United States v. Fox - 95 U.S. 670 (1877)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Fox, 95 U.S. 670 (1877)
United States v. Fox
95 U.S. 670
1. An act which is not an offense at the time it is committed cannot become such by any subsequent independent act of the party with which it has no connection. Accordingly, that part of sec. 5132, Rev.Stat., which declares that every person respecting whom proceedings in bankruptcy are commenced, either upon his own petition or that of a creditor, who, within three months before their commencement, obtains goods upon false pretenses with intent to defraud shall be punished by imprisonment is inoperative to render the act an offense, because its criminal character is to be determined by subsequent proceedings, which, at the time the goods were so obtained, may not have been in his contemplation and may be instituted against his will by another.
2. It is competent for Congress to enforce, by suitable penalties, all legislation necessary or proper to the execution of powers with which it is entrusted, and any act committed with a view of evading such legislation or fraudulently securing its benefits may be made an offense against the United States. But it is otherwise, when an act committed in a state has no relation to the execution of a power of Congress or to any matter within the jurisdiction of the United States.
In November, 1874, the defendant filed a petition in bankruptcy in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. In March, 1876, he was indicted in the circuit court for that district for alleged offenses against the United States and, among others, for the offense described in the ninth subdivision of sec. 5132 of the Revised Statutes, which provides that "every person respecting whom proceedings in bankruptcy are commenced, either upon his own petition or that of a creditor," who, within three months before their commencement,
"under the false color and pretense of carrying on business, and dealing in the ordinary course of trade, obtains on credit from any person any goods or chattels with intent to defraud,"
shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.
The indictment, among other things, charged the defendant with having, within three months previous to the commencement of his proceedings in bankruptcy, purchased and obtained on credit goods from several merchants in the City of New York, upon the pretense and representation of carrying on business
and dealing in the ordinary course of trade as a manufacturer of clothing; whereas he was not carrying on business in the ordinary course of trade as such manufacturer, but was selling goods to some parties by the piece for cost, and to other parties at auction for less than cost, and that these pretenses and representations were made to defraud the parties from whom the goods were purchased.
The defendant was convicted, and, upon a motion in arrest of judgment, the judges holding the circuit court were opposed in opinion, and have certified to this court the question upon which they differed. That question is thus stated in the certificate:
"If a person shall engage in a transaction which, at the time of its occurrence, is not a violation of any law of the United States, to-wit, the obtaining goods upon credit by false pretenses, and if, subsequently thereto, proceedings in bankruptcy shall be commenced respecting him, is it within the constitutional limits of congressional legislation to subject him to punishment for such transaction considered in connection with the proceedings in bankruptcy?"