Friday, November 15, 2013

Morissette v. United States case brief

Morissette v. United States case brief summary
 342 U.S. 246 (1952)

Petitioner appealed a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed petitioner's conviction for unlawful conversion, in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 641. Petitioner claimed he had no criminal intent.

The government had property, used as a bombing range, on which private citizens extensively hunted deer despite signs posted stating "keep out." After an unsuccessful hunting trip, petitioner removed spent bomb casings from the property under the belief that the property was abandoned and considered of no value by the government, and salvaged the casings for $ 84. Petitioner was charged with unlawfully and knowingly stealing and converting government property, pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 641. At trial, petitioner testified that the casings were taken with no wrongful or criminal intent, but the trial court ruled felonious intent was presumed by petitioner's act of taking property. The trial court refused to submit to the jury the question of whether petitioner acted with innocent intention.


  • The Supreme Court extensively reviewed the requirement of culpable state of mind and held that the mere omission from § 641 of any reference to intent would not be interpreted or construed as elimination of intent from crimes enumerated in § 641. 
  • The Court stated that when intent was an ingredient of the crime charged, its existence was a question of fact that was to be submitted to the jury.

The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed. The Court held that mere omission of any mention of intent from the criminal statute was not to be construed as the elimination of that element from the crimes denounced, and that where intent was an element of the crime charged, its existence was a question of fact to be determined by the jury.

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