United States v. Bathgate - 246 U.S. 220 (1918)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Bathgate, 246 U.S. 220 (1918)
United States v. Bathgate
Argued January 16, 17, 1918
Decided March 4, 1918
246 U.S. 220
It is a settled rule in the construction of statutes defining crimes that there can be no constructive offenses, and that, to warrant punishment, the case must be plainly and unmistakably within the statute.
Criminal Code, § 19 (Rev.Stats., § 5508), punishing conspiracies 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, etc., does not include a conspiracy to bribe voters at a general election within a state where presidential electors, a United States senator, and a representative in Congress are to be chosen.
This section means now what it meant when first enacted, as part of the Act of May 31, 1870, c. 114, 16 Stat. 140; see Crim.Code, §§ 339, 341; it aims to guard definite personal rights or privileges, capable of enforcement by a court, such as the right to vote for federal candidates, but not the political, nonjudicable right or privilege, common to all, that the public shall be protected against harmful acts, to which latter appertain the general interests of candidate and voter in the fair and honest conduct of such elections.
In reaching this result, the section is construed subject to the rule of strict construction above stated, and in the light of the policy of Congress not to interfere with elections within a state except by clear and specific provisions.
The express repeal of that section of the original act which dealt with bribery (Act of May 31, 1870, supra, § 19) strengthens the conclusion.
The cases are stated in the opinion.