WILLIAMS V. UNITED STATES, 458 U. S. 279 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. United States, 458 U.S. 279 (1982)

Williams v. United States

No. 80-2116

Argued April 20, 1982

Decided June 29, 1982

458 U.S. 279


Title 18 U.S.C. § 1014 makes it a crime to "knowingly mak[e] any false statement or report," or "willfully overvalu[e] any land, property or security," for the purpose of influencing the action of described financial institutions (including federally insured banks) "upon any application, advance, . . . commitment, or loan." Petitioner engaged in a series of transactions seemingly amounting to a case of "check-kiting" between his accounts in federally insured banks, first drawing a check far in excess of his account balance in one bank and depositing it in his account in the other, and then reversing the process between his accounts. Petitioner was convicted in Federal District Court of violating § 1014, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioner's conduct in depositing "bad checks" in federally insured banks is not proscribed by § 1014. Pp. 458 U. S. 282-290.

(a) Petitioner's actions did not involve the making of a "false statement." Technically speaking, a check is not a factual assertion at all, and therefore cannot be characterized as "true" or "false." Similarly, petitioner's conduct cannot be regarded as "overvalu[ing]" property or a security. In a literal sense, the face amounts of the checks were their "values." To interpret § 1014 as meaning that a drawer of a check has made a "false" statement whenever he has insufficient funds in his account at the moment the check is presented would "sligh[t] the wording of the statute," United States v. Enmons, 410 U. S. 396, 410 U. S. 399, and would render a wide range of unremarkable conduct violative of federal law. When § 1014 was enacted, federal action was not necessary to interdict the deposit of bad checks, for fraudulent checking activities already were addressed in comprehensive fashion by state law. Pp. 458 U. S. 284-287.

(b) The legislative history does not support the proposition that § 1014 was designed to have general application to the passing of worthless checks, and does not demand that the statute be read as applicable to anything other than representations made in connection with conventional loan or related transactions. A narrow interpretation of § 1014 is consistent with the usual approach of lenity in the construction of criminal statutes. Pp. 458 U. S. 288-290.

639 F.2d 1311, reversed and remanded.

Page 458 U. S. 280

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 291. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN and WHITE, JJ., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 292.

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