RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: South Boston Court
DOCKET NO.: 236
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 390 US 85 (1968)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1967
DECIDED: Jan 29, 1968
Facts of the case
Media for Haynes v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 1967 in Haynes v. United States
No. 236, Miles Edward Haynes, Petitioner, versus United States.
Charles Alan Wright:
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
Yesterday in the course of the Marchetti argument, someone asked Mr. Zeldes whether he regarded the Firearms Act as involving the same considerations as to wagering taxes and I was interested in that question because it's necessary for me to endeavor to persuade you that they're both unconstitutional.
I do think they involve somewhat different arguments.
The statutory schemes are totally dissimilar and as a result, I think, the considerations for the Court here are rather different from those involved in Marchetti and Grosso.
Indeed, as the party has developed the issues in their briefs, it would seem that really all that is involved here is a question of statutory construction because we are not fundamentally in disagreement on the constitutional issue except for its ubiquity use restriction argument, the Government concedes that if we have construed 5841, 5851 correctly that result is incriminatory.
It takes issue with our reading of those two sections of these very complicated and poorly drafted statutes.
I would like to go first to the second of the questions discussed by the United States and assume for the moment as every court, every lower court that has passed on the question has held that the requirement of registration in 5841 is itself unconstitutional.
I'd personally come back to argue that rather than simply to assume that at a later point.
If that is so, can you, as again the lower courts have held, nevertheless prosecute a person for possession of a firearm that has not been registered?
Here in petitioner's view that the answer is reasonably clear and the answer is one, apparently and importantly as statutory construction.
The United States reads 5851 as meaning that you can be prosecuted for possession of an unregistered firearm only if it is not been registered at anytime by any person so that if some prior possessor has registered it, they say that the present possessor is under no duty to register and therefore we're -- we aren't incriminating him or when we prosecuted.
This seems to me an extremely difficult reading of the statute to take in the light especially of the Treasury Regulation No. 179120, that requires registration unless it is registered to him.
It doesn't say that it's enough that it has been registered to somebody else.
It says he has to register unless it is registered to him.
And here, I think, the registration faithfully carries out the statutory purpose.
The provisions about 5841 seem to look to the present possessor.
They -- the first section -- sentence of 5841 says that every possessor has to register, but then the exception in the second sentence, you're not required to register with respect to a firearm which such a person acquired by transfer, importation or which such person made if the provisions of the chapter applied and if the provisions required thereto were complied with.
The focus here is on the possessor.
He is the "such person" to whom the statute is referring and it is talking about his acquisition by transfer or his making.
The -- it seems to -- in view of the petitioner that the United States has no support in the cases except the very recent ones that have drawn these torts distinction for the proposition that prior registration by somebody else dispenses with the requirement that the present possessor register.
Professor Wright, I have a -- and I had a difficulty with your argument in this respect perhaps because I don't understand it.
Let me put a simple proposition to you.
Let's assume that the law says that it is a crime to drive an automobile in the District of Columbia with an expired license plate.
Let's assume that the -- after March 31, 1967 I drove my automobile.
Now is it your position that thereafter, the -- I could not be compelled to buy a license or a new license for my automobile because that would incriminate me on account if I had possession of the automobile and drove it after a license had expired which is a crime.
Charles Alan Wright:
I don't understand, Mr. Justice Fortas how buying a new license would be an admission that you had driven the car at the time when your old license had expired.
Well, under this -- under the Firearms Act, all you're saying as I understand it, when you register as I am now in possession of the firearm, is that right?
Charles Alan Wright:
Yes, that's right.