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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Press Publishing Co., 219 U.S. 1 (1911)

United States v. Press Publishing Company

No. 541

Argued October 24, 1910

Decided January 3, 1911

219 U.S. 1


The effect of § 2 of the Act of July 7, 1898, c. 576, 30 Stat. 717, was to incorporate the criminal laws of the several states in force July 1, 1898, into the statute and make such criminal laws, to the extent of such incorporation, laws of the United States and applicable to the United States reservations within the states (Franklin v. United States, 216 U. S. 559), but the history of the act demonstrates that, in its adoption, Congress sedulously considered the two-fold character of our constitutional government with the purpose of interfering as little as might be with the authority of the states, as to the subject matter of the statute, over territory situated, except for the existence of a United States reservation, within state jurisdiction.

The purpose and intent leading to the adoption of an act affords a means for discerning the intent of a subsequent act relating to the same subject and superseding the earlier act.

Proceedings in Congress in the course of adoption of a statute and amending its form as originally proposed considered, in this case, in determining the purpose and scope of the act and the intent of Congress in adopting it.

Page 219 U. S. 2

The Assimilative Crimes Act of 1898 cannot be used as a means for frustrating the laws of the state, within which a reservation of the United States is situated, and one accused of a crime consisting of several elements treated as a unit by the state law so that there can be but one trial and conviction thereunder cannot be indicted and tried in the United States court for a single separate element committed on such reservation, the other elements of the crime being committed in other portions of the state.

As the law of New York results in the unity as one criminal act of the publication of a libel and its circulation, allows but a single conviction for the combined act, and affords adequate means for punishing such circulation on a reservation of the United States within that state, resort cannot be had to the United States court, under § 2 of the Act of July 7, 1898, to punish the act of such circulation on the basis that it is a separate and distinct offense from the publication.

On March 4 1909, upon the assumed authority of the second section of an Act of Congress approved July 7, 1898, c. 576, 30 Stat. 717, a grand jury in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York found a true bill against the Press Publishing Company charging the commission of alleged criminal libels set out in an indictment composed of fourteen counts. The asserted libels were contained in six issues of the World, a newspaper printed in the City of New York, of which newspaper the defendant in error, a New York corporation, was publisher. The first seven counts dealt with the publication of the libels by circulating copies of the newspaper containing the same within the reservation and military post in Orange County, New York, known as West Point. The remaining counts dealt with the publication of each of the libels by the delivery of a copy of the issue of the World containing the same to a post office inspector at his office in the Post Office building in the City of New York. Both West Point and the Post Office building were averred to be places within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. Those who were alleged in each count to have been criminally libeled were, at the

Page 219 U. S. 3

time of the publications, the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, and certain private individuals. The alleged libelous articles related to the purchase by the United States of the Panama Canal. We need not state the contents of the articles, since, in the view taken of the case, we shall be only called upon to determine whether, conceding the publications to have been libelous as charged in the indictment, they constituted offenses against the United States within the purview of the Act of 1898.

The case went to trial upon a plea of not guilty. The circulation of the newspapers containing the alleged libels on the military reservation, and their delivery to the inspector at the post office, as charged in the indictment, was admitted by the defendant. The government, on the other hand, admitted that all of the issues of the World newspaper referred to in the indictment were printed in the defendant's printing establishment in the City of New York, and were circulated therefrom.

At the close of the evidence introduced by the government, the defendant moved to quash the indictment or to instruct a verdict of acquittal, upon the following grounds:

"First. That court has no jurisdiction in this case, because there is no statute of the United States authorizing the prosecution."

"Second. The Act of 1898 does not apply to the case as disclosed by the evidence."

"Third. If construed so as to cover the acts shown by the evidence, the act is unconstitutional."

"Fourth. The offense, if any, was committed wholly within the jurisdiction of the State of New York, and was punishable there."

"Fifth. The defendant, being a corporation, is incapable of committing the offense charged in the indictment."

The court announced, that it had concluded that the indictment was not authorized by the Act of 1898, and therefore the motion to quash would be sustained. Before,

Page 219 U. S. 4

however, any formal entry to that effect was made, in order to obviate any question of double jeopardy, upon motion of the attorney for the United States a juror was withdrawn, and thereafter a judgment was duly entered quashing the indictment, it being expressly recited in the judgment that it was based upon a construction of the statute. To review the action of the trial court, this writ of error is prosecuted by the United States, under the authority of the Act of March 2, 1907, 34 Stat. 1246, c. 2564.

Page 219 U. S. 8

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