U.S. v. Peoni

US Criminal Law

U.S. v. Peoni
‘Twenty Six Dollars’ by Victor Dubreuil

The limitations and inclusions of conspiracy have something of a chequered past, and so on this occasion a defendant known and proven to have sold forged dollar bills was charged with exerting influence over transactions that were not only beyond his actual control, but were also separated by time, space and possible knowledge, thus the job of the court was to establish where the proximate lines of culpability lay.

Sometime prior to 1938 the appellant was charged and convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for possession of, and conspiracy to possess, counterfeit U.S. currency, whereupon he challenged the judgment in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Here the court noted that in the chain of events prior to his conviction, the appellant had indeed possessed counterfeit money, but had since sold it on to a second party, who then in turn sold it to a third party within the same borough albeit unknown to the appellant.

First referring to 18 U.S.C.A. § 550, the court noted how it read that:

“Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.”

Which translated that had it been shown that the appellant was instrumental to the second transaction, he was rightfully convicted, after which the court turned to Anstess v. U.S., in which the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had held that:

“One who, with full knowledge of the purpose with which contraband goods are to be used, furnishes those goods to another to so use them, actively participates in the scheme or plan to so use them.”

However the court also noted how in Graves v. Johnson the Massachusetts Supreme Court had held that:

“[A] sale otherwise lawful is not connected with subsequent unlawful conduct by the mere fact that the seller correctly divines the buyer’s unlawful intent, closely enough to make the sale unlawful.”

And so the court reasoned that regardless of the illegality of the appellants initial possession, it was contrary to sound law that he should be held to account as the principle conspirator in a sequence of events that occurred after the fact of his selling the notes on, thus the conviction was quashed in its entirety, while the court reminded the attending parties that:

“Nobody is liable in conspiracy except for the fair import of the concerted purpose or agreement as he understands it; if later comers change that, he is not liable for the change; his liability is limited to the common purposes while he remains in it.”

United States v. Falcone

US Criminal Law

United States v. Falcone
‘Oranges and Antique Moonshine Jugs’ by J.R. Secor

Criminal conspiracy, while simple enough in its description, is an offence often hard to quantify, and so on this occasion the actions of a lawful vendor proved hard to distinguish from those charged, which resulted in an outcome some may find contradictory to the rule of law.

Indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, the respondent was later convicted as a party to facilitating prohibited still operations, whereupon he challenged the judgment in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that when selling sugar to his co-defendants, the respondent did so without conscious knowledge of its intended use.

Here the court noted that despite numerous States ruling on the principle, there remained a division as to when a defendant became a co-conspirator, and so in this instance the court elected to follow U.S. v. Peoni, in which it had held that:

“Nobody is liable in conspiracy except for the fair import of the concerted purpose or agreement as he understands it….”

Thereby reversing the trial court judgment, while holding that:

“Civilly, a man’s liability extends to any injuries which he should have apprehended to be likely to follow from his acts. If they do, he must excuse his conduct by showing that the interest which he was promoting outweighed the dangers which its protection imposed upon others….”

Whereupon the Government pressed their argument before the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of certiorari, who proceeded to examine the facts as presented.

For clarity, 18 U.S.C.A. § 550 (now §2) stated that:

“Whoever directly commits any act constituting an offense defined in any law of the United States, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures its commission, is a principal….”

And so the Court held that in mind when referring to Pettibone v. U.S., in which it had held that:

“A conspiracy is sufficiently described as a combination of two or more persons, by concerted action, to accomplish a criminal or unlawful purpose, or some purpose not in itself criminal or unlawful, by criminal or unlawful means….”

Before noting that in U.S. v. Hirsch it had also held that:

“Although by the statute something more than the common-law definition of a conspiracy is necessary to complete the offence, to wit, some act done to effect the object of the conspiracy, it remains true that the combination of minds in an unlawful purpose is the foundation of the offence, and that a party who did not join in the previous conspiracy cannot, under this section, be convicted on the overt act.”

Thus the Court was left with no other option than to uphold the court of appeal judgment, while conclusively holding that:

“Those having no knowledge of the conspiracy are not conspirators…”

U.S. v. Price

US Constitutional Law

U.S. v. Price
‘Murder in Mississippi’ by Norman Rockwell

In a controversial case involving assault and murder, the actions of both law enforcement officers and citizens of Neshoba County, Mississippi, amounted to the wanton execution of three unarmed African-Americans in the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

Having detained the men on grounds unestablished during the appeal, the now defendant Deputy Sheriff released them without charge in the early hours of a June morning, only to later pull their vehicle over on Highway 19, whereupon he removed them from the car and drove them in his own police vehicle, to an unpaved road located off the highway.

It was there that the respondent, along with another seventeen men, two of which included a Sheriff Rainey and Patrolman Willis of the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department collectively assaulted, shot and killed the men in cold blood, before removing their bodies to a dam construction site located roughly five miles southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Upon indictment to the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the defendants were charged with direct violations of 18 U.S.C. §§  241 and 242, which read that:

“(§ 241) If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same….They shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

(§ 242) Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State….to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States….by reason of his color, or race….shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both….and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section….shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”

Along with allegations that the assaults were violative of the now-deceased victims’ rights to trial under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

With consideration of the limitations of constitutional statute, and the precedent that such protections were only enforceable between citizens and States, the court held the convictions unlawful and the charges were thus dismissed by a grand jury, after which the United States appealed to U.S. Supreme Court in the hope of greater clarity of judgment.

Tackling § 242 first, the Court noted that while the officers were clearly acting under ‘color of law’ in a literal sense, nothing altered the fact that the same term applied not only to those employed by the State, but to all civilians of the United States, therefore the Court upheld the charges while holding that:

“[T]hey were participants in official lawlessness, acting in wilful concert with State officers and hence under color of law.”

While in relation to § 241, the Court highlighted that in U.S. v. Williams, the Court had held § 241 as inapplicable to the Fourteenth Amendment, however the overall decision came not from uniform judicial agreement, but a single ruling of res judicata, which left the issue of applicability unanswered until now.

It was at this point that the Court held instead, how:

“s 241 must be read as it is written-to reach conspiracies to injure any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States; that this language includes rights or privileges protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….”

While adding that:

“[T]he State, without the semblance of due process of law as required of it by the Fourteenth Amendment, used its sovereign power and office to release the victims from jail so that they were not charged and tried as required by law, but instead could be intercepted and killed. If the Fourteenth Amendment forbids denial of counsel, it clearly denounces denial of any trial at all.”

After which the Court promptly reversed and remanded the case back to the district court, while reminding the parties that:

“[A] decision interpreting a federal law in accordance with its historical design, to punish denials by State action of constitutional rights of the person can hardly be regarded as adversely affecting the wise adjustment between State responsibility and national control…”