United States v. Sharpnack

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Wolverine Tube, Inc.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 355 US 286 (1958)
ARGUED: Oct 29, 1957
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1958

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Sharpnack

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 29, 1957 in United States v. Sharpnack

Earl Warren:

Number 35, United States of America, Appellant versus Gerald H. Sharpnack.

Ms. Rosenberg.

Beatrice Rosenberg:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a direct appeal by the Government which brings up a problem under the so-called Assimilative Crimes Act and I'd like to take a moment to set the question in its setting.

The United States Federal Government in almost all of the states, owned areas of land greater or less than, and over much of this area, it has what is known as exclusive jurisdiction.

The full power of legislation is in the United States.

As a result, an act is a crime if committed in those areas only if Congress says it is a crime.

Now, Congress has designed for these areas of exclusive jurisdiction, some of the major crimes such as murder, arson, and rape.

But beyond that, it has said, and this is a statute here involved Section 13 of Title 18, that a person guilty of any act or omission which although not made punishable by Congress, would be punishable if committed or omitted within the jurisdiction of the State in which the federal enclave is situated.

By the laws thereof enforced at the time of such act or omission, shall be guilty of a like offense and subject to like punishment, now, with the phrase, "By the laws thereof at the time of such act or omission," which gives rise to the problem here.

Appellee was indicted under a Texas statute regarding -- impairing the (Inaudible) -- morals of the minor, which was passed in 1950, two years after the enactment of Section 13 of Title 18 in the 1948 revision of the Code.

And the District Court held that Section 13, insofar as it is docked, state laws passed after 1948, after the federal statute, is an unconstitutional delegation of the powers of Congress and that's the constitutional question which the Government has brought here on direct appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act.

Now, let me just briefly state the core of the Government's position before I go into the history of the statute because if the history in a sense which gives I think rise to the decision below and which we think answers the decision below as well.

But basically, our position is this, that this isn't in essence a problem of delegation.

What this statute is, is the implementation of the federal policy.

This statute represents a judgment by Congress that for federal enclave it is good federal policy to have mind -- on the whole mind of crimes, those crimes which Congress has not thought important enough to define, conform to the laws of the surrounding areas which govern them.

And if that's the basis of the statute that this federal policy which is the basis of the statute is more effectively implemented by this kind of a statute which adopt the state laws at the time of the offense then it is by a statute which may be two years old or five years old and so on.

If conformity is the federal policy, this is a statute which carries out that conformity.

As I said, that's the heart of our position and we think the history of the statute bears it out.

This is an old statute.

It was enacted -- first enacted in 1825 to meet the problem of what should be crime on areas of exclusive jurisdiction.

It was enacted in this form.

Beatrice Rosenberg:

No, it wasn't in this form but it was not as originally acted very different, Your Honor.

In the 1825 version, it's on page 11 of our brief, and it provided that a person committing an act which will -- would be liable to and receive the same punishment as the laws of the State provide for a like offense.

This is a -- the 1825 Act, for a like offense when committed within the body of the State.

Now, that wasn't clear one way or another and that's the question that came up for decision before this Court, in United States against Paul in 1832.

There, on a certificate of division, from the Circuit Court of New York, this Court, without argument, a very brief opinion by Chief Justice Marshall, which is set out -- footnote on page 11, the whole opinion is set out there.

This Court ruled that the Act of 1825 was to be construed as limited to the adoption of state laws in effect at the time of the enactment.

I don’t think the word is compelled that this was a construction given by this Court and where that decision was not couched in constitutional term.

It was probably meant to be and it was certainly interpreted by Congress, I think, to be a constitutional decision to the effect that this construction was required.