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HAMMERSCHMIDT ET AL. v. UNITED STATES.

decided: May 26, 1924.

HAMMERSCHMIDT ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES.



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

Author: Taft

[ 265 U.S. Page 185]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a review by certiorari of the conviction of thirteen persons charged in one indictment with the crime of violating § 37 of the Penal Code. The charge was that the petitioners wilfully and unlawfully conspired to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing and defeating a lawful function of its government, to wit: that of registering for military service all male persons between the ages of twenty-one and thirty as required by the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, c. 15, 40 Stat. 76, through the printing, publishing and circulating of handbills, dodgers and other matter intended and designed to counsel, advise and procure persons subject to the Selective Act to refuse to obey it. A demurrer to the indictment was overruled and trial and conviction followed. By exception and assignment of error the question is properly made whether a crime described as above can be said to be a conspiracy to defraud the United States. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. 287 Fed. 817.

The indictment was framed and the argument of the Government in support of the conviction is based on the language of this Court in Haas v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462, 479, construing § 5440, Rev. Stats. (now § 37 of the Penal Code) which reads as follows:

"If two or more persons conspire . . . to defraud the United States in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such parties do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, all the parties to such conspiracy shall be liable," etc.

The opinion was delivered by Mr. Justice Lurton and the words relied on are:

"The statute is broad enough in its terms to include any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing

[ 265 U.S. Page 186]

     or defeating the lawful function of any department of Government."

This language it is contended necessarily embraces a conspiracy to defeat the selective draft by inducing the persons required to register under it to defeat its purpose by refusing to register.

We think the words relied on can not be given such a wide meaning when we consider the case to which they were applied, and when we replace them in the context. The Court was dealing with an appeal in a habeas corpus case to test the validity of an order of removal of the appellant under § 1014, Rev. Stats. The main question was whether the indictments under which the removal was ordered charged an offense against the United States. They charged two sets of conspiracies. One was that the defendant with two others, one an associate statistician in the Department of Agriculture, conspired to obtain secret official information which the statistician in violation of his official duty was to give out to his co-conspirators concerning the cotton crop reports in advance of the time they were to be published according to law; another was that the statistician was to falsify one of the reports of which his associates were to be advised in advance; another was that the defendant and one associate were to bribe the statistician to make the false report and publish it in advance. The second conspiracy involving the defendant, the statistician, and other persons was similar in detail to the first. All of the information in advance of the official publication was to be used for speculative purposes in the open market. The opinion describes the official machinery in the Agricultural Department for acquiring the information upon which the cotton reports each month were based, and shows that they were approved by the Secretary, and that by regulation the employees were required to keep them and their details secret until duly published, and points out that

[ 265 U.S. Page 187]

     they were of great value and vitally affected the market ...


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