United States v. Jin Fuey Moy - 241 U.S. 394 (1916)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Jin Fuey Moy, 241 U.S. 394 (1916)
United States v. Jin Fuey Moy
Argued December 7, 1915
Decided June 5, 1916
241 U.S. 394
A statute must be so construed, if fairly possible, as to avoid not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional but also grave doubts upon that score. United States v. Delaware & Hudson Co., 213 U. S. 366.
This Court cannot assume to know judicially that no opium is produced in this country, nor is it warranted in so assuming when construing a statute itself purporting to deal with producers of that article.
When Congress contemplates the production of an article within the United States, this Court must construe tho act on the hypothesis that such production takes place.
An attempt of Congress to make possession of an article -- in this case, opium -- produced in any of the states a crime would raise the gravest question of power. United States v. De Witt, 9 Wall. 41.
In construing a statute which calls itself a registration or taxing act and does not purport to be in execution of a treaty and which contains a provision not required by any treaty, a grave doubt arises whether such a statute is entitled to the supremacy claimed for treaties on the ground that it does in effect carry out existing treaty obligations on the general subject of both treaty and statute.
While the Opium Registration Act of December 17, 1914, may have a moral end, as well as revenue, in view, this Court, in view of the grave doubts as to its constitutionality except as a revenue measure construes it as such.
Every question of construction is unique, and an argument that might prevail in one case may be inadequate in another.
Only definite words will warrant the conclusion that Congress intended to strain its powers, almost, if not quite, to the breaking point, to make a great proportion of citizens prima facie criminals by mere possession of an article.
The words "any person not registered" in § 8 of the Opium Registration Act of 1914 do not mean any person in the United States, but refer to the class dealt with by the statute -- those required to register -- and one not in that class is not subject to the penalties prescribed by the statute.
225 F. 1003 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the construction and application of the Act of December 17, 1914, relating to registration of, and the tax on, persons producing and dealing in opium and other specified drugs, are stated in the opinion.