UNITED STATES V. MURDOCK, 290 U. S. 389 (1933)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Murdock, 290 U.S. 389 (1933)

United States v. Murdock

No. 88

Argued November 6, 1933

Decided December 11, 1933

290 U.S. 389


1. In criminal trials in the federal courts, the power of the judge to express an opinion as to the guilt of the defendant, though it

Page 290 U. S. 390

exists, should be exercised cautiously, and only in exceptional cases. P. 290 U. S. .394.

2. Under the circumstances of this case, it was reversible error for the judge to state in his charge to the jury his opinion that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Distinguishing Horning v. District of Columbia, 254 U. S. 135. P. 290 U. S. 394.

3. In determining the meaning of the word "willfully" as used in a penal statute, the context in which it is used may be resorted to as an aid. P. 290 U. S. 395.

4. The provision of the Revenue Acts of 1926, § 1114(a), and 1928, § 146(a), punishing any person "who willfully fails" to supply information to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and its employees does not apply to one whose refusal to give such information was based upon his bona fide, though mistaken, understanding of his constitutional protection against self-incrimination. P. 290 U. S. 396.

5. In a prosecution under the Revenue Acts of 1926 and 1928 for "willfully" failing to supply information, it appeared that the defendant had refused to answer questions on the ground that he might be subjected to prosecution under state laws. This was prior to United States v. Murdock, 284 U. S. 141. The defendant requested the following instruction:

"If you believe that the reasons stated by the defendant in his refusal to answer questions were given in good faith and based upon his actual belief, you should consider that in determining whether or not his refusal to answer the questions was willful."

Held, the court's refusal to give the requested instruction was error. P. 290 U. S. 396.

62 F.2d 926 affirmed.

Certiorari to review a judgment reversing a judgment and sentence of the district court in a criminal prosecution under the Revenue Acts.

Page 290 U. S. 391

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