1. Upon appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act from an order
quashing an indictment, this Court must accept the construction of
the indictment placed upon it by the District Court. P.
296 U. S.
2. This Court cannot entertain an appeal by the Government,
under the Criminal Appeals Act, from a judgment of the District
Page 296 U. S. 189
quashing an indictment, where the judgment was based not only
upon the invalidity or construction of the statute upon which the
indictment was founded, but also upon another and independent
ground. United States v. Stevenson, 215 U.
, in part disapproved. Pp. 296 U. S.
3. A case may be reviewed under the Criminal Appeals Act, even
though one of the grounds certified for sustaining a demurrer is
that the indictment fails to charge an offence, if it be apparent
that this specification was but introductory to other grounds which
clearly involve the construction and validity of the statute on
which the indictment was founded. Pp. 296 U.S. 194
4. The United States Warehouse Act, as amended, provides for the
licensing and regulation by the Secretary of Agriculture of
warehouses in which any agricultural product is stored for
interstate or foreign commerce, or, if located within any place
under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, in which any
agricultural product is stored; warehouse receipts are to be issued
for all agricultural products stored for interstate or foreign
commerce, or in any place subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of
the United States, in warehouses so licensed; and, by § 10 (U.S.C.
Supp. VII, Title 7, § 270) removal, contrary to the Act or
regulations, of any agricultural products stored in a licensed
warehouse and for which "licensed receipts" have been or are to be
issued, is made a misdemeanor.
(1) That, despite the broad language used in some of its parts,
the Act, aside from its application to places within the exclusive
jurisdiction of the United States, should be construed as limited
in its operation to storage for interstate or foreign commerce. P.
296 U. S.
(2) The term "licensed receipts" in the penal section means the
receipts for products stored for interstate or foreign commerce,
when not stored in a place under the exclusive jurisdiction of the
United States. P. 296 U. S.
(3) An indictment for unlawful removal need not allege
ownership, value of goods, and intent to defraud, as in a common
law indictment for larceny. Pp. 296 U.S. 194
, 296 U. S.
(4) It is, however, an essential ingredient of the offense that
the goods removed have been stored for interstate or foreign
commerce, or in a place subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of
the United States, and that warehouse receipts have been or are to
be issued for such storage, and this must be alleged in the
indictment. P. 296 U. S.
Page 296 U. S. 190
5. No opinion is expressed respecting the power of Congress to
punish removal of products stored in licensed warehouses in places
not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. P.
296 U. S. 200
Appeal from a judgment of the District Court quashing an
indictment upon a demurrer.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
Defendant was indicted in the District Court of the United
States for violation of the United States Warehouse Act, 7 U.S.C. §
270. The indictment contained three counts, each charging the
"removal and stealing" of a numbered bale of cotton from a licensed
warehouse contrary to the statute and regulations. [Footnote 1
] A demurrer was
Page 296 U. S. 191
sustained and the government brings this appeal under the
Criminal Appeals Act. 18 U.S.C. § 682.
The penal provision of the statute, so far as pertinent here, is
"Every person who shall . . . remove from a licensed warehouse
contrary to this chapter or the regulations promulgated thereunder,
any agricultural products stored or to be stored in such warehouse,
and for which licensed receipts have been or are to be issued,
shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction
thereof shall be fined not more than $10,000, or double the value
of the products involved if such double value exceeds $10,000, or
imprisoned not more than ten years, or both, in the discretion of
The District Judge certified his grounds for sustaining the
demurrer as follows:
"(1) That said indictment fails to charge any offense against
the laws of the United States."
"(2) That the indictment fails to charge that the cotton alleged
to have been removed and stolen was the property of any
"(3) That the indictment fails to allege the name of the owner
of said cotton, and does not charge any intent to defraud the owner
"(4) That the indictment does not allege the value of the cotton
alleged to have been removed and stolen, or that the cotton was of
"(5) That § 270, title 7, of the United States Code, being the
section under which the indictment is drawn, is unconstitutional,
in that Congress is without authority under the Constitution to
make it an offense
Page 296 U. S. 192
against the laws of the United States to remove agricultural
products from a Federal licensed warehouse as alleged in the
1. The jurisdiction of this Court.
If the first four
grounds of the decision, as stated in the certificate of the
District Judge, are to be taken as wholly independent of the
questions of the construction and validity of the United States
Warehouse Act, those grounds may not be challenged on this appeal.
