LOCATION: Criminal District Court, Parish of New Orleans
DOCKET NO.: 13
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 380 US 63 (1965)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1964
DECIDED: Mar 01, 1965
Facts of the case
Media for United States v. Gainey
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1964 in United States v. Gainey
Number 13, United States versus Jackie Hamilton Gainey, et al.
Louis F. Claiborne:
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
In this case, the government is petitioning from a ruling, invalidating two so called statutory presumptions added to the alcohol, the Federal Alcohol Tax Law in 1958.
To state the underlying facts of this case very briefly, in March of 1960, federal and local agents were staking out an elicit country still in Dooly County, Georgia.
While the officers were waiting there, early in the morning, a truck arrived carrying the three petitioners.
One of them got out, was apprehended, two others were apprehended in the truck as they were attempting to escape.
This was at the sight of the still. Distill was going, it was apparently ready to produce its first run.
On the truck, a butane tank, a tank of butane gas was found which matched those found at the still site.
Shortly after the arrest, one of the petitioners admitted that the still belong to all three of them and that they were preparing to make their first run from it that day.
And finally, the owner of the land on which the still was located at the trial testified that one of the petitioners had approached him about doing a little business down by the creek.
When were these admissions made before or after the arrest as you're saying?
Louis F. Claiborne:
The admission by the petitioner Barrett, Your Honor, was made after the arrest and apparently very shortly after the arrest, still at the still site.
The testimony of the landowner was at the trial several months later.
All three of the petitioners were indicted on four counts.
They were first charged with possessing an unregistered still, secondly with carrying on the business of a distiller without having posted the required bond, thirdly with carrying on the business of the distiller with intent to defraud the government taxes and finally in the fourth count with working at an unposted distillery, that is to say distillery at which the sign displaying the name and occupation of the owner had not been displayed.
At the trial, there was directed verdict with the consent of the government as to the so called working count, the last one I've described, that is working without the sign being posted.
The judge in his instructions to the jury and this is where the heart of the case is referred to the presumptions created by the 1958 Amendments to the statute.
He explained that Congress had recently enacted statutes, which permitted the jury to infer from presence at an unregistered still, which was set up and in the other case which was going, that those found there were in fact possessing still, all were in fact carrying on the business of the distiller without bond.
The judge however was very careful to explain to the jury that they were not required even if they found such presence and even if they found such presence unexplained, they were still not required to convict.
The statute merely permitted them to do so as he put it if they wished.
The jury did convict on all three counts.
The Court of Appeal reversed on all counts.
We're only concerned with the first two counts, however, the reversal along the third count, distilling, carrying on the business to the distiller with the intent to be fraud the government is not included in our petition and is not affected by the presumptions at issue here.
The Court of Appeals thought the two presumptions involved were unconstitutional as violating the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, but before going any further, I think I should emphasize several things.
First, though there was clearly ample evidence to sustain the convictions on the first two counts without any reliance on the presumptions and the Court of Appeal so found and remanded for a new trail as to the first two counts.
We do not here make any harmless error argument.
We agree with the Court of Appeals that it is impossible to tell to what extent, if any, the jury relied on the presumptions in finding the verdict guilty and that therefore, if the presumptions are indeed unconstitutional, a new trial is in order, that a new trial is permissible since there was sufficient other evidence.
On the other hand, we find out that there was a general sentence as to all three petitioners and that therefore, the judgment of the District Court and the sentence can be sustained and should be sustained if the conviction on either Count 1 or Count 2 is sustained, that is to say if either of the presumptions underlying either of those counts is sustained.
And finally, we emphasize that the two presumptions involved here, the one going to possession, the other going to carrying on the business to the distiller without bond, do not stand or fall together.