Pierce v. United States,
252 U.S. 239 (1920)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pierce v. United States, 252 U.S. 239 (1920)

Pierce v. United States

No. 234

Argued November 18, 19, 1919

Decided March 8, 1920

252 U.S. 239


The decision in another case of a constitutional question which formed the jurisdictional basis for a direct writ of error previously sued out under Jud.Code § 238 does not divest this Court of its jurisdiction to determine the other questions raised in the record. P. 252 U. S. 242.

In order to constitute a conspiracy, within § 4 of the Espionage Act, to commit a substantive offense defined in § 3, it is not essential that the conspirators shall have agreed in advance upon the precise method of violating the law, and, while the averment of the conspiracy cannot be aided by the allegations of overt acts and the conspiracy is not punishable unless such acts were committed, they need not be in themselves criminal, still less constitute the very crime which is the object of the conspiracy. P. 252 U. S. 243.

Averments in such an indictment that defendants unlawfully, willfully, or feloniously committed the forbidden acts import an unlawful motive. P. 252 U. S. 244.

Whether statements contained in a pamphlet circulated by defendants tended to produce the consequences forbidden by the Espionage Act (§ 3), as alleged, held a matter to be determined by the jury, and not by the court on demurrer to the indictment. Id.

Evidence in the case examined and held sufficient to warrant the jury's finding that defendants, in violation of the Espionage Act, conspired to commit, and committed, the offense of attempting to cause insubordination and disloyalty and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces, and made and conveyed false statements with intent to interfere with the operation and success of those forces in the war with Germany by circulating pamphlets and other printed matter tending in the circumstances to produce those results. P. 252 U. S. 245.

The fact that defendants distributed such pamphlets with a full understanding of their contents furnished of itself a ground for attributing to them an intent, and for finding that they attempted, to bring about any and all such consequences as reasonably might be anticipated from their distribution. P. 252 U. S. 249.

Page 252 U. S. 240

In a prosecution for circulating false statements with intent to interfere with the operation and success of the military and naval forces, in violation of the Espionage Act, § 3, where the falsity of the statements in question appears plainly, as a matter of common knowledge and public fact, other evidence on that subject is not needed in order to sustain a verdict of guilty. P. 252 U. S. 250.

In such cases, it is for the jury to determine whether the statements circulated should be taken literally or in an innocent figurative sense, in view of the class and character of the people among whom the statements were circulated. P. 252 U. S. 251.

To circulate such false statements recklessly, without effort to ascertain the truth, is equivalent to circulating them with knowledge of their falsity. Id.

The fact that the statements in question do not, to the common understanding, purport to convey anything new, but only to interpret or comment on matters pretended to be facts of public knowledge, does not remove them from the purview of § 3 of the Espionage Act. P. 252 U. S. 252.

The insufficiency of one of several counts of an indictment upon which concurrent sentences have been imposed does not necessitate reversal where the other counts sustain the total punishment inflicted. Id.


The case is stated in the opinion.

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