The statute conferring jurisdiction on appeal by the government in
criminal prosecutions confines that jurisdiction to cases where the
decision of the District Court, on demurrer, motion to quash, or in
arrest of judgment, "is based upon the invalidity, or construction
of the statute upon which the indictment is founded," or where the
District Court has sustained "a special plea in bar, when the
defendant has not been put in jeopardy." 18 U.S.C. § 682. The
proposal to confer a broader jurisdiction was considered by the
Congress and rejected. [Footnote
] Thus, the construction of the indictment and its sufficiency
merely as a pleading, as distinguished from the construction of the
statute, are questions for the District Court. We must accept the
construction of the indictment as that court gives it. And where
that court has rested its decision upon the invalidity or
construction of the statute which underlies the indictment, this
Court will not go beyond those grounds and consider other
objections to the indictment. United States v. Keitel,
211 U. S. 370
211 U. S.
-398; United States v. Miller, 223 U.
, 223 U. S. 602
United States v. Carter, 231 U. S. 492
231 U. S. 493
United States v. Moist, 231 U. S. 701
231 U. S. 702
United States v. Colgate & Co., 250 U.
, 250 U. S.
-302; United States v. A. Schrader's Son,
252 U. S. 85
252 U. S. 98
United States v. Yuginovich, 256 U.
, 256 U. S.
Page 296 U. S. 193
A distinct question is presented where the District Court has
not placed its decision solely upon the invalidity or construction
of the statute, but has also sustained the demurrer or granted the
motion to quash the indictment upon wholly independent grounds of
insufficiency. In such a case, the judgment of the District Court
would remain in effect, and the defendant would go free of the
indictment, whatever views we might express upon appeal as to the
construction or validity of the statute. We could not reverse the
judgment upon questions not before us. An indictment not merely
attacked, but found to be invalid, on grounds not open here would
be made the vehicle of an effort to obtain from this Court an
expression of an abstract opinion which might or might not fit a
subsequent prosecution of the same defendant or others, but would
not determine the instant case. Review of a judgment which we
cannot disturb, because it rests adequately upon a basis not
subject to our examination, would be an anomaly.
An analogous situation is found in cases where the jurisdiction
of this Court has been invoked on writs of error or appeals from
judgments of state courts, and it appears that, notwithstanding the
existence of a federal question, and its consideration and
determination by the state court, the judgment rests upon a
nonfederal ground adequate to support it, and hence would not be
affected by a decision by this Court of the federal question. In
such cases, we refuse review. While the earlier practice was to
affirm the judgment without considering the federal question, the
later practice has been to dismiss the writ of error or appeal.
20 Wall. 590, 87 U. S.
-635; Jenkins v. Lowenthal, 110 U.
; Hale v. Akers, 132 U.
, 132 U. S. 565
Hammond v. Johnston, 142 U. S. 73
142 U. S. 78
Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U. S. 361
150 U. S. 370
Enterprise Irrigation District v. Farmers' Canal Co.,
243 U. S. 157
243 U. S.
-166; Petrie v. Nampa
Page 296 U. S. 194
U.S. 154, 248 U. S. 157
Ex parte Steckler,
292 U.S. 610; Capital Endowment Co.
v. Ohio, post,
It was in the light of the considerations governing the exercise
of the judicial power that the Criminal Appeals Act was enacted,
and appeals by the government were subjected to the prescribed
limitations. United States v. Evans, 213 U.
, 213 U. S. 300
We think that the provision which limits the government's appeal to
those cases where the decision or judgment of the District Court is
"based" upon the invalidity or construction of the statute should
be taken to refer to cases where that determination, and not a
wholly independent grounds, is the foundation of the judgment. If
the judgment is independently based, and in that respect is not
open to correction or reversal, we are of the opinion that this
Court should not entertain the government's appeal. To the extent
that the opinion in the case of United States v.
Stevenson, 215 U. S. 190
215 U. S. 195
states a contrary view, it is disapproved.
Are the first four grounds stated by the District Judge
independent of the construction of the statute? The first ground
may fairly be regarded as not a distinct ground, or a finding of
the insufficiency of the indictment as a mere matter of pleading,
but as intended to be an introduction to the specifications which
follow and to be read in their light. Treating the first ground in
this sense, and as merely preliminary, we turn to the
specifications in the second, third, and fourth grounds, which
clearly involve the construction of the Act. That is, they go upon
the view that the ingredients of the statutory offense are similar
to those of common law larceny, and that, to establish the offense,
it must be alleged and proved that the cotton in question was the
property of a person named, was removed with intent to defraud the
owner, and had value. It is the contention of the government that
this is an unwarranted construction, and that the
Page 296 U. S. 195
words of the statute, which do not contain such requirements,
are fully descriptive of the statutory offense.
