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The U.S. Supreme Court would not without the clearest manifestation of Congressional intent assume that mere knowing and intentional default in payment of a tax, where there had been no willful failure to disclose the liability, is intended to constitute a criminal offense of any degree. The Court would expect willfulness in such a case to include some element of evil motive and want of justification in view of all the financial circumstances of the taxpayer.
Defendant sought review of his felony conviction for criminal income tax evasion under 26 U.S.C.S. § 145(b) of the Revenue Act of 1936. The indictment alleged that defendant failed to file a tax return and willfully failed to pay the tax. At trial, the court refused to instruct that an affirmative act was necessary to constitute a willful "attempt." The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Did the trial court err in refusing to instruct that an affirmative act was necessary to constitute a will attempt to defeat and evade income tax?
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the element of willfulness necessary to convict defendant of felony tax evasion, as opposed to misdemeanor tax evasion, implied an element of evil motive and required an affirmative commission of an evasive act, not merely a willful omission of an evasive act. The "attempt" required by the Act was not the same as an incomplete "attempt," as defined in the criminal common law. Defendant was entitled to a jury instruction pointing out the necessity of a finding of willful attempt to evade the tax, in order to raise the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. The Court accordingly reversed and remanded.