Morissette v. United States

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

 

RULE:

Mere omission of any mention of intent from the criminal statute is not to be construed as the elimination of that element from the crimes denounced. Where intent is an element of the crime charged, its existence is a question of fact to be determined by the jury.

FACTS:

The government owned property, which was used as a bombing range, on which private citizens extensively hunted deer despite signs posted stating "keep out." After an unsuccessful hunting trip, petitioner 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. Petitioner was charged with unlawfully and knowingly stealing and converting government property, pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 641. At trial, petitioner testified that the casings were taken with no wrongful or criminal intent, but the trial court ruled felonious intent was presumed by petitioner's act of taking property. The trial court refused to submit to the jury the question of whether petitioner acted with innocent intention. Petitioner appealed a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed petitioner's conviction for unlawful conversion, in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 641

ISSUE:

Is the existence of criminal intent under 18 U.S.C.S. § 641 a question that should be submitted to the jury?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed. 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. The history and purposes of § 641 afford no ground for inferring any affirmative instruction from Congress to eliminate intent from the offense of "knowingly converting" or stealing government property. Where intent of the accused is an ingredient of the crime charged, its existence is a question of fact which must be submitted to the jury for determination in the light of all relevant evidence; and the trial court may not withdraw or prejudge the issue by instructing the jury that the law raises a presumption of intent from a single act.

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