In his fifth ground, the District Judge expressly deals with the
constitutionality of the provision, holding that Congress is
"to make it an offense against the laws of the United States to
remove agricultural products from a federal licensed warehouse as
alleged in the indictment."
The concluding words challenge attention to the absence from the
indictment of an allegation that the cotton was stored for
interstate or foreign commerce. The statement of the District Judge
may be taken to be a construction of the indictment as charging
simply the removal of the cotton from a federal licensed warehouse
which had issued a receipt, without alleging that the cotton was
stored for interstate or foreign commerce and that the receipt was
issued accordingly. We are not at liberty to construe the
indictment otherwise. While, in this view, the present appeal does
not bring up the questions broadly discussed at the bar as to
products stored for interstate or foreign commerce -- questions
which must await a different and appropriate record -- the appeal
does present a narrower but still important question as to the
scope of the penal provision. That is, whether Congress sought to
exert, and, if so, could validly exert, such a measure of control
over warehouses operating under federal licenses as to penalize the
removal of products deposited in such warehouses and receipted for,
regardless of the purpose, or the nature of the commerce, for which
the deposit was made.
We have jurisdiction to determine these questions of
construction and validity.
2. The construction of the statute.
To construe the
penal provision, we turn to its context, to the statutory
definition of the terms it employs, and to the purpose thus
Page 296 U. S. 196
The Act [Footnote 3
the term "warehouse" as
"every building, structure, or other protected enclosure in
which any agricultural product is or may be stored for interstate
or foreign commerce, or, if located within any place under the
exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, in which any
agricultural product is or may be stored."
7 U.S.C. § 242. The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to
make investigations and classifications, to issue licenses, and to
prescribe the duties of licensed warehousemen, who must give bond
for the faithful performance of their obligations. Id.,
243-247. The Secretary is also authorized to issue licenses to
competent persons to inspect, sample, classify, and weigh
agricultural products stored or to be stored in licensed
warehouses, and to give certificates accordingly. Id.,
252. Those conducting licensed warehouses are required to receive
for storage, within their capacity, agricultural products of the
kind customarily stored by them if such products are tendered "in a
suitable condition for warehousing" and "in the usual manner"
according to the ordinary course of business, "without making any
discrimination between persons desiring to avail themselves of
warehouse facilities." Id.,
§ 254. Persons who deposit
agricultural products for storage in licensed warehouses are to be
deemed to have made the deposit subject to the statute and the
regulations it authorizes. Id.,
§ 255. It is then provided
that "any fungible agricultural product stored for interstate or
foreign commerce, or in any place under the exclusive jurisdiction
of the United States" in a licensed warehouse must be inspected and
graded by a person licensed for that purpose. Id.,
The following provision for the issue of warehouse receipts is
of special importance:
Page 296 U. S. 197
"For all agricultural products stored for interstate or foreign
commerce, or in any place under the exclusive jurisdiction of the
United States, in a warehouse licensed under this chapter, original
receipts shall be issued by the warehouseman conducting the same,
but no receipt shall be issued except for agricultural products
actually stored in the warehouse at the time of the issuance
The next section prescribes the contents of receipts which may
be taken to refer to the receipts required by the provision above
In the original act of 1916, it was provided that nothing
"be construed to conflict with, or to authorize any conflict
with, or in any way to impair or limit the effect or operation of
the laws of any State relating to warehouses, warehousemen,
weighers, graders, or classifiers,"
but the Secretary of Agriculture was authorized "to cooperate"
with state officials, and, "through such cooperation, to secure the
enforcement" of the provisions of the Act. Act of August 11, 1916,
Part C, § 29, 39 Stat. 490. This section was amended in 1931 so as
to provide for cooperation with state officials in the "discretion"
of the Secretary, and with the addition that "the power,
jurisdiction, and authority" conferred upon the Secretary should be
"exclusive with respect to all persons securing a license," so long
as the license remains in effect. Act of March 2, 1931, 46 Stat.
1465, 7 U.S.C. § 269.
Then follows the provision prescribing penalties for the
forging, altering, counterfeiting, etc., of licenses, the issue of
false or fraudulent receipts, and the conversion or the
unauthorized removal from a licensed warehouse of agricultural
products for which "licensed receipts" have been or are to be
The instant case relates to cotton, and the government
emphasizes the salient facts as to the customary movement
Page 296 U. S. 198
and marketing of cotton. But the Act is not limited to cotton.
