1. A prosecution for using the mails for sending dentures in
violation of the Federal Denture Act -- which Act contains no
specific provision relative to the venue of prosecutions thereunder
-- cannot be had in the district to which the dentures were sent,
but only in the district from which they were sent. P. 323 U. S.
2. Such construction of the Federal Denture Act, though not
required by the compulsions of Article III, § 2 of the Constitution
and of the Sixth Amendment, is more consonant with the
considerations of historic experience and policy which underlie
those safeguard in the Constitution regarding the trial of crimes.
P. 323 U. S.
3. Questions of venue in criminal cases are not merely matters
of formal legal procedure; they raise deep issues of public policy
in the light of which legislation must be construed. P.
323 U. S.
4. Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U. S.
, distinguished. P. 323 U. S.
53 F. Supp. 596 affirmed.
Appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act from a judgment quashing
an information for violation of the Federal Denture Act.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns the construction of the Federal Denture Act
of 1942, 56 Stat. 1087, 18 U.S.C. §§ 420(f)-(h)
Page 323 U. S. 274
(Supp. 1943), which provides that
". . . it shall be unlawful, in the course of the conduct of a
business of constructing or supplying dentures from casts or
impressions sent through the mails or in interstate commerce, to
use the mails or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for the
purpose of sending or bringing into . . ."
a State or Territory any denture the cast of which was taken by
a person not licensed to practice dentistry in the State into which
the denture is sent. An information, filed October 4, 1943, in the
District Court for the District of Delaware, charged that appellees
put into the mails at Chicago for delivery in Houston, Delaware,
dentures in violation of the Delaware laws pertaining to dental
practice, and thereby violated the Federal Denture Act. The
information was quashed on the ground that prosecution of appellees
could only be had where the illegal dentures were deposited. 53 F.
Supp. 596. A second information, adding counts alleging
transmission into and delivery in Delaware, was quashed by entry of
a formal order referring to the court's earlier opinion.
has appealed directly to this Court under the Criminal Appeals Act.
34 Stat. 1246, as amended, 18 U.S.C. § 682 (Supp. 1943).
Must these appellees be tried in the Northern district of
Illinois, or may they be tried in the district of any State through
which the dentures were carried including Delaware, the place of
delivery? Has Congress authorized such discretion in the
enforcement of this Act? If it has, there is an end to the matter,
for Congress may constitutionally make the practices which led to
the Federal Denture Act triable in any federal district through
which an offending denture is transported. Armour
Packing Co. v.
Page 323 U. S. 275
United States, 209 U. S. 56
accused is so triable if a fair reading of the Act requires it. But
if the enactment reasonably permits the trial of the sender of
outlawed dentures to be confined to the district of sending, and
that of the importer to the district into which they are brought,
such construction should be placed upon the Act. Such construction,
while not required by the compulsions of Article III, § 2 of the
Constitution and of the Sixth Amendment, is more consonant with the
considerations of historic experience and policy which underlie
those safeguards in the Constitution regarding the trial of
Aware of the unfairness and hardship to which trial in an
environment alien to the accused exposes him, the Framers wrote
into the Constitution that "The Trial of all Crimes . . . shall be
held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.
. . ." Article III, § 2, cl. 3. As though to underscore the
importance of this safeguard, it was reinforced by the provision of
the Bill of Rights requiring trial "by an impartial jury of the
State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."
Sixth Amendment. By utilizing the doctrine of a continuing offense,
Congress may, to be sure, provide that the locality of a crime
shall extend over the whole area through which force propelled by
an offender operates. Thus, an illegal use of the mails or of other
instruments of commerce may subject the user to prosecution in the
district where he sent the goods, or in the district of their
arrival, or in any intervening district. Plainly enough, such
leeway not only opens the door to needless hardship to an accused
by prosecution remote from home and from appropriate facilities for
defense. It also leads to the appearance of abuses, if not to
abuses, in the selection of what may be deemed a tribunal favorable
to the prosecution.
