United States v. Guest Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Upon addressing specific issues of statutory construction, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) reversed the dismissals of the Defendants’, Guest and others (Defendants) indictments.

Facts of the case

“On July 11, 1964 Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn was shot and killed by three members of the Ku Klux Klan while driving home from Washington, D.C. The alleged shooters, James Lackey, Cecil Myers, and Howard Sims, were indicted but acquitted by an all-white jury. Following the acquittal, the three defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to threaten, abuse, and kill African Americans. Three alleged co-conspirators, Denver Phillips, George Turner, and Herbert Guest, were also charged. The U.S. Code defines criminal conspiracy as two or more individuals conspiring to “”injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”” The indictment filed against the six alleged conspirators accused them of acting to deny African Americans full and equal enjoyment and utilization of goods and services, including access to state highways and free travel to and from Georgia on public streets. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that it did not allege a specific denial of rights under U.S. law. The district court agreed, and dismissed the indictment. The prosecution appealed, arguing that the indictment alleged, in part, a denial of rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”


Whether the federal indictment is based on an offense under the laws of the United States?


Yes. Judgment of the District Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Section 241 does encompass Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights. Here, the indictment contains an express allegation of state involvement sufficient at least to require denial of a motion to dismiss. The allegation of official involvement is not clear, but it is broad enough to encompass conduct amounting to official discrimination sufficient to constitute denial of rights protected by equal protection. The second dismissal mentioned in the case was in error as well because the right to travel occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union. If the predominate purpose of the conspiracy is to prevent the exercise of the right of travel, or to oppress a person of that right, as was the case here, then whether or not motivated by racial discrimination, the conspiracy becomes a proper object of federal law under which the indictment was brought. Therefore, the federal indict
ment is based on an offense under the laws of the United States.


The United States Supreme Court held that the allegation in the indictment of state involvement in the conspiracy charged under 18 U.S.C.S. § 241 was sufficient to charge a violation of rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the indictment contained an express allegation of state involvement sufficient at least to require the denial of a motion to dismiss. The Court found that a criminal conspiracy affecting an individual’s right of free interstate passage was within the sanction of § 241, where a specific intent to have interfered with a federal right was required to be proven.

  • Case Brief: 1966
  • Appellant: United States
  • Appellee: Herbert Guest et al.
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 383 US 745 (1966)
Argued: Nov 9, 1965
Decided: Mar 28, 1966