Yee Hem v. United States

Citation45 S.Ct. 470,268 U.S. 178,69 L.Ed. 904
Decision Date27 April 1925
Docket NumberNo. 303,303
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Messrs. Gerard J. Pilliod and Joseph C. Breitenstein, both of Cleveland, Ohio, for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 178-180 intentionally omitted] Mr. Assistant Attorney General Donovan, for the United States.

Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Plaintiff in error was convicted in the court below of the offense of concealing a quantity of smoking opium after importation, with knowledge that it had been imported in violation of Act Feb. 9, 1909, c. 100, 35 Stat. 614, as amended by Act Jan. 17, 1914, c. 9, 38 Stat. 275 (Comp. St. §§ 8800-8801f). Sections 2 and 3 of the act as amended (Comp. St. §§ 8801, 8801a) are challenged as unconstitutional, on the ground that they contravene the due process of law and the compulsory self-incrimination clauses of the Fifth Amendment of the federal Constitution.

Section 1 of the Act (Comp. St. § 8800) prohibits the importation into the United States of opium in any form after April 1, 1909, except that opium and preparations and derivatives thereof, other than smoking opium or opium prepared for smoking, may be imported for medicinal purposes only, under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury. Section 2 provides, among other things, that if any person shall conceal or facilitate the concealment of such opium, etc., after importation, knowing the same to have been imported contrary to law, the offender shall be subject to fine or imprisonment or both. It further provides that whenever the defendant on trial is shown to have, or to have had, possession of such opium, etc., 'such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction unless the defendant shall explain the possession to the satisfaction of the jury.' Section 3 provides that on and after July 1, 1913:

'All smoking opium or opium prepared for smoking found within the United States shall be presumed to have been imported after the first day of April, nineteen hundred and nine, and the burden of proof shall be on the claimant or the accused to rebut such presumption.'

The plaintiff in error, at the time of his arrest in August, 1923, was found in possession of and concealing a quantity of smoking opium. The lower court overruled a motion for an instructed verdict of not guilty, and, after stating the foregoing statutory presumptions, charged the jury in substance that the burden of proof was on the accused to rebut such presumptions; and that it devolved upon him to explain that he was rightfully in possession of the smoking opium—'at least explain it to the satisfaction of the jury.' The court further charged that the defendant was presumed to be innocent until the government had satisfied the minds of the jurors of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that the burden to adduce such proof of guilt beyond the existence of a reasonable doubt rested on the government at all times and throughout the trial; and that a conviction could not be had 'while a rational doubt remains in the minds of the jury.'

The authority of Congress to prohibit the importation of opium in any form and, as a measure reasonably calculated to aid in the enforcement of the prohibition, to make its concealment with knowledge of its unlawful importation a criminal offense, is not open to doubt. Brolan v. United States, 236 U. S. 216, 35 S. Ct. 285, 59 L. Ed. 544; Steinfeldt v. United States, 219 F. 879, 135 C. C. A. 549. The question presented is whether Congress has power to enact the provisions in respect of the presumptions arising from the unexplained possession of such opium and from its presence in this country after the time fixed by the statute.

In Mobile, etc., R. R. v. Turnipseed, 219 U. S. 35, 42, 43, 31 S. Ct. 136, 137, 138 (55 L. Ed. 78, 32 L. R. A. [N. S.] 226, Ann. Cas. 1912A, 463), this court, speaking through Mr. Justice Lurton, said:

'The law of evidence is full of presumptions either of fact or law. The former are, of course, disputable, and the strength of any inference of one fact from proof of another depends upon the generality of the experience upon which it is founded. * * *

'Legislation providing that proof of one fact shall constitute prima facie evidence of the main fact in issue is but to enact a rule of evidence, and quite within the general power of government. Statutes, national and state, dealing with such methods of proof in both civil and criminal cases abound, and the decisions upholding them are numerous. * * *

'That a legislative presumption of one fact from evidence of another may not constitute a denial of due process of law or a denial of the equal protection of the law it is only essential that there shall be some rational connection between the fact provided and the ultimate fact presumed, and that the inference...

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  • United States v. Gerhart
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
    • October 1, 1967
    ...from the force of circumstances and not from any form of compulsion forbidden by the Constitution. See Yee Hem v. United States, 268 U.S. 178, 185, 45 S.Ct. 470, 69 L.Ed. 904 (1925). As to the last of defendant's constitutional objections, it is quite clear to me that § 1952 does not violat......
  • United States v. Cox
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • June 5, 1972
    ...the Fifth Amendment precludes only compulsory self-incrimination while "the statute compels nothing." Yee Hem v. United States, 268 U.S. 178, 185, 45 S.Ct. 470, 69 L.Ed. 904 (1925). § 174 merely permits a jury to infer illegal importation and does so solely because it is virtually impossibl......
  • Alton v. Alton
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • October 15, 1953
    ...that the Supreme Court seems to have settled the law the other way. The accepted doctrine was stated in Yee Hem v. United States, 1925, 268 U.S. 178, 45 S.Ct. 470, 472, 69 L.Ed. 904, as follows: "If the effect of the legislative act is to give to the facts from which the presumption is draw......
  • Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • February 18, 1963
    ...where the standard of proof is certainly no less stringent than in denationalization cases. See, e.g., Yee Hem v. United States, 268 U.S. 178, 45 S.Ct. 470, 69 L.Ed. 904; Casey v. United States, 276 U.S. 413, 48 S.Ct. 373, 72 L.Ed. 632; Hawes v. Georgia, 258 U.S. 1, 42 S.Ct. 204, 66 L.Ed. 4......
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