United States v. Balint

258 U.S. 250, 42 S. Ct. 301 (1922)

 

RULE:

In the prohibition or punishment of particular acts, the State may in the maintenance of a public policy provide that he who shall do them shall do them at his peril and will not be heard to plead in defense good faith or ignorance.

FACTS:

Defendants were indicted for violation of Narcotic Act ("Act"), 38 Stat. 785 (1914). Defendants demurred to the indictment on the ground that it failed to charge that they had sold the inhibited drugs knowing them to be such. The statute did not make such knowledge an element of the offense. The district court sustained the demurrer and quashed the indictment. On appeal, the court reversed. The Act's manifest purpose was to require every person dealing in drugs to ascertain at his peril whether that which he sold came within the inhibition of the statute, and if he sold the inhibited drug in ignorance of its character, to penalize him. Congress weighed the possible injustice of subjecting an innocent seller to a penalty against the evil of exposing innocent purchasers to danger from the drug, and concluded that the latter was the result preferably to be avoided. The District Court sustained the demurrer and quashed the indictment.

ISSUE:

 Was the District Court correct in quashing the indictment?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

It is very evident from a reading of the Act that the emphasis of section 2 is in securing a close supervision of the business of dealing in these dangerous drugs by the taxing officers of the Government and that it merely uses a criminal penalty to secure recorded evidence of the disposition of such drugs as a means of taxing and restraining the traffic. Its' manifest purpose is to require every person dealing in drugs to ascertain at his peril whether that which he sells comes within the inhibition of the statute, and if he sells the inhibited drug in ignorance of its character, to penalize him. Congress weighed the possible injustice of subjecting an innocent seller to a penalty against the evil of exposing innocent purchasers to danger from the drug, and concluded that the latter was the result preferably to be avoided. Doubtless considerations as to the opportunity of the seller to find out the fact and the difficulty of proof of knowledge contributed to this conclusion. Thus, the court thinks that the demurrer to the indictment should have been overruled.

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