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U.S. Supreme Court

Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246 (1952)

Morissette v. United States

No. 12

Argued October 9-10, 1951

Decided January 7, 1952

342 U.S. 246


1. A criminal intent is an essential element of an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 641, which provides that "whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts" property of the United States is punishable by fine and imprisonment. Pp. 342 U. S. 247-273.

(a) Mere omission from § 641 of any mention of intent is not to be construed as eliminating that element from the crimes defined. United States v. Behrman, 258 U. S. 280, and United States v. Balint, 258 U. S. 250, distinguished. Pp. 342 U. S. 250-263.

(b) The history and purposes of § 641 afford no ground for inferring any affirmative instruction from Congress to eliminate intent from the offense of "knowingly converting" or stealing government property. Pp. 342 U. S. 263-273.

2. Where intent of the accused is an ingredient of the crime charged, its existence is a question of fact which must be submitted to the jury for determination in the light of all relevant evidence, and the trial court may not withdraw or prejudge the issue by instructing the jury that the law raises a presumption of intent from a single act. Pp. 342 U. S. 273-276.

187 F.2d 427, reversed.

Petitioner was convicted of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 187 F.2d 427. This Court granted certiorari. 341 U.S. 925. Reversed, p. 342 U. S. 276.

Page 342 U. S. 247

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