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…”

People v. Allweiss

US Criminal Law

People v. Allweiss
‘Greenwich Village at Night’ by Amy Stewart

Circumstantial evidence of crimes committed beyond the realm of an immediate offence, can be used to support the conviction of a defendant, but only when such information demonstrates an overwhelming similarity to that used in the matter at hand, as was found in a truly disturbing case involving multiple rapes and eventual murder of an innocent victim that instead chose to fight back during her ordeal.

Sometime in 1977, the appellant was indicted and convicted of second degree murder in the New York County Supreme Court, following the stabbing and strangulation of what was to be his seventh victim in less than six months.

Upon his appeal in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, the appellant argued that in the absence of any witnesses, and with its verdict resting solely upon the witness testimony of his six previous rape victims, there was insufficient grounds to sustain his conviction beyond a reusable doubt.

In response, the court first turned to People v. Molineux, in which the New York Court of Appeals had held that:

“[W]hen evidence of an extraneous crime is admissible to prove the crime for which a defendant is on trial, it is not necessary to prove every fact and circumstance relating to the extraneous crime that would be essential to sustain a conviction thereof.”

And so in order to ascertain the weight of evidence before them, the court went on to note that in each of the previous six rapes, the appellant had (i) informed the victims that his alleged wife or fiancée had been recently attacked and injured, (ii) seized his victims by the throat, (iii) threatened his victims with a knife, (iv) made physical contact with their lingerie collection, (v) forced his victims to wear specifically chosen underwear, and (vi) stolen property from their apartments after raping them.

While on this occasion, the victim had screamed out for help, a resistance which resulted in the appellant strangling her with her own underwear before wounding her with a knife multiple times, both of which, while different in their effect, bore very close resemblance to his previous methodology, and to which the appellant contested that in People v. Goldstein the New York Court of Appeals had later held that:

“[E]vidence that defendant committed other or similar offenses is not admissible to prove his guilt of the crime for which he is being tried. One may not be convicted of one crime on proof that he probably is guilty because he committed another crime.”

However the court rightly determined that in addition to the circumstantial similarities shown by the six previous rapes, there was also compelling witness testimony as to the appellant’s voice pattern, and his whereabouts both before and after the offence discussed, and so with little hesitation the court upheld the supreme court conviction in full, while holding that:

“Another crime or crimes of the defendant are not admissible to establish that the defendant committed the crime charged where the only connection between the crimes is a similar modus operandi. If, however, the modus operandi is sufficiently unique logically to point to the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime charged, evidence of the other crimes is admissible.”

Hospital Products Ltd v United States Surgical Corporation

Australian Equity & Trusts

Hospital Products Ltd v United States Surgical Corporation
‘Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli’ by Santi di Tito

In a case embroiling both arms-length and personal agreements, the unavoidable overlapping of contract and equity are held to extensive scrutiny in a suit between corporations and individuals across two jurisdictions.

After an American surgical staple manufacturer entrusted their foreign sales to a New York salesman, the man whose reputation historically rested upon a handshake eventually used his informal approach to business to establish an overseas corporation, under which he manufactured his own version of the patented staples and promoted them to an Australian market via the prolific brand name used by his new business partners.

Upon discovery his underhand scheme, the now respondents sued for damages in the New South Wales Supreme Court under § 2-306(2) of the Uniform Commercial Code, which read that:

“A lawful agreement by either the seller or the buyer for exclusive dealing in the kind of goods concerned imposes unless otherwise agreed an obligation by the seller to use best efforts to supply the goods and by the buyer to use best efforts to promote their sale.”

While contesting that any sales accrued during the years accounted for were now held upon constructive trust for the respondents.

In the first instance, the court found that a fiduciary relationship had become evident when the respondents had entrusted their product in the appellant, therefore showing a unique vulnerability to his actions when working overseas, while under challenge before the Court of Appeal, the court supported the principle of a constructive trust and thus held accordingly.