Originally, the Act defined "agricultural products" as embracing
"cotton, wool, grains, tobacco, and flax seed." [Footnote 4
] By regulations under the Act, as
amended, it has been extended to a variety of products. [Footnote 5
] The Act is not limited to
one section of the country, or to particular market conditions, but
applies generally to warehouses for these varied commodities. The
government points to the permissive character of the statute which,
it is said, should have "great weight in determining whether
Congress has encroached upon the powers of the States." And
Congress could not fail to have in mind that there were warehouses
in many States, operating under state laws and serving local
demands in intrastate transactions, receiving for storage and
issuing receipts for agricultural products in connection with
enterprises and trade that are entirely local.
It would need stronger evidence than this Act affords to justify
the conclusion that Congress intended that warehousemen, in taking
advantage of the federal statute and in issuing warehouse receipts
as required by its terms, should submit to federal control the
deposit of products and the issue of warehouse receipts in the
course of their local business where the products were not stored
for interstate or foreign commerce. Despite the broad language of
certain sections of the Act, we think that (aside from places
within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States) the
limitation to storage for interstate or foreign commerce is
dominant. We have observed how specific is this limitation in the
provision requiring the issue of warehouse receipts. To repeat, the
Page 296 U. S. 199
is that receipts shall be issued "for all agricultural products
stored for interstate or foreign commerce, or in any place under
the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States," in a warehouse
licensed under the Act. § 259. The amendment of 1931, with respect
to conflict with the operation of state laws, does not militate
against this limitation, for while the amendment asserts the
exclusive authority of the Secretary of Agriculture, it has
relation to the authority conferred by the Act, and the definition
in the original Act of the warehouses which may be licensed and the
provision of § 259 as to the products for which warehouse receipts
are to be issued were left unchanged by the amendment.
The penal section under which the indictment is laid defines the
offense as not simply the unauthorized removal of agricultural
products from a "licensed warehouse," but the removal of products
"for which licensed receipts have been or are to be issued." § 270.
We think that the term "licensed receipts" refers to those
prescribed by the statute as above stated.
We agree with the government that the penal section is fully
descriptive of the statutory offense, and does not require that a
charge of violation should contain allegations such as would be
appropriate in the case of common law larceny. But the statute does
require that, in order to make out a violation through the
unauthorized removal of agricultural products, it is not enough
that the removal should be from a licensed warehouse, or that a
receipt has been given by the warehouseman, but the removal must
also be of products for which "licensed receipts" have been or are
to be issued. That is, it is an essential ingredient of the offense
that the products have been stored for interstate or foreign
commerce, or in a place subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of
the United States, and that warehouse receipts have been or are to
be issued for such storage.
Page 296 U. S. 200
3. As we conclude that the Congress has not attempted to punish
the removal of products not stored for interstate or foreign
commerce (when the place of storage is not within the exclusive
jurisdiction of the United States), we need not consider the
constitutional objections to such an effort. And, as we do not have
before us the case of a removal of products stored for interstate
or foreign commerce, and for which receipts have been given
accordingly, we express no opinion as to the extent of the power of
the Congress in that relation.
Because of the absence from the charge of an essential element
of the offense as defined in the statute, the District Court did
not err in sustaining the demurrer.
The charge in the first count (the other counts being similar)
was that defendant (and another)
"did knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully, and without any
authority of law remove and steal from and out of the warehouse of
the Federal Compress and Warehouse Company, Clarksdale,
Mississippi, being the warehouse of said Federal Compress and
Warehouse Company known and designated Plant No. 2, said warehouse
being then and there a duly licensed warehouse under and pursuant
to the provisions of the United States Warehouse Act, certain
agricultural products then and there stored and on storage in said
warehouses, to-wit: a certain bale of cotton identified on the
records of said warehouse as bale of cotton number 407784, for
which said bale of cotton a licensed warehouse receipt had
theretofore been issued by said Federal Compress and Warehouse
Company, the removal and stealing of said cotton from said licensed
warehouse being then and there contrary to and in violation of the
said United States Warehouse Act and the regulations promulgated
thereunder, contrary to the form of the statute in such case made
and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United
H.R. Rep. 59th Cong., 1st Sess., vol. 1, No. 2119; Sen.Rep. 59th
Cong., 1st Sess., vol. 2, No. 3922; H.R. Rep. 59th Cong., 2d Sess.,
vol. 2, No. 8113.
Act of August 11, 1916, c. 313, p. C, 39 Stat. 486, amended by
Acts of February 23, 1923, c. 106, 42 Stat. 1282, and March 2,
1931, c. 366, 46 Stat. 1463, 7 U.S.C. §§ 241-273.
Act of August 11, 1916, c. 313, Part C, 39 Stat. 486.
Act of February 23, 1923, c. 106, 42 Stat. 1282; "Once Again,
the United States Warehouse Act," U.S. Department of Agriculture
(1925), p. 3.