the persons to whom sold, in case of sale, and the consignor and consignee in case of transportation, and the time and place of such manufacture, sale, or transportation. The Commissioner may prescribe the form of such record, which shall at all times be open to inspection as in this act provided.'

Title 2, § 34 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, § 10138 1/2 u), provides:

'All records and reports kept or filed under the provisions of this act shall be subject to inspection at any reasonable hour by the Commissioner or any of his agents or by any public prosecutor or by any person designated by him, or by any peace officer in the state where the record is kept, and copies of such records and reports duly certified by the person with whom kept or filed may be introduced in evidence with like effect as the originals thereof, and verified copies of such records shall be furnished to the Commissioner when called for.'

To uphold the contention of the government, therefore, the language of section 10 must be taken to apply not

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only to those who hold government permits authorizing them to deal in intoxicating liquors under a familiar system of regulation, to whom it admittedly is applicable, but to every criminal violator of the National Prohibition Act, even though making only a single, isolated sale. It must be taken also to extend the provisions of section 34, clearly applicable to such permittees, in such a way as to present the incongruity of a system of records to be kept by criminal violators of the act who are not permittees, in a form which the Commissioner may prescribe, which may be introduced in evidence on the certification of the person 'with whom kept,' and verified copies of which are to be furnished on demand, presumably by the criminal keeping the record.

We are not now concerned with any question of legislative power to establish such a system but only with the question whether it was the intention of Congress to do so.

All laws are to be given a sensible construction; and a literal application of a statute, which would lead to absurd consequences, should be avoided whenever a reasonable application can be given to it, consistent with the legislative purpose. See Hawaii v. Mankichi, 190 U. S. 197, 212, 23 S. Ct. 787, 47 L. Ed. 1016, and cases there cited. In ascertaining that purpose, we may examine the title of the act (United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch, 358, 386, 2 L. Ed. 304; United States v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 610, 631, 4 L. Ed. 471; Holy Trinity Church v. United States, States v. Saunders, 22 Wall. 492, 22 L. Ed. 226), the source in previous legislation of the particular provision in question (United Seates v. Saunders, 22 Wall. 492, 22 L. Ed. 736; Viterbo v. Friedlander, 120 U. S. 707, 7 S. Ct. 962, 30 L. Ed. 776; United States v. Morrow, 266 U. S. 531, 535, 45 S. Ct. 173, 69 L. Ed. 425), and the legislative scheme or plan by which the general purpose of the act is to be carried out. See Platt v. Union Pacific R. R., 99 U. S. 48, 63-64, 25 L. Ed. 424; Bernier v. Bernier, 147 U. S. 242, 246, 13 S. Ct. 244, 37 L. Ed. 152.

One purpose of the National Prohibition Act was to suppress the entire traffic in intoxicating liquor as a bev-

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erage. Grogan v. Walker & Sons, 259 U. S. 80, 89, 42 S....

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204 practice notes
  • Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule
    • United States
    • Federal Register June 03, 2010
    • June 3, 2010
    ...``letter of the statute'' because doing so ``in the circumstances under consideration is foreign to its purpose''); United States v. Katz, 271 U.S. 354, 362 (1926) (holding that the statutory ``no person'' refer only to persons authorized under other provisions of the Act to traffic alcohol......
  • Stern v. U.S. Gypsum, Inc., No. 76-1070
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 12, 1977
    ...circumstances, intended them. Cf. Helvering v. Hammel, 311 U.S. 504, 510-11, 61 S.Ct. 368, 85 L.Ed. 303 (1941); United States v. Katz, 271 U.S. 354, 357, 362, 46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986 (1926). The Supreme Court's decision in Noerr, supra, while not on all fours with this case, provides a u......
  • Hattaway v. United States, No. 19228.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • June 6, 1962
    ...be avoided whenever a reasonable application can be given to it, consistent with the legislative purpose." United States v. Katz, 1926, 271 U.S. 354, 357, 46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986. And that rules out literalism as an absolute and an end in and of itself10 as we have many times held. See F......
  • Owino v. Corecivic, Inc., Case No.: 17-CV-1112 JLS (NLS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 14, 2018
    ...or absurd results" then the class of persons subject to the criminal statute should be limited. (Id. (citing, e.g., United States v. Katz, 271 U.S. 354, 362 (1926)).) From that rule, Defendant contends that applying a forced labor statute to lawfully-detained civil immigration detainees wou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
203 cases
  • Stern v. U.S. Gypsum, Inc., No. 76-1070
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 12, 1977
    ...circumstances, intended them. Cf. Helvering v. Hammel, 311 U.S. 504, 510-11, 61 S.Ct. 368, 85 L.Ed. 303 (1941); United States v. Katz, 271 U.S. 354, 357, 362, 46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986 (1926). The Supreme Court's decision in Noerr, supra, while not on all fours with this case, provides a u......
  • Hattaway v. United States, No. 19228.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • June 6, 1962
    ...be avoided whenever a reasonable application can be given to it, consistent with the legislative purpose." United States v. Katz, 1926, 271 U.S. 354, 357, 46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986. And that rules out literalism as an absolute and an end in and of itself10 as we have many times held. See F......
  • Owino v. Corecivic, Inc., Case No.: 17-CV-1112 JLS (NLS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 14, 2018
    ...or absurd results" then the class of persons subject to the criminal statute should be limited. (Id. (citing, e.g., United States v. Katz, 271 U.S. 354, 362 (1926)).) From that rule, Defendant contends that applying a forced labor statute to lawfully-detained civil immigration detainees wou......
  • Arenas v. United States, No. 12356.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • February 19, 1951
    ...as a whole". Ozawa v. United States, 1922, 260 U.S. 178, 194, 43 S.Ct. 65, 67, 67 L.Ed. 199. And see, United States v. Katz, 1926, 271 U.S. 354, 359, 46 S.Ct. 513, 70 L.Ed. 986; Haggar Company v. Helvering, 1940, 308 U.S. 389, 394, 60 S.Ct. 337, 84 L.Ed. 340; United States v. American Truck......
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