Presented to the High Court of Australia, the question of trust relationships and contractual breach became central to the issue in hand, and so the court quickly noted that the contract rested upon verbal agreements and subsequent exchanges of correspondence, yet no legally binding agreements had been entered into; and so when examining the question of validity the court referred to Oscar Chess Ltd v Williams, in which the English Court of Appeal illustrated that a representation made during contractual negotiations could also be construed as a binding warranty, and so held that:

“The question whether a warranty was intended depends on the conduct of the parties, on their words and behaviour, rather than on their thoughts. If an intelligent bystander would reasonably infer that a warranty was intended, that will suffice.”

However the court also noted that in order for any implication of a warranty to sustain judicial scrutiny it must be:

  1. Reasonable and equitable
  2. Necessary so as to show that the contract would be useless without it
  3. So obvious to the bargain that it needs no expression
  4. Capable of clear expression if called upon
  5. Wholly supportive of the contract

And so moving on to the concept of fiduciary obligations arising from the heart of the working relationship, the court noted that in Reading v The King the English Court of Appeal held how:

“[A]‘fiduciary relation’ exists (a) whenever the plaintiff entrusts to the defendant property, including intangible property as, for instance, confidential information, and relies on the defendant to deal with such property for the benefit of the plaintiff or for purposes authorized by him, and not otherwise….and (b) whenever the plaintiff entrusts to the defendant a job to be performed, for instance, the negotiation of a contract on his behalf or for his benefit, and relies on the defendant to procure for the plaintiff the best terms available….”

Yet in vol. 25 of the University of Toronto Law Journal (1975) it also reads that in commercial dealings:

“[A] mere sub-contractor is not a fiduciary. Although his work may be described loosely as work which is to be carried out in the interests of the head contractor, the sub-contractor cannot in any meaningful sense be said to exercise a power or discretion which places the head contractor in a position of vulnerability.”

Therefore with little to warrant the existence of either a trust/trustee relationship or the presence of fiduciary duty with which to underline the machiavellian behaviour of the appellant, the court remitted the case back to the New South Wales Supreme Court with a view to an assessment of damages in favour of the respondents.

The constitutional law section is now complete.

United States Law: A Case Study Collection

Constitutional Law 2
‘Flag’ by Jasper Johns

May 25 2018

I have to admit to feeling somewhat sad that this part of the book is now over, largely because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about American history through the historic cases studied, and also because my understanding and deep appreciation of the Federal Constitution has grown from being almost non-existent, to virtually integral to my fundamental outlook on life, while also helping me realise just how unprotected U.K. citizens are, despite the Human Rights Act 1998, and more especially because after the whole ‘Brexit’ travesty there is soon to be no more protection offered through the European Court of Human Rights.

In all honesty I feel I now identify more with America than ever before, and given that I’ve never visited the country, there are certainly more compelling reasons than ever to get that arranged, perhaps if I sell enough copies of this compendium, that moment might just arrive, who knows?

As a side note I also recently learned that my mother’s biological father was born and raised in San Francisco, so I guess that makes me part American, right?

Anyway, I digress, and so here is the list of cases that can be found in the constitutional law section of the compendium. I hope I haven’t missed any out, and I will close this chapter by saying that it’s been great fun going on this part of the journey, and I will certainly miss it.

Constitutional Law

1. Allgeyer v. State of Louisiana

2. Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett

3. Bolling v. Sharpe

4. Boumediene v. Bush

5. Brandenburg v. Ohio

6. Branzburg v. Hayes

7. Brown v. Board of Ed. of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kan.

8. Buckley v. Valeo

9. Bush v. Gore

10. Calder v. Bull

11. Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defence Council Inc.

12. Chisholm v. Georgia

13. City of Boerne v. Flores

14. Cooper v. Aaron

15. Corfield v. Coryell

16. District of Columbia v. Heller

17. Dred Scott v. Sandford

18. Employment Div. Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith

19. Engel v. Vitale

20. Fletcher v. Peck

21. Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority

22. Gibbons v. Ogden

23. Gregory v. Ashcroft

24. Griswold v. Connecticut

25. Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

26. Katzenbach v. Morgan

27. Kennedy v. Louisiana

28. Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents

29. Lochner v. New York

30. Marbury v. Madison

31. M’Culloch v. State

32. National League of Cities v. Usery

33. Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs

34. New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer

35. New York v. U.S.

36. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1

37. Plessy v. Ferguson

38. Poe v. Ullman

39. Printz v. U.S.

40. R.A.V. v. City of St.Paul, Minn.

41. Romer v. Evans

42. Slaughter-House Cases

43. U.S. v. Carolene Products Co.

44. U.S. v. Guest

45. U.S. v. Morrison

46. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

47. Whitney v. California

Arver v. U.S.

