Dennis v. United States

341 U.S. 494, 71 S. Ct. 857 (1951)



The existence of a mens rea is the rule of, rather than the exception to, the principles of Anglo-American criminal jurisprudence.


Defendants were members of the Communist Party who were convicted of violating the Smith Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 11, by conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the United States. Defendants were convicted and the appellate court affirmed.  On certiorari, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court judgment upholding defendants' convictions.


Did the trial court err in interpreting the statute by charging that the statute required an unlawful intent before the jury could convict?




Upon review, the Court affirmed the conviction, holding that §§ 2 and 3 of the Smith Act, 18 U.S.C.S. §§ 10 and 11, as applied to defendants did not violate their First Amendment rights because their conduct presented a clear and present danger of attempting to accomplish a crime that was within Congress' power to punish. The structure and purpose of the statute demand the inclusion of intent as an element of the crime. Congress was concerned with those who advocate and organize for the overthrow of the Government. Certainly those who recruit and combine for the purpose of advocating overthrow intend to bring about that overthrow. 

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