KECK V. UNITED STATES, 172 U. S. 434 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Keck v. United States, 172 U.S. 434 (1899)

Keck v. United States

No. 15

Argued November 10, 1898

Decided January 9, 1899

172 U.S. 434


An indictment based upon that portion of Rev.Stat. § 3082 which makes it an offense to "fraudulently or knowingly import or bring into the United States, or assist in doing so, any merchandise contrary to law," charging that the defendant, on a date named,

"did knowingly, willfully and unlawfully import and bring into the United States, and did assist in importing and bringing into the United States, to-wit, into the port of Philadelphia,"

diamonds of a stated value, "contrary to law, and the provisions of the act of Congress in such cases made and provided" is clearly insufficient, as the allegations are too general, and do not sufficiently inform the defendant of the nature of the accusation against him.

An indictment for a violation of Rev.Stat. § 2865 which charges that the defendant

"did knowingly, willfully and unlawfully, and with intent to defraud the revenue of the United States, smuggle and clandestinely introduce into the United States, to-wit, into the port of Philadelphia,"

certain "diamonds" of a stated value, which should have been invoiced and duty thereon paid or accounted for, but which, to the knowledge of the defendant and with intent to defraud the revenue, were not invoiced

Page 172 U. S. 435

nor the duty paid or accounted for, sufficiently describes the offense to. make it clear what articles were charged to have been smuggled.

Under the Tariff Act of 1894, c. 349, diamonds were subject to duty.

Mere acts of concealment of merchandise on entering the waters of the United States do not, taken by themselves, constitute smuggling or clandestine introduction.

The offense described in Rev.Stat. § 2865 is not committed by an act done before the obligation to pay or account for the duties arises.

The word "smuggling" had a well understood import at common law, and, in the absence of a particularized definition of its significance in the statute creating it, resort may be had to the common law for the purpose of arriving at its meaning.

A review of the principal statutes enacted in this country regulating the collection of customs duties establishes that so far as they embraced legislation designed to prevent the evasion of duties, they proceeded upon the theory of the English law on the same subject -- that is, that they forbade all the acts which were deemed by the lawmaker means to the end of smuggling, or clandestinely introducing dutiable goods into the country in violation of law, and which were likewise considered as efficient to enable the offender to reap the benefits of his wrongful acts, and that therefore they forbade and prescribed penalties for everything which could precede smuggling or follow it, without specifically making a distinct and separate offense designated as smuggling, or clandestine introduction.

Whether we consider the testimony of the captain alone or all the testimony contained in the record, it unquestionably establishes that there was no passage of the package of diamonds through the lines of the customs authorities, but, on the contrary, that the package was delivered to the customs officer on board the vessel itself at a time when or before the obligation to make entry and pay the duties arose, and that the offense of smuggling was not committed within the meaning of the statute.

This case was first argued on the 18th of December, 1896. On the 18th of January, 1897, it was restored to the docket for reargument, with leave to submit to the full bench on printed briefs at any time prior to the first Monday of the next March. On the 15th of February, 1897, a motion to fix a day for reargument, made by Solicitor General Conrad on the 1st of that month, was granted, and the case was assigned for argument on the second Monday of the next term. On the 19th and 20th of January, 1898, the case was reargued. On the 7th of the following March, it was announced that the judgment below was affirmed by a divided Court. On the 21st

Page 172 U. S. 436

of the same month, it was announced that a motion for rehearing, in order to allow the submission of the cause to a full bench, was granted, and that the cause was taken on submission. On the 25th of April, 1898, the cause was restored to the docket for reargument and assigned for argument on the second Monday of the next term. On the 10th of November, 1898, it was reargued.

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