United States v. Balint

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



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.


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 Supreme Court of the United States reversed.


Could an indictment for violation of Narcotic Act, 38 Stat. 785 (1914) be quashed on the ground that defendants sold the inhibited drugs without knowing them to be such?




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.

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