Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
The Disbursing Office of the House of Representatives is a "department or agency" of the United States within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 1001, which forbids the willful falsification of a material fact "in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States." Pp. 503-510.
Charles F. Barber argued the cause for the United States. With him on briefs were Solicitor General Sobeloff, Assistant Attorney General Olney, Beatrice Rosenberg, Ralph S. Spritzer and Richard J. Blanchard.
Edward Bennett Williams argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Murdaugh Stuart Madden.
MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.
On November 10, 1953, an 18-count indictment was returned in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, charging the appellee, a former member [348 U.S. 503, 504] of Congress, with violations of 18 U.S.C. 1001. 1 During the course of the trial a judgment of acquittal was ordered on counts 8 through 18 of the indictment. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on the remaining 7 counts which charged the appellee with having falsely and fraudulently represented to the Disbursing Office of the House of Representatives that a named woman was entitled to compensation as his official clerk. The District Court granted appellee's motion in arrest of judgment, holding that he had not falsified a material fact "within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States" since the Disbursing Office was not a department or agency within the meaning of the statute. The District Court was of the opinion that the statute does not afford protection to the legislative and judicial branches of the Government. The Government brought this case here on direct appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3731. Reference to the evolution of 1001 will assist in determining the correctness of the decision below. A detailed analysis appears in the opinion of the trial court. 120 F. Supp. 857.
Section 1001 had its origin in a statute passed almost 100 years ago in the wake of a spate of frauds upon the Government. The Act of March 2, 1863, 12 Stat. 696, "An Act to prevent and punish Frauds upon the Government of the United States," made it a criminal offense for
False statements were proscribed in the following clause of the same section in these terms:
From 1863 to 1934 the coverage of the statute was at various times extended, but no change was made which could be or is taken by the appellee as restricting the [348 U.S. 503, 506] scope of the false statements provision to the executive branch. 2
The words urged as crucial in this first appeared in the revision of 1934. 48 Stat. 996. No change was made in the false claims portion of the statute, but the false statements section was amended to read:
The 1934 revision was largely the product of the urging of the Secretary of the Interior. 3 The Senate Report, S. Rep. No. 1202, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., indicates that its purpose was to broaden the statute so as to reach not only false papers presented in connection with a claim against the Government, but also nonmonetary frauds such as those involved in the "hot-oil" shipments. A greater variety of false statements were meant to be included. 4 There is no indication in either the committee reports 5 or in the congressional debates 6 that the scope of the statute was to be in any way restricted. There was certainly no suggestion that the new phrase was to be interpreted so that only falsifications made to executive agencies would be reached. 7 Apparently the italicized phrase was inserted simply to compensate for the deleted [348 U.S. 503, 508] language as to purpose - to indicate that not all falsifications but only those made to government organs were reached.
The 1948 revision put the statute into its present form. 8 62 Stat. 683. The false claims provision became 287 of Title 18 and retained its prior form without significant change. Section 1001 is the "false statements" section. Except for housekeeping changes in language which are of no particular significance, the deletion of the reference to corporations, and the transposition of the "in any matter" clause to the beginning of the section, there has been no change since the 1934 statute. There is no indication that the revision was intended to work any substantive change. It would thus be supposed that the statute retained its broad scope, a scope at least as broad as the false claims section, and could not be limited to falsifications made to executive agencies.
The appellee and the District Court rely on 6 of Title 18 to restrict the scope of 1001. Section 6 provides:
It might be argued that the matter here involved was within the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department, as the appellee's misstatements would require the payment of funds from the United States Treasury. Or, viewing this as a matter within the jurisdiction of the Disbursing Office, it might be argued, as the Government does, that that body is an "authority" within the 6 definition of "agency." We do not rest our decision on either of those interpretations. The context in which this language is used calls for an unrestricted interpretation. This is enforced by its legislative history. It would do violence to the purpose of Congress to limit the section to falsifications made to the executive departments. Congress could not have intended to leave frauds such as this without penalty. The development, scope and purpose of the section shows that "department," as used in this context, was meant to describe the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Government. The difference between the language of 287 and that of 1001 can only be understood in the light of legislative history. That history dispels the possibility of attaching any significance to the difference.
That criminal statutes are to be construed strictly is a proposition which calls for the citation of no authority. [348 U.S. 503, 510] But this does not mean that every criminal statute must be given the narrowest possible meaning in complete disregard of the purpose of the legislature. 9
The judgment below is accordingly
[ Footnote 2 ] Under the codification of December 1, 1873, approved June 22, 1874, R. S. 5438, the statute was extended to cover "every person" - not merely military personnel. The Act of May 30, 1908, 35 Stat. 555, simply changed the penalties, and in the codification of 1909, 35 Stat. 1088, 5438 was redesignate 35. Section 35 was in turn revised in 1918, 40 Stat. 1015. The false claims provision was extended to cover corporations in which the United States held stock; and false statements were proscribed if made "for the purpose and with the intent of cheating and swindling or defrauding the Government of the United States" as well as if made for the purpose of obtaining payment of a false claim.
[ Footnote 3 ] For a discussion of the legislative history of the Act, see United States v. Gilliland, 312 U.S. 86, 93 -95.
[ Footnote 4 ] In United States v. Cohn, 270 U.S. 339 , the Court held that the 1918 Act did not proscribe false statements made to a customs collector where the purpose was not to defraud the Government of either its money or property. After the 1934 amendment, however, the Court sustained an indictment charging the defendants with willfully falsifying reports required to be filed under the "Hot-Oil" Act of February 22, 1935. The Court stated that the purpose of the 1934 amendment was to remove the prior "restriction to cases involving pecuniary or property loss to the government." United States v. Gilliland, 312 U.S. 86, 93 .
[ Footnote 5 ] S. Rep. No. 1202; H. R. Rep. No. 1463, 73d Cong., 2d Sess.
[ Footnote 6 ] 78 Cong. Rec. 8136, 11270, 11513.
[ Footnote 7 ] In Romney v. United States, 83 U.S. App. D.C. 150, 167 F.2d 521, the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives of the United States was convicted of presenting false statements of his accounts and of concealing shortages in reporting to the General Accounting Office, which was created as an establishment "independent of the executive departments and under the control and direction of the Comptroller General of the United States." 42 Stat. 23, 31 U.S.C. 41.
[ Footnote 8 ] In 1938, 35 was divided into subsections, but the part of the statute with which we are here concerned was left unchanged. 52 Stat. 197.
Response sent, thank you
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Citation: 348 U.S. 503
Docket No: No. 159
Argued: February 07, 1955
Decided: April 04, 1955
Court: United States Supreme Court
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)