Backun v. United States

112 F.2d 635 (4th Cir. 1940)



The seller may not ignore the purpose for which the purchase is made if he is advised of that purpose, or wash his hands of the aid that he has given the perpetrator of a felony by the plea that he has merely made a sale of merchandise. Not only does the act of the seller assist in the commission of the felony, but his will assents to its commission, since he could refuse to give the assistance by refusing to make the sale.


Defendant was apprehended in a pawnshop in Charlotte, N.C., in possession of a large quantity of silverware, a portion of which was shown to have been stolen a short while before. He testified that he purchased all of the silverware from Backun in New York; that the purchase was partly on credit; that Backun had the silverware concealed in a closet and in the cellar of his residence; and there was no sale for second hand silverware in New York but a good market for it in the South; that Backun knew of co-offender Zucker’s custom to travel in the South and was told by Zucker that he wished to take the silverware on the road with him; and that Backun sold to him for $1,400 silverware which was shown by other witnesses to be of a much greater value. Defendant claimed that he did not know that the property he sold was going to be transported in interstate commerce, and the evidence was insufficient to support the allegation that property was worth more than $5,000. Defendant appealed the decision of the district court which convicted and sentenced him for transporting stolen merchandise of a value in excess of $5,000 in interstate commerce in violation of the National Stolen Property Act, 18 U.S.C.S. Section 415.


Does one who sells property to another knowing that the buyer intends to use it for the commission of felony render himself criminally liable in aiding and abetting in its commission?




The appeals court determined that the evidence did not show an express contract that the purchaser of the property was to carry property out of state. However, it found that defendant knew that the purchaser would do so and, by making the sale to him, caused the transportation in interstate commerce. Thus, there was evidence of direct participation by defendant in the criminal purpose of the purchaser of the goods. Nevertheless, the court reversed the conviction because the evidence did not sufficiently prove that the value of the property exceeded $5,000 as the statute required for a valid conviction.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.