United States v. Turley

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Congress


CITATION: 352 US 407 (1957)
ARGUED: Jan 24, 1957
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Turley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 24, 1957 in United States v. Turley

Earl Warren:

Number 289, United States of America versus James Vernon Turley.

Mr. Fisher.

Roger D. Fisher:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case, the United States against Turley, reaches this Court on direct appeal in the District Court for the District of Maryland.

The sole issue involved is the meaning of the word “stolen” as used in the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act.

In April 1956, an amended information was filed against the defendant in the District Court.

There was only one count.

It appears on page 4 of the record.

Your Honors would -- in front of you, I think it will help get the facts very clearly in mind.

The information alleged that a year ago, January 1956, James Turley did lawfully obtain a certain Ford automobile from its owner, with permission of the owner to use the automobile briefly, on that day to transport certain of their friends to the homes of the latter in Columbia, South Carolina, and to return with them.

But that after so obtaining the automobile and transporting said persons to their homes, and before returning with them or delivering back the automobile to its owner, Turley, without permission of the owner, and with the intent in South Carolina to steal the automobile, did convert the same into his own use and did unlawfully transport it in interstate commerce from South Carolina to Baltimore, Maryland, knowing it to have been stolen, where he did on the next day, sell the automobile without permission of the owner.

The statute involved is even shorter.

It's one sentence.

It appears on page 2 of the Government's brief, “Whoever transports in interstate or foreign commerce a motor vehicle or aircraft, knowing the same to have been stolen, shall be fined not more than $5000 or imprisoned not more than five years or both.”

The defendant moved to dismiss the information on the ground that it did not state an offense against the United States.

The District Court construed the word “stolen” in the statute as applying only to those motor vehicles which had been acquired in such a way that their acquisition would have constituted the offense of larceny as understood at common law.

The District Court then found that the circumstances here involved would not have involved the offense of larceny as understood at common law and dismissed the information.

This was all before any evidence was taken out --

Roger D. Fisher:

That's right.

The -- the whole --

-- completely.

Roger D. Fisher:

-- case comes up to you on the information and its dismissal.

The United States agrees that under the circumstances of this case, the -- the conduct be -- would not have constituted the offense of larceny at common law.

So, the sole issue is one of statutory construction as to whether the word “stolen”, as used in this Act, is limited to those stolen vehicles and limited to those vehicles that require in a manner which would have constituted common-law larceny or whether “stolen” has the more common everyday meaning of a stolen car, a hot car is used, generally understood in the contemporary community.

The Government's position in the word “stolen” is used in the general accepted -- generally accepted meaning of having been taken from one's own use without right and with the intent to deprive the owner of it.

We -- more technically, we think that stolen vehicles are those taken by any of the theft crimes, namely, larceny, larceny by trick, false pretenses or embezzlement.

We do not think the word should be construed that a stolen vehicle should be analogized to a verb stealing, take one -- taken by stealing that stealing necessarily means larceny, that larceny means larceny as defined at common law for there were statutory crimes, embezzlement and so forth.

The appellee's position here is basically that criminal statute must be construed narrowly, that as between the two meanings that might be given to stolen, the common-law definition is narrower and he suggest more definite.

He concludes that under the statute, no vehicle could be considered a stolen vehicle but the circumstances in which were acquired would have constituted larceny as understood at common law.

The -- there is no definition of stolen in the statute.