Harris v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: S.S. Guadalupe

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 19 (1959)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1959 / Jan 14, 1959
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Harris v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1959 in Harris v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1959 in Harris v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 11, Nathaniel Harris, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. Glazer.

Sidney M. Glazer:

May it please the Court.

This is also a multiple punishment narcotic case.

Unlike Blockburger, Gore and Greene, this case does not involve any sale.

Also unlike Blockburger, Gore and Greene, this case does not involve the order form statute.

The only statutes involved in this case are the Stamp Act requirement statute and the illegal import statute.

The question, primary question for consideration is whether under a charge of purchasing narcotic drugs from an unstamped package, and receiving and concealing the same drugs, known that the drugs have been illegally imported, a defendant may be given consecutive sentences under proof of mere possession and under instructions which do not try to distinguish the elements of one statute from the elements in the other statute.

Now, Section 4704 of Title 26 not only makes sale an offense, it makes purchase, sale, dispensing and distributing drugs, except in original stamped packages, a crime and that statute has a presumption which provides that the absence of stamps is prima facie evidence of a violation by the person in whose possession the narcotic drug may be found.

The other statute involved is the import statute which makes it a crime to either import or receive, conceal, buy, sell, or in any manner facilitate the transportation, concealment or sale of narcotic drugs after import knowing that the drugs have been illegally imported.

Again, there is a presumption which provides that possession of the narcotic drugs shall be sufficient evidence to constitute a -- a conviction of a violation of this statute.

Now, in this particular case, the defendant received the maximum sentence in each -- on each of the two counts, or at that -- at that time, the maximum sentence was five years and so he received a consecutive sentence of 10 years.

Now, the Government's case, the evidence in the Government's case show that there were two police officers standing on cans peered into windows of an apartment and they saw three individuals.

One police officer testified that he saw the two codefendants, not the -- not the petitioner handling some powder.

The other officer testified that the -- he saw the defendant with something in his hand, but he did know what it was.

The officers announced who they were and all three occupants of the room fled and the officers found filled and unfilled capsules of narcotic drugs.

They found some capsules in a woman's coat.

They found narcotic power on the mirror and --and they also found a needle and syringe.

Now, in this particular case, the defense in this case, this petitioner was in alibi that he wasn't there at the time and place the crime was committed.

Somebody else testified that he, not petitioner was in the room and this alibi naturally was rejected by the jury.

Now, the instructions are very important in this case and they are set out on -- the pertinent instructions are set out on page 7, 8 and 9 of our brief.

In this particular case, the Court instructed the jury by first reading the statutes involved.

They next instructed the jury by reading the presumptions.

He then read each count of the indictment.

Then the Court immediately after reading each count of the indictment said, “So, the question under each count of this indictment resolves down to whether or not the defendants or either of them did possess this narcotic drug on the 8th day of February, of this year, out there in the room at 4567 McMillan.”

Then the Court stated that under Count 1 that possession was prima facie evidence and significantly, the Court said, this is on page 8 of our brief, “So if you find and believe from all the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants or either of them possessed the narcotics mentioned in Count 1 and that the said narcotics did not bear the required internal revenue tax stamps, then you will find the defendants or either of them guilty as charged in Count 1.”

Then the Court gave a similar instruction under -- for Count 2, the difference being instead of saying that you will find the defendants guilty, the Court said that possession would authorize -- would authorize the conviction of the defendants under Count 2.

Then the Court went on to say that unless you find that the defendants had possession, that you must acquit the defendants.

Now, the Court of Appeals affirmed on a theory that the single act of possession justified cumulative sentence -- sentences and that the Court instructed the -- trial court instructed the jury as to the necessary elements required for a -- for a conviction.

Now, the first problem involved is, what did the Blockburger and Gore cases hold?