BURTON V. UNITED STATES, 202 U. S. 344 (1906)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Burton v. United States, 202 U.S. 344 (1906)

Burton v. United States

No. 539

Argued April 3, 4, 1906

Decided May 21, 1906

202 U.S. 344


Congress has power to make it an offense against the United States for a Senator or Representative, after his election and during his continuance in office, to agree to receive, or to receive, compensation for services before a Department of the government in relation to matters in which the United States is directly or indirectly interested, and § 1782, Rev.Stat., is not repugnant to the Constitution as interfering, nor does it by its necessary operation, interfere with the legitimate authority of the House of Congress over their respective members.

Including in the sentence of a Senator convicted of an offense under § 1782, Rev.Stat., that he is rendered forever thereafter incapable of holding any office of trust or emolument of office under the government of the United States is simply a recital of the effect of the conviction, and the conviction does not operate ipso facto to vacate his seat or compel the Senate to expel him or to regard him as expelled.

While the Senate, as a branch of the Legislative Department, owes its existence to the Constitution and passes laws that concern the entire country, its members are chosen by state legislatures, and cannot properly be said to hold their places under the government of the United States.

The United States is interested, either directly or indirectly within the meaning of § 1782, Rev.Stat., in protecting its mails and postal facilities from improper and illegal use and in enforcing statutes regulating such use.

Where the indictment clearly discloses all the elements essential to the commission of the offense charged, and the averments are sufficient in

Page 202 U. S. 345

the event of acquittal, to plead the judgment in lieu of a second prosecution for the same offense, the defendant is informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him within the meaning of the Constitution and according to the rules of pleading, and in this case, the evidence was sufficient to justify the case's being sent to the jury, and the court below did not err in refusing to direct an acquittal, nor was there any error in the court's charge to the jury.

Under § 1782, Rev.Stat., an agreement to receive compensation, whether received or not for the prohibited services, is made one offense, and the receiving of compensation, whether in pursuance of a previous agreement or not, is made a separate and distinct offense.

The intention of the legislature must govern in the interpretation of a statute. It is the legislature, and not the court, which is to define a crime and ordain its punishment.

A plea of autrefois acquit must be upon a prosecution for the same identical offense, and where defendant on a former trial was acquitted of having received compensation forbidden by § 1782, Rev.Stat., from an individual described as an officer of a certain corporation, and at the same time was found guilty of having received such compensation from the company, he cannot plead the former acquittal as a bar to a further prosecution of the charge that he had received such compensation from the company.

The federal court at the place where the agreement was made for compensation to perform services forbidden by § 1782, Rev.Stat., has jurisdiction to try the offense, and even if the agreement was negotiated or tentatively accepted at another place, the place of its final acceptance and ratification is where the agreement was made, although defendant may not have been at that place at that time.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 202 U. S. 358

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