Nash v. United States

229 U.S. 373, 33 S. Ct. 780 (1913)



The law is full of instances where a man's fate depends on his estimating rightly, that is, as the jury subsequently estimates it, some matter of degree. If his judgment is wrong, not only may he incur a fine or a short imprisonment; he may incur the penalty of death. An act causing death may be murder, manslaughter, or misadventure according to the degree of danger attending it by common experience in the circumstances known to the actor. The very meaning of the fiction of implied malice in such cases at common law was that a man might have to answer with his life for consequences which he neither intended nor foresaw. The criterion in such cases is to examine whether common social duty would, under the circumstances, have suggested a more circumspect conduct.


Defendants were convicted of a conspiracy in restraint of trade and a conspiracy to monopolize trade in violation of the Sherman Act. Defendants argued that their convictions were invalid because the Act was so vague that it was inoperative on its criminal side, that neither of the counts alleged any overt act, that the contemplated acts would not have constituted an offense if they had been done, and that the charges were vague. Defendants cited a rule that the criminality of an act should not depend on whether a jury might think it was reasonable or unreasonable. On review, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment because the trial court erred in its instructions to the jury on a vital point but upheld the validity of criminal conspiracy charges under the antitrust laws.


Is the challenged statute so vague as to be inoperative on its criminal side?




The United States Supreme Court stated that the law was replete with offenses charged to varying degrees based on whether common social duty would have suggested a more circumspect conduct under the circumstances. The Court held that a violation of the Act did not require the doing of any act other than the act of conspiring with an anti-competitive intent. The charges of conspiracy were therefore sufficiently definite. However, the Court held the trial court erred in its instructions to the jury on a vital point and therefore reversed the judgment.

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