U.S. v. PEONI

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.”

Anstess v. U.S.

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.”

Graves v. Johnson

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

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….”

U.S. Peoni

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….”

Pettibone v. U.S.

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.”

U.S. v. Hirsch

Hence, 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

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.”

People v. Molineux

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.”

People v. Goldstein

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.”

ARVER v. U.S.

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 violated 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.

Here, the Court 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.”

GULF OIL CORP. v. GILBERT

Choice of venue within a civil action, while enjoyed by claimants for honourable reasons, can sometimes prove destructive to the roots of a claim when the right is abused or exercised in error.

In this instance, the want of policy ran risk of disrupting and possibly destroying, the need for redress through the use of established legal doctrine.

In 1944, the appellants supplied a delivery of gasoline to the respondent in Lynchburg, Virginia, whereupon an explosion caused significant damage to the establishment, customers property and pecuniary standing of the proprietor.

Upon litigation, the respondent sought damages of around $365,000, and when exercising his civil rights, elected to issue proceedings in the state of New York, as explained under 28 § 1391(b)  U.S.C., which reads:

“A civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located.”

And yet, with appreciation that the appellants were based in New York, the court elected to challenge the choice of venue on grounds of ‘forum non conveniens’, which allowed the claimant to choose the venue best suited to their needs.

However, the location of the actual event, the relevant evidence, potential expedience, lower legal costs and optimal attendance of both jurors and witnesses, demonstrated that the hearing was best heard in Virginia, as opposed to a courtroom almost four-hundred miles away.

Taken to the district appeal court, the decision was reversed back in favour of the claimant, whereupon the matter was further escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of certiorari.

Here, it was noted that it was not unusual for claimants to abuse § 1391 by choosing inconvenient forums as a means of vexing and oppressing the defendant (thereby reducing the opportunity of a fair trial) while it also became apparent that on this occasion, the lawyer acting under instruction for the claimant resided in New York and was retained by the insurance firm for reasons benefiting their own interests, hence arguing strongly in favour of one venue over the other, despite the obvious inconvenience to the claimant.

In light of this glaring disparity, the Court held that there were simply too many reasons for a trial to be held in Virginia, and that despite any contention that the district court had acted ultra vires, the judgment of the appeal court was too narrow an interpretation of the doctrine; hence, the decision was reversed with a view to proceedings in Lynchburg on the principle that:

“[T]he doctrine of forum non conveniens can never apply if there is absence of jurisdiction or mistake of venue.”

MARTIN v. HERZOG

Liability for negligence arising from a breach of statute is unquestionable in terms of culpability, however when both parties have acted beyond their prescribed rights, it becomes a matter of priority in reaching summary judgment.

In dusk of August 21 1915, a husband and wife were entering a stretch of road in a wagon, that whilst doing so on a bend, was unequipped with lights, as required by s.286 of the New York Highway Laws 1909, which explained that:

“Every motor vehicle, operated or driven upon the public highways of this state…shall, during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, display at least two lighted lamps on the front and on the rear of such vehicle…”

It was at this point that a car driven by the now appellant collided with the wagon, killing the respondent’s husband.

Upon litigation, the appellant remarked that he was unable to see the wagon, and thus had been straining to peer into the darkness at the time of the accident. In defence, the respondent argued that the inability to avoid the wagon constituted negligence under s.332(1) of the same Act, and which read:

“Whenever a person operating a motor vehicle shall meet on a public highway any other person riding or driving a horse or horses or other draft animals or any other vehicle, the person so operating such motor vehicle shall seasonably turn the same to the right of the centre of such highways so as to pass without interference.”

In the first instance, the jury upheld the respondent’s contention of negligent driving, while reducing the culpability of the deceased to that of contributory negligence when failing to upholster his vehicle with lights. The matter was then put before the Appellate Division, who reversed the judgment in favour of the appellant.

Challenged again, the New York Supreme Court examined the importance of statute, further noting that while both sections were essentially safeguarding the rights and lives of road users, the failure to install and use lights was by design, tantamount to absolute negligence, as had been found in both Massoth v. D & H Canal Co. and Cordell v. N.Y.C & H.R.R. Co.

It was also held that legislation is not something privy to the whims of a jury, regardless of how trivial such details might appear when taken in context, and that the misdirection of the trial judge was unlawful and in therefore in need of redress; hence, for these reasons the appellate court ruling was sustained and damages awarded to the appellant with costs, while the court reminded the parties that:

“A statute designed for the protection of human life is not to be brushed aside as a form of words, its commands reduced to the level of cautions, and the duty to obey attenuated into an option to conform.”

BROKAW v. FAIRCHILD

Life tenancy and title to a freehold estate are two distinct modes of occupation, however the latter is absolute in its effects, while the former includes limitations and covenants where directed by the transferor.

On this occasion, a sizeable dwelling in an enviable part of New York was subject to possible demolition plans when the relatives of the new owner challenged it within the courts.

In 1886, the deceased had purchased land in Manhattan for the purposes of building his own private residence. Having designed the home to his own specifications, the property was bequeathed to one of his sons in a will drafted in 1907, which read:

“By the Fourth clause of my Last Will and Testament, dated and executed on the 20th day of April, 1907, upon the death or remarriage of my wife I gave and devised my residence, situated at the northeasterly corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, in the City of New York, to my son, George Tuttle Brokaw…”

However, the deceased then further explained that:

“I now hereby modify that provision of my Will and after the death or remarriage of my wife I give and devise my said residence to my son George Tuttle Brokaw for and during the term of his natural life…”

Which in effect reduced the powers granted to those answerable to the principles of life tenancy as prescribed by state law. Here, it was held that any alteration of a property resided in under inheritance as a life tenant, must be proven as non-injurious to the value and aesthetic appearance of the property when passed to those due under the terms of the original testator.

The issue in hand was one where the claimant had proposed the demolition and rebuilding of the home to enjoy increased revenue from the leasing of multiple apartments over that of a single, albeit ornately furnished home.

In fierce objection, a number of siblings sought reference to the terms contained within their own terms of inheritance, which while providing clear stipulations as to individual use, were not applicable to the terms in which the claimant had acquired use of this particular home.

Therefore, by use of existing precedent, the New York Supreme Court drew attention to Winship v. Pitts, in which Chancellor Walworth remarked:

“I have no hesitation in saying, that by the law of this state, as now understood, it is not waste for the tenant to erect a new edifice upon the demised premises; provided it can be done without destroying or materially injuring the buildings or other improvements already existing thereon. I admit he has no right to pull down valuable buildings, or to make improvements or alterations which will materially and permanently change the nature of the property, so as to render it impossible for him to restore the same premises, substantially, at the expiration of the term.”

Winship v. Pitts

And Kidd v. Dennison, in which the court held that:

“[I]f the tenant materially changes the nature and character of the buildings, it is waste, although the value of the property should be enhanced by the alteration. The tenant has no authority to assume the right of judging what may be an improvement to the inheritance. He must confine himself to the conditions of his lease.”

Kidd v. Dennison

So, with an appreciation of not only the financial opportunities but the limitations of the tenancy and wishes of the testator, the Court held that under no circumstances did the claimant have any express rights to enjoy the benefits of his inheritance beyond those powers conferred, and that to do otherwise was abjectly unlawful and subject to obvious penalty, while holding that:

“[T]he life tenant may do whatever is required for the general use and enjoyment of his estate as he received it.”

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