Yates v. United States Schneiderman v. United States Ai Richmond v. United States

Citation1 L.Ed.2d 1356,77 S.Ct. 1064,354 U.S. 298
Decision Date17 June 1957
Docket Number7 and 8,Nos. 6,s. 6
PartiesOleta O'Connor YATES, Henry Steinberg, Loretta Starvus Stack, et al., Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES of America. William SCHNEIDERMAN, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America. AI RICHMOND and Philip Marshall Connelly, Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES of America
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Ben Margolis, Los Angeles, Cal., for the petitioners

in no. 6.

Mr. Robert W. Kenny, Los Angeles, Cal., for the petitioner in No. 7.

Mr. Augustin Donovan, Oakland, Cal., for the petitioners in No. 8.

Mr. Philip R. Monahan, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We brought these cases here to consider certain questions arising under the Smith Act which have not heretofore been passed upon by this Court, and otherwise to review the convictions of these petitioners for conspiracy to violate that Act. Among other things, the convictions are claimed to rest upon an application of the Smith Act which is hostile to the principles upon which its constitutionality was upheld in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S.Ct. 857, 95 L.Ed. 1137.

These 14 petitioners stand convicted, after a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, upon a single count indictment charging them with conspiring (1) to advocate and teach the duty and necessity of overthrowing the Government of the United States by force and violence, and (2) to organize, as the Communist Party of the United States, a society of persons who so advocate and teach, all with the intent of causing the overthrow of the Government by force and violence as speedily as circumstances would permit. Act of June 28, 1940, § 2(a)(1) and (3), 54 Stat. 670, 671, 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 2385, 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 371, 2385.1 The conspiracy is alleged to have originated in 1940 and continued down to the date of the indictment in 1951. The indictment charged that in carrying out the conspiracy the defend- ants and their co-conspirators would (a) become members and officers of the Communist Party, with knowledge of its unlawful purposes, and assume leadership in carrying out its policies and activities; (b) cause to be organized units of the Party in California and elsewhere; (c) write and publish, in the 'Daily Worker' and other Party organs, articles on the proscribed advocacy and teaching; (d) conduct schools for the indoctrination of Party members in such advocacy and teaching, and (e) recruit new Party members, particularly from among persons employed in the key industries of the nation. Twenty-three overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy were alleged.

Upon conviction each of the petitioners was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 9 Cir., 225 F.2d 146. We granted certiorari for the reasons already indicated. 350 U.S. 860, 76 S.Ct. 104, 100 L.Ed. 763.

In the view we take of this case, it is necessary for us to consider only the following of petitioners' contentions: (1) that the term 'organize' as used in the Smith Act was erroneously construed by the two lower courts; (2) that the trial court's instructions to the jury erroneously excluded from the case the issue of 'incitement to action'; (3) that the evidence was so insufficient as to require this Court to direct the acquittal of these petitioners; and (4) that petitioner Schneiderman's conviction was precluded by this Court's judgment in Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 63 S.Ct. 1333, 87 L.Ed. 1796, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel.2 For reasons given hereafter, we conclude that these convictions must be reversed and the case remanded to the District Court with instructions to enter judgments of acquittal as to certain of the petitioners, and to grant a new trial as to the rest.

I. The Term 'Organize.'

One object of the conspiracy charged was to violate the third paragraph of 18 U.S.C. § 2385, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2385, which provides:

'Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any (government in the United States) by force or violence * * * (s)hall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both * * *.'3 Petitioners claim that 'organize' means to 'establish,' 'found,' or 'bring into existence,' and that in this sense the Communist Party4 was organized by 1945 at the latest.5 On this basis petitioners contend that this part of the indictment, returned in 1951, was barred by the three-year statute of limitations.6 The Government, on the other hand, says that 'organize' connotes a continuing process which goes on throughout the life of an organization, and that, in the words of the trial court's instructions to the jury, the term includes such things as 'the recruiting of new members and the forming of new units, and the regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes and other units of any society, party, group or other organization.' The two courts below accepted the Government's position. We think, however, that petitioners' position must prevail, upon principles stated by Chief Justice Marshall more than a century ago in United States v. Wiltberger, 5 Wheat. 76, 95—96, 5 L.Ed. 37, as follows:

'The rule that penal laws are to be construed strictly, is perhaps not much less old than construction itself. It is founded on the tenderness of the law for the rights of individuals; and on the plain principle that the power of punishment is vested in the legislative, not in the judicial department. It is the legislature, not the Court, which is to define a crime, and ordain its punishment.

'It is said, that notwithstanding this rule, the intention of the law maker must govern in the construction of penal, as well as other statutes. This is true. But this is not a new independent rule which subverts the old. It is a modification of the ancient maxim, and amounts to this, that though penal laws are to be construed strictly, they are not to be construed so strictly as to defeat the obvious intention of the legislature. The maxim is not to be so applied as to narrow the words of the statute to the exclusion of cases which those words, in their ordinary acceptation, or in that sense in which the legislature has obviously used them, would comprehend. The intention of the legislature is to be collected from the words they employ. Where there is no ambiguity in the words, there is no room for construction. The case must be a strong one indeed, which would justify a Court in departing from the plain meaning of words, especially in a penal act, in search of an intention which the words themselves did not suggest. To determine that a case is within the intention of a statute, its language must authorize us to say so. It would be dangerous, indeed, to carry the principle, that a case which is within the reason or mischief of a statute, is within its provisions, so far as to punish a crime not enumerated in the statute, because it is of equal atrocity, or of kindred character, with those which are enumerated. If this principle has ever been recognized in expounding criminal law, it has been in cases of considerable irritation, which it would be unsafe to consider as precedents forming a general rule for other cases.'

The statute does not define what is meant by 'organize.' Dictionary definitions are of little help, for, as those offered us sufficiently show, the term is susceptible of both meanings attributed to it by the parties here.7 The fact that the Communist Party commprises various components and activities, in relation to which some of the petitioners bore the title of 'Organizer,' does not advance us towards a solution of the problem. The charge here is that petitioners conspired to organize the Communist Party, and, unless 'organize' embraces the continuing concept contended for by the Government, the establishing of new units within in the Party and similar activities, following the Party's initial formation in 1945, have no independent significance or vitality so far as the 'organizing' charge is involved. Nor are we here concerned with the quality of petitioners' activities as such, that is, whether particular activities may properly be categorized as 'organizational.' Rather, the issue is whether the term 'organize' as used in this statute is limited by temporal concepts. Stated most simply, the problem is to choose between two possible answers to the question: when was the Communist Party 'organized'? Petitioners contend that the only natural answer to the question is the formation date—in this case, 1945. The Government would have us answer the question by saying that the Party today is still not completely 'organ- ized'; that 'organizing' is a continuing process that does not end until the entity is dissolved.

The legislative history of the Smith Act is no more revealing as to what Congress meant by 'organize' than is the statute itself. The Government urges that 'organize' should be given a broad meaning since acceptance of the term in its narrow sense would require attributing to Congress the intent that this provision of the statute should not apply to the Communist Party as it then existed. The argument is that since the Communist Party as it then existed had been born in 1919 and the Smith Act was not passed until 1940, the use of 'organize' in its narrow sense would have meant that these provisions of the statute would never have reached the act of organizing the Communist Party, except for the fortuitous rebirth of the Party in 1945—an occurrence which, of course, could not have been foreseen in 1940. This, says the Government, could hardly have been the congressional purpose since the Smith Act as a whole was particularly aimed at the Communist Party, and its 'organizing...

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