Page 323 U. S. 276
These are matters that touch closely the fair administration of
criminal justice, and public confidence in it on which it
ultimately rests. These are important factors in any consideration
of the effective enforcement of the criminal law. They have been
adverted to, from time to time, by eminent judges, and Congress has
not been unmindful of them. Questions of venue in criminal cases
therefore are not merely matters of formal legal procedure. They
raise deep issues of public policy in the light of which
legislation must be construed. If an enactment of Congress equally
permits the underlying spirit of the constitutional concern for
trial in the vicinage to be respected, rather than to be
disrespected, construction should go in the direction of
constitutional policy, even though not commanded by it.
It is significant that, when Congress desires to give a choice
of trial, it does so by specific venue provisions giving
jurisdiction to prosecute in any criminal court of the United
States through which a process of wrongdoing moves. Such was the
situation in Armour Packing Co. v. United States, supra.
The offense there was under the Elkins Act for the transportation
of goods at illegal freight rates, and Congress specifically
provided for prosecution in any district "through which the
transportation may have been conducted." 32 Stat. 847, as amended,
49 U.S.C. § 41(1).
In the Federal Denture Act, Congress did not make provision for
trial in any district through which the goods were shipped. The
absence of such a provision would, in itself, be significant. Its
significance is enhanced when it appears that the attention of
Congress was directed by the Postmaster General to the desirability
of authority for a discretionary trial either at the place of
shipment or at the place or receipt. He wrote to the Chairman of
the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce
"that consideration should be given to the advisability of
Page 323 U. S. 277
the measure provide for prosecution of violators in the
jurisdiction where the material is caused to be delivered, as well
as in the jurisdiction from which it is sent."
Hearings before Subcommittee of House Committee on Interstate
and Foreign Commerce on H.R. 5674, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. (1942), p.
3. And the Committee also invited the viewpoint of representatives
of the Department of Justice "on the language of the bill."
at 28. In view of the keen awareness of enforcing
officials, as well as that of the members of the Committee on
Interstate Commerce, of the problems raised by venue in criminal
trials, it is inadmissible to suggest either oversight on the part
of Congress in failing to make provision for choice of venue or to
make the cavalier assumption that that which is specifically
provided for in other enactments -- i.e.,
trial in more
than one district -- was authorized but, through parsimony of
language, left unexpressed in the Federal Denture Act.
The absence of a venue provision such as that which Congress
wrote into the Elkins Act is far more rationally explained by due
regard to the difference between the offenses under the Elkins and
the Federal Denture Acts, respectively. The venue provision under
the Elkins Act underlines the offense defined by that Act, which
was not the illegal sending or the bringing of goods, but their
"transportation." That -- transportation -- is inescapably a
process, a continuing phenomenon. The Federal Denture Act did not
make "transportation" the offense. It proscribed the use of the
mails for "the purpose of sending or bringing into any State"
unlawful dentures. The Act thereby hit two types of violators --
the sender and the unlicensed dentist who brings in dentures from
without. It is a reasonable, and not a strained, construction to
read the statute to mean that the crime of the sender is complete
when he uses the mails in Chicago, and the crime of the unlicensed
dentist in California or Florida or Delaware, who orders the
dentures from Chicago, is committed in the
Page 323 U. S. 278
State into which he brings the dentures. As a result, the trial
of the sender is restricted to Illinois, and that of the unlicensed
dentist to Delaware or Florida or California. The illicit sender in
Chicago cannot be hauled for trial across the continent, and,
conversely, the unlicensed dentist cannot be compelled to stand
trial in Chicago.
The large policy back of the constitutional safeguards counsels
against the unrestricted construction for which the Government
contends when Congress has not commanded it, and no considerations
of expediency require it. Prosecutions of federal crimes are under
the general supervision of the Attorney General of the United
States; United States Attorneys do not exercise autonomous
authority. The vindication of the Federal Denture Act therefore
does not depend upon the willingness of some local United States
Attorney to prosecute on behalf of a local victim. While it might
facilitate the Government's prosecution in a case like this to have
its witnesses near the place of trial, there must be balanced
against the inconvenience of transporting the Government's
witnesses to trial at the place of the sender the serious hardship
of defending prosecutions in places remote from home (including the
accused's difficulties, financial and otherwise, see
§ 878, 28 U.S.C. § 656, of marshalling his witnesses), as well as
the temptation to abuses, already referred to, in the
administration of criminal justice. Inasmuch as the statute permits
and does not forbid this construction, the judgment below should
* We are concerned only with this latter information, but the
court's opinion, delivered in connection with the first
information, gave its reasons for quashing both informations.
