Turner v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Dodge County Juvenile Court

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 396 US 398 (1970)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1969
DECIDED: Jan 20, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for Turner v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1969 in Turner v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

Number 190, Turner against the United States.

Josiah E. Dubois, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Dubois.

Josiah E. Dubois, Jr.:

I have agreed with Mr. Rivkin who has filed an amicus brief that with the concern of the Court, he may use anytime of the remaining after my principal argument.

Warren E. Burger:

In the -- in rebuttal?

Or as part of your argument's brief?

Josiah E. Dubois, Jr.:

As part of -- yes.

He's filed an amicus brief on my side of that case.

Warren E. Burger:

Have you arranged to see that he doesn't absorb all your rebuttal time?

Josiah E. Dubois, Jr.:

Well, if he does, --

Warren E. Burger:

Very well, we'll leave it up to your gentlemen.

Josiah E. Dubois, Jr.:

It's more or less.

Now, this case involves convictions under Section 174 of Title 21 of the United States Code and Section 4704 (a), of Title 26 of the United State Code relating to two narcotic drugs specifically heroin and cocaine.

Now, it's the contention of the petitioner that the presumptions contained in both of these sections of the code are unconstitutional, because they discourage the right of the defendant to remain silent, and specifically we rely heavily upon the two relatively recent decisions of this Court which are cited in the brief of petitioner, namely Griffin versus California and United States versus Jackson.

Now without repeating in detail, all of the arguments contained in the brief, I would like to emphasize certain points for consideration of the Court.

First, Section 174 of Title 21 of the United States code requires that the defendant know that narcotic drugs in question “to have been imported or brought into the United States contrary to law.”

Now in the Government's brief, it is a claimed that it is rational to permit the jury in this case to infer that a person in possession of a relatively large amount of heroin, knows that it was illegally imported.

And in making this argument, the Government's brief approach from, were then apparently ignores the charge of the District Court Judge in which the Judge said specifically and I quote.

Now obviously, there is no evidence in this case that this particular defendant knew that this cocaine and this heroin -- heroin excuse me, have been imported into the United States contrary to law.

District Court Judge and went on to say, the statute recognizing the impossibility approving knowledge in this cases and having in mind the welfare of the people which is a purpose of the food and drug act, says that all you have to do, all the Government has to do is show that there was possession of this drug by the defendant on trial and that evidence shall suffice to authorize a violation of the statute unless by the witnesses presented possession of the drugs by this defendant under those circumstances will satisfactory explain to the jury.

It is abundantly clear therefore that under the instructions from the District Court Judge, the jury did not indulge in any rationalization such as that contained in the Government's brief, namely, the jury under the judge's instructions certainly did not indulge in the presumption that because there was a large amount of heroin that therefore the defendant knew it was illegally imported because the judge told the jury, all you have to find gentleman is possession.

So, I feel that the whole argument in the Government's brief concerning the so called rational interest, the mere to be drawn by jury, by the possession of this large amount of heroin is completely immaterial.

Secondly, the Government's brief and supplemental memorandum spend a great deal of time in pointing out that heroin is neither produced in the United States nor legally imported into the United State.

Now, even assuming we stipulate this fact, it is our position that this statement leads to nowhere.

Certainly, if this is true, I never knew it before reading the Government's brief and there is certainly is no evidence in this case that the defendant knew this to be true.

In fact as I've already indicated, the District Court Judge specifically charged.

Now obviously, there is no evidence in this case that this particular defendant knew that this cocaine and heroin had been imported into the United State contrary to law.

Now, my next point is --

If I'm not mistaken, hasn't the Government conceded come to relates to cocaine so far as the (Inaudible)?

Josiah E. Dubois, Jr.:

Oh, I beg your pardon.