Ledbetter v. United States
170 U.S. 606 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ledbetter v. United States, 170 U.S. 606 (1898)

Ledbetter v. United States

No. 198

Submitted April 12, 1898

Decided May 28, 1898

170 U.S. 606


An indictment for a violation of the provisions of section 16 of the Act of February 8, 1875, c. 36, forbidding the carrying on of the business of a rectifier, wholesale liquor dealer, etc., without first having paid the special tax required by law, which charges the offense in the language of the statute creating it, is sufficient, and it comes within the rule, well settled in this Court, that where the crime is a statutory one, it must be charged with precision and certainty, and every ingredient of which it is composed must be clearly and accurately set forth, and that even in the

Page 170 U. S. 607

cases of misdemeanors, the indictment must be free from all ambiguity,

and leave no doubt in the minds of the accused and of the court of the exact offense intended to be charged. Properly speaking, the indictment should state not only the county, but the township, city or other municipality within which the crime is alleged to have been committed; but the authorities in this particular are much less rigid than formerly.

This was a writ of error to review the conviction of the plaintiff in error to review the conviction found against him by the grand jury for the Southern District of Iowa, April 28, 1896, for a violation of section 16 of the Act of February 8, 1875, c. 36, 18 Stat. 307, in carrying on the business of a retail dealer in liquors without the payment of the special tax required by law.

Defendant was convicted upon the first count in the indictment, which reads as follows:

"The grand jurors of the United States of America duly impaneled, sworn, and charged to inquire in and for the body of said Southern District of Iowa at a term of the United States district court begun and held at Keokuk, in said district, on the 14th day of April, A.D. 1896, in the name and by the authority of the United States of America, upon their oaths do find and present that Lewis Ledbetter, late of said district, heretofore, to-wit, on the ___ day of April, A.D. 1896, in the County of Appanoose, in the Southern District of Iowa, and within the jurisdiction of this Court, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously carry on the business of a retail liquor dealer without having paid the special tax therefor, as required by law, contrary to the statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the United States of America."

After his conviction, defendant moved for an arrest of judgment upon the insufficiency of the indictment. This motion was overruled, and the defendant sentenced to pay a fine of $250 and costs of prosecution.

Defendant thereupon sued out a writ of error from this Court, assigning as error that the indictment did not state facts constituting an offense against the laws of the United

Page 170 U. S. 608

States (1) because it did not set forth that the defendant sold or offered for sale foreign or domestic spirituous or malt liquors otherwise than as provided by law, (2) that he was not informed with sufficient particularity as to the time and place and means so as to apprise him of the crime of which he was charged, and (3) that the indictment did not allege that any crime had been committed at a date prior to the finding of the indictment.

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