MR. JUSTICE MURPHY, concurring.
I join in the opinion of the Court, and believe that the
judgment should be affirmed.
Congress has the constitutional power to fix venue at any place
where a crime occurs. Our problem here is to
Page 323 U. S. 279
determine, in the absence of a specific venue provision, where
the crime outlawed by the Federal Denture Act occurred for purposes
The Act prohibits the use of the mails for the purpose of
sending or bringing into any state certain prohibited articles. It
is undisputed that, when a defendant places a prohibited article in
the mails in Illinois for the purpose of sending it into Delaware,
he has completed a statutory offense. Hence, he is triable in
Illinois. But to hold that the statutory crime also encompasses the
receipt of the prohibited article in Delaware, justifying a trial
at that point, requires an implication that I am unwilling to make
in the absence of more explicit Congressional language.
Very often, the difference between liberty and imprisonment in
cases where the direct evidence offered by the government and the
defendant is evenly balanced depends upon the presence of character
witnesses. The defendant is more likely to obtain their presence in
the district of his residence, which, in this instance, is usually
the place where the prohibited article is mailed. The
inconvenience, expense, and loss of time involved in transplanting
these witnesses to testify in trials far removed from their homes
are often too great to warrant their use. Moreover, they are likely
to lose much of their effectiveness before a distant jury that
knows nothing of their reputations. Such factors make it difficult
for me to conclude, where Congress has not said so specifically,
that we should construe the Federal Denture Act as covering more
than the first sufficient and punishable use of the mails insofar
as the sender of a prohibited article is concerned. The principle
of narrow construction of criminal statutes does not warrant
interpreting the "use" of the mails to cover all possible uses in
light of the foregoing considerations.
Page 323 U. S. 280
MR. JUSTICE REED, dissenting.
The statute under consideration condemns the "use" of "the mails
or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for the purpose of
sending or bringing into any State or Territory" any denture which
has been made without compliance with the laws of that State or
Territory relating to the furnishing of such appliances. The Court
narrowly interprets the term "use" to condemn as criminal only the
first use of the mails; in this way, the Court restricts venue for
prosecution to Illinois for trial of an offender who mails a
denture in Illinois which is subsequently delivered through "use"
of the mails in Delaware. We think, however, that the statute
condemns and makes criminal any use of the mails for the prohibited
purpose. Under this interpretation, the respondents' use of the
mails is punishable in Delaware, and the dismissal of the
information in this case should be reversed.
The venue of a crime may be fixed at any place where the acts
denounced as crimes occur. [Footnote 1
] There is no disagreement as to this rule of
law. The Court reaches its conclusion upon venue under the Federal
Denture Act not upon any compulsion of Constitution or statute, but
because a restriction of the venue to the place of mailing seemed
to it more consonant with the underlying purposes of the
Constitutional provisions as to venue. These purposes are thought,
as the Court expresses it, to include a trial in an environment
which is not alien to the accused.
We think the Court misapprehends the purpose of the
Constitutional provisions. We understand them to assure
Page 323 U. S. 281
a trial in the place where the crime is committed, and not to be
concerned with the domicile of the criminal nor with his
familiarity with the environment of the place of trial. Haas v.
Henkel, 216 U. S. 462
Indeed, in the present information, nothing appears as to residence
or domicile of the accused or as to their place of business.
Congress, by its specification of the precise acts denounced as
crimes, fixes venue at the place where those acts are committed.
