Morissette v. United States

342 U.S. 246, 72 S. Ct. 240 (1952)



Where Congress borrows terms, legal tradition and meaning of the terms are to be accepted with a presumption that Congress knows and adopts the meanings of the terms.


The government had property, used as a bombing range, on which private citizens extensively hunted deer despite signs posted stating "keep out." After an unsuccessful hunting trip, Morissette removed spent bomb casings from the property under the belief that the property was abandoned and considered of no value by the government, and salvaged the casings for $ 84. He was charged with unlawfully and knowingly stealing and converting government property, pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 641. Despite Morisettes defense that there was no wrongful or criminal intent, the district court ruled that felonious intent was presumed by petitioner's act of taking property. On appeal, United States Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction for unlawful conversion. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Could criminal intent be presumed by the act of thing property?




The Court held that mere omission of any mention of intent from the criminal statute was not to be construed as the elimination of that element from the crimes denounced, and that where intent was an element of the crime charged, its existence was a question of fact to be determined by the jury.

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