CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.
Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Byrnes, Jackson
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The questions for decision are: (1) Whether a conviction upon the several counts of an indictment, each charging conspiracy to violate a different provision of the Internal Revenue laws, where the jury's verdict is supported by evidence of but a single conspiracy, will sustain a sentence of more than two years' imprisonment, the maximum penalty for a single violation of the conspiracy statute, and (2) whether the six-year period of limitation prescribed by § 3748 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code is applicable to offenses arising under § 37 of the Criminal Code, 18 U. S. C. 88 (the conspiracy statute), where the object of the conspiracy is to evade or defeat the payment of a federal tax.
Petitioners were indicted, with others, on seven counts, each charging a conspiracy to violate a separate and distinct internal revenue law of the United States.*fn1 On the trial there was evidence from which the jury could have found that, for a considerable period of time, petitioners, with others, collaborated in the illicit manufacture, transportation,
and distribution of distilled spirits, involving the violations of statute mentioned in the several counts of the indictment. At the close of the trial, petitioners renewed a motion which they had made at its beginning to require the Government to elect one of the seven counts of the indictment upon which to proceed, contending that the proof could not and did not establish more than one agreement. In response the Government's attorney took the position that the seven counts of the indictment charged as distinct offenses the several illegal objects of one continuing conspiracy, that if the jury found such a conspiracy it might find the defendants guilty of as many offenses as it had illegal objects, and that for each such offense the two-year statutory penalty could be imposed.
The trial judge submitted the case to the jury on that theory. The jury returned a general verdict finding petitioners "guilty as charged," and the court sentenced each to eight years' imprisonment. On appeal the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed, 125 F.2d 283, on the authority of its earlier decisions in Fleisher v. United States, 91 F.2d 404 and Meyers v. United States, 94 F.2d 433. It found that "From the evidence may be readily deduced a common design of appellants and others, followed by concerted action," to commit the several unlawful acts specified in the several counts of the indictment. It concluded that the fact that the conspiracy was "a general one to violate all laws repressive of its consummation
does not gainsay the separate identity of each of the several conspiracies." We granted certiorari, 316 U.S. 653, to resolve an asserted conflict of decisions.*fn2 The Government, in its argument here, submitted the case for our decision with the suggestion that the decision below is erroneous.
Both courts below recognized that a single agreement to commit an offense