Friday, September 14, 2012

Morissette v. United States case brief

  • Morissette v. US- (FACTS) ∆ converted spent air force shell casings, found on military target range, into scrap metal which he sold for a profit. He was charged under a federal statute which makes knowing conversion of gov’t property a crime. Trial ct refused ∆ contention that he had no intent to convert the metal unlawfully by stating, “The question of intent is whether or not he intended to take the property.” No mens rea scienter need be shown to establish felonious intent. Ct of App affirmed and Sup Ct reversed.
    • Crimes which are mala in se necessarily include the element of mens rea and no statutory strict liability version of them is permissible.
    • Felonious intent may not be presumed from the intentional dong of the act plus the proscribed result.
      • Conversion, as a common law crime, always included scienter as a necessary element and mere omission from the statutory definition of it does not justify its abandonment.
      • Ct points out that previous decisions permitting strict liability involved regulatory (mala prohibita) statutes, where such is properly applied.

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