MCELROY V. UNITED STATES, 455 U. S. 642 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McElroy v. United States, 455 U.S. 642 (1982)

McElroy v. United States

No. 80-6680

Argued January 12, 1982

Decided March 23, 1982

455 U.S. 642


Petitioner was convicted in Federal District Court of two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2314, which prohibits the transportation "in interstate or foreign commerce [of] any . . . forged . . . securities . . knowing the same to have been . . . forged." The proof at trial showed that blank checks had been stolen in Ohio, and that, several months later, petitioner used two of the checks, on which signatures had been forged, to pay for a car and for a boat and trailer purchased in separate transactions in Pennsylvania. The trial court instructed the jury that, in order to find petitioner guilty, it must find that he transported the checks in a forged condition in "interstate commerce," and that such transportation could take place entirely within Pennsylvania if it was a "continuation of the movement that began out of state." The court rejected petitioner's objection to the instruction on the asserted ground that, under § 2314, the Government had the burden of proving that the checks had been forged in Ohio before being transported across state lines to Pennsylvania. The Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's convictions.

Held: Section 2314 does not require proof that the securities were forged before being taken across state lines, and thus the trial court's jury instructions were correct. Pp. 455 U. S. 647-659.

(a) Use of the past tense "forged" in § 2314 does not establish Congress' intent to prohibit only the transportation of securities that were forged before crossing state lines. Congress' use of the phrase "interstate commerce," rather than "state borders," as well as the legislative history of the phrase, shows that Congress intended it to be as broad in scope as this Court's decisions holding that interstate commerce begins well before state lines are crossed and ends only when movement of the item in question has ceased in the destination State. Moreover, § 2314's purpose of aiding the States in detection and punishment of criminals who evade state authorities by using channels of interstate commerce supports the conclusion that Congress could not have intended to require federal prosecutors to prove that the securities had been forged before crossing state lines. Pp. 455 U. S. 648-656.

(b) The language of § 2314 does not raise significant questions of ambiguity sufficient to warrant application of the principle of lenity and construction

Page 455 U. S. 643

in petitioner's favor. United States v. Bass, 404 U. S. 336 distinguished. Pp. 455 U. S. 657-658.

644 F.2d 274, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 455 U. S. 659.

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