United States v. Powell,
423 U.S. 87 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Powell, 423 U.S. 87 (1973)

United States v. Powell

No. 74-884

Argued October 6, 1975

Decided December 2, 1975

423 U.S. 87


Respondent was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1715, which proscribes mailing pistols, revolvers, and "other firearms capable of being concealed on the person," by having sent a 22-inch sawed-off shotgun through the mails. There was evidence at the trial that the gun could be concealed on an average person. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the quoted portion of § 1715 was so vague as to violate due process. In addition to the constitutional claim respondent contends that, as a matter of statutory construction, particularly in light of the ejusdem generis doctrine, the quoted portion does not embrace sawed-off shotguns.


1. The narrow reading of the statute urged by respondent does not comport with the legislative purpose of making it more difficult for criminals to obtain concealable weapons, and the rule of ejusdem generis may not be used to defeat that purpose. Here, a properly instructed jury could have found the shotgun mailed by respondent to have been a "firearm capable of being concealed on the person" within the meaning of § 1715. Pp. 423 U. S. 90-91.

2. Section 1715 intelligibly forbids a definite course of conduct (mailing concealable firearms) and gave respondent adequate warning that mailing the gun was a criminal offense. That Congress might have chosen "[c]learer and more precise language" equally capable of achieving its objective does not mean that the statute is unconstitutionally vague. United States v. Petrillo, 332 U. S. 1, 332 U. S. 7. Pp. 423 U. S. 92-94.

501 F.2d 1136, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 423 U. S. 94.

Page 423 U. S. 88

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