LADNER V. UNITED STATES, 358 U. S. 169 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ladner v. United States, 358 U.S. 169 (1958)

Ladner v. United States

No. 2

Argued November 19, 1957

Affirmed by an equally divided Court January 6, 1958

Rehearing granted, judgment vacated and case restored

to the calendar for reargument May 26, 1958

Reargued October 22, 1958

Decided December 15, 1958.

358 U.S. 169


Petitioner was convicted in a Federal District Court on two different counts of assaulting two federal officers with a deadly weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. (1940 ed.) § 254 (now 18 U.S.C. § 111). He was sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years on each conviction of assault, the sentences to run consecutively. Upon completion of the first 10-year sentence, he moved in the District Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to correct the second, and consecutive, sentence. He alleged that the evidence at his trial showed that he fired but one discharge from a shotgun, which wounded the two federal officers, and he contended that, in these circumstances, he could be guilty of but one assault. Holding that the wounding of two officers by a single discharge of a shotgun would constitute a separate offense against each officer under the statute, the District Court denied his motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: the single discharge of a shotgun alleged by petitioner in this case would constitute only a single violation of § 254; petitioner is entitled to an opportunity to sustain his allegation that his conviction of two assaults rested upon evidence that the wounding of the two officers resulted from the single discharge of the gun, and the judgment is reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings. Pp. 358 U. S. 170-179.

(a) The question of the scope of collateral attack upon criminal sentences in the circumstances of this case is not decided, since it does not appear that the Government raised the question in the courts below, and it is not tendered in this Court as a question presented for decision. Pp. 358 U. S. 172-173.

(b) It is not clear from the statute, even when read in the light of its legislative history, that Congress intended that a single act of assault affecting two officers should constitute two offenses under the statute. Pp. 358 U. S. 173-177.

(c) To hold that there are as many assaults committed as there are officers affected would produce incongruous results. P. 358 U. S. 177.

Page 358 U. S. 170

(d) The meaning of this criminal statute being ambiguous, the policy of lenity in the construction of criminal statutes requires that the less harsh of two possible meanings be adopted. Pp. 358 U. S. 177-178.

(e) Since the District Court did not hold a hearing on petitioner's motion, and the proceedings at petitioner's trial were not transcribed, it will be necessary at the hearing on the motion to reconstruct the trial record in order to determine whether petitioner was properly convicted of more than one offense. Pp. 358 U. S. 178-179.

230 F.2d 726 reversed and case remanded for further proceedings.

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