Our inquiry, then, must be directed to a determination of what
constitutes the crime denounced by the Denture Act. The statute
condemns as unlawful the "use" of the "mails or any instrumentality
of interstate commerce for the purpose of sending or bringing into
any State" the prohibited dentures. It is not the deposit of the
article or its delivery which is forbidden, but the use of the
transportation facilities. The sending or bringing of the dentures
is not denounced as a substantive crime apart from the use of mails
or instrumentalities to accomplish the purpose. The crime consists
of the use of the mails to send a prohibited denture "into" or
bring it "into" another state. The language leads us to the
conclusion that a use for the prohibited purpose occurs at whatever
place the proscribed denture is handled by the mails or an
instrumentality of commerce.
The "use" for the "purpose" results in a continuous offense.
] Since the offense
is committed wherever the mails or the instrumentalities of
interstate commerce are used for the purpose of sending or bringing
the denture into a state contrary to the statute, and the act has
no provision otherwise limiting the place of trial, the venue is at
Page 323 U. S. 282
place these acts are committed. One of the places in the present
case is Delaware, "into" which the dentures were brought by
appellees' use of the mails in that state. [Footnote 3
] If this analysis is correct, there was no
occasion for Congress to follow the suggestion as to venue of the
Postmaster General to which the Court refers.
The title of the act indicates that it is directed at practices
thought to lead to dental disorders and "to prevent the
circumvention of certain State or Territorial laws regulating the
practice of dentistry." 56 Stat. 1087. These state laws regulated
the fabrication of prosthetic dental appliances. From the hearings,
] it is clear that
the purpose of Congress was to protect the public against the evils
of ill fitting dental appliances by restricting interstate commerce
to dental appliances which were approved by licensed practitioners
of the state into which the appliances were brought. Such was
declared to be its purpose by the report of the Senate Committee.
S.Rep. No. 1779, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., p. 1. As the injury would
occur normally at the place of delivery, and as the act is designed
to protect only those states which have laws regulating the
furnishing of appliances by unlicensed practitioners, Congress
would naturally enact legislation which might punish violations in
the state of delivery.
Page 323 U. S. 283
The prosecuting officers of that state would be most interested
in enforcement and would best understand the scope of the laws of
the state of delivery. Congress would not wish to leave immune
shipments from foreign countries. Cf. United States v.
Freeman, 239 U. S. 117
THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE
join in this dissent.
Constitution of the United States, Art. III, Sec. 2, cl. 3;
Sixth Amendment. Armour Packing Co. v. United States,
209 U. S. 56
209 U. S. 73
Salinger v. Loisel, 265 U. S. 224
265 U. S.
-235; Horner v. United States, No. 1,
143 U. S. 207
143 U. S. 213
In re Palliser, 136 U. S. 257
136 U. S. 265
Hyde v. Shine, 199 U. S. 62
199 U. S. 78
Haas v. Henkel, 216 U. S. 462
216 U. S.
Cf. United States v. Kissel, 218 U.
; Hyde v. United States, 225 U.
, 225 U. S.
-367; United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil
Co., 310 U. S. 150
310 U. S. 250
In re Snow, 120 U. S. 274
Clark & Marshall, Crimes (4th Ed.), § 504; Wharton Criminal Law
(12th Ed.), § 338. See also In re Richter,
100 F. 295,
298; Morris v. United States,
229 F. 516, 521.
Cf. Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U. S.
, 209 U. S. 72
United States v. Midstate Co., 306 U.
, 306 U. S. 165
and see United States v. Lombardo, 241 U. S.
, 241 U. S. 77
United States v. Freeman, 239 U.
, and In re Palliser, 136 U.
. The latter two cases illustrate the difference
between a continuous offense and one begun in one state and
completed in another. Compare
Judicial Code, Section 42,
28 U.S.C. § 103, with
§ 3237 of H.R. 5450, 78th Cong., 2d
Hearing before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on
Interstate and Foreign Commerce, February 3 and 4, 1942, 77th
Cong., 2d Sess., on H.R. 5674; Hearing before a Subcommittee of the
Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce, July 15, 16, 17 and 20,
1942, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., on S. 2371.