Confession to a crime under federal statute leads to the incarceration of a felon, who later cites a constitutional violation when revoking his awareness of the act imprisoned for.
Having been found in possession of counterfeit coin dies, the petitioner acquiesced to the charge and was summarily indicted and sentenced under 18 U.S.C.A. § 487, which reads:
“Whoever, without lawful authority, possesses any such die, hub, or mold, or any part thereof, or permits the same to be used for or in aid of the counterfeiting of any such coins of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than fifteen years, or both.”
Later claiming a violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the petitioner argued that the statute failed to acknowledge whether a charge of possession was established through conscious knowledge or by accidental means, a contention dismissed by the District Court of Northern California, who concluded:
“Such is the possession intended by the indictment, and such is the possession, the petitioner having pleaded guilty to the indictment, that he must be held to have had. Otherwise he was not guilty. He might have pleaded not guilty, and upon trial shown that he did not know the dies were in his possession.”
Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner again cited that the statute was incriminating by effect; however, the Court referred to United States v. Kirby, in which it had stressed that:
“All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence. It will always, therefore, be presumed that the Legislature intended exceptions to its language, which would avoid results of this character.”United States v. Kirby
While again in United States v. Jin Fuey Moy, the Court had later explained how:
“A statute must be construed, if fairly possible, so as to avoid, not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional, but also grave doubts upon that score.”United States v. Jin Fuey Moy
Thus it was for these reasons that the Court held the previous decision as lawful, while reminding the petitioner that although the U.S. Constitution is designed to safeguard the needs and rights of its citizens, there was equal importance for Congress to enforce the punishment of those found possessing the means with which to duplicate, and thereby counterfeit, U.S. currency in all its forms.