US Constitutional Law

Arver v. U.S.
‘On the Wire’ by Harvey Thomas Dunn

In a suit concerning the alleged servitude of previously disparate citizens, the meticulously prepared terms of the U.S. Constitution were construed to be no more than oppressive and unfair expectations of those living under their otherwise protective measures.

Art. I,  § 8, cl. 11 of the U.S. Constitution reads that Congress is empowered:

“To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water….”

And thus art. I, § 8, cl. 12 provides that Congress can:

“[R]aise and support armies….”

While art. I, § 8, cl. 18 further states that Congress has the power:

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”

Those same constitutional powers are then supported by art. VI, cl. 2, which explains that:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

However in times of crisis, the Federal Constitution also provides that Congress is granted power:

“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Which denotes that while Congress was constitutionally free to raise armies by enlistment or compulsory draft, the actual construction of the U.S. militia was one left for individual States to arrange. 

Under the National Guard Act of 1903, those same militia use during the preceding civil wars were converted into the National Guard, while a further number were used to create the National Guard Reserve under the National Defense Act of 1916, both of which were then trained and organised by the individual States, thus when Congress enacted ‘An Act to authorize the President to increase temporarily the military establishment of the United States’  in 1917, a number of men argued that such legislation was violative of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which itself read that:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Despite which, all six of the defendants were convicted in the District Courts of both Minnesota and New York, before petitioning to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of error, who duly reminded them of the above separation of powers under the Constitution, while also noting by way of example, that when referencing the definition of militia, art. 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 clearly explained:

“That every member of society hath a right to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and therefore is bound to contribute his proportion toward the expense of that protection, and yield his personal service when necessary, or an equivalent thereto.”

Therefore with little empathy for the petitioners’ complaints, the Court upheld the two district court judgments in full, while holding that:

“A default in exercising a duty may not be resorted to as a reason for denying its existence.”

Taxi Driver (1976)

Film Blogs

Taxi Driver (1976)
‘Taxi Driver’ by Guy Pellaert

“Loneliness has followed me my whole life.” – Travis Bickle

America is in a decade of political upheaval and nursing the hangover of Vietnam. New York is a city borne from struggle and diversity, and the humble cab driver has become the forced witness to urban decay.

Taxi Driver was never intended to be an easy ride, or even an experience crafted to raise the spirits, but it excelled at leaving the viewer feeling both disenfranchised and yet oddly sympathetic to those searching for love, in what is often a cold and unforgiving world.

The story is linear by design, but director Martin Scorsese never allows you, the passenger, to look away or disconnect; instead he draws the viewer ever deeper into the darker recesses of ourselves, forcibly demanding that the audience engage both with the ears and eyes.

Rather remarkably, this unflinching character study is now celebrating its fortieth anniversary, and yet Taxi Driver remains a stark reminder that we should never judge a book by its cover, or delude ourselves that we are better than anybody else because social culture and the mainstream media tell us so. All of us are wounded to a greater or lesser extent, and it’s those wounds that require our attention, because without the healing power of love, we run risk of slipping into inky darkness until our hearts simply just give out and die.

For those who feel perturbed by the concept of gritty films such as this, my advice is just to have faith enough to take that cinematic ride, while asking yourself to walk in Travis Bickle’s shoes, and you might be surprised to discover just how much you both have in common.

With regard to the latest medium in which to watch this jolting, acrid film, the 40th Anniversary Blu-ray is undoubtedly where it’s at right now, and fortunately it sells for a reasonable price too.

So, if you want to take a trip into downtown America at a time when Robert De Niro was truly at his peak, remember to tip generously or who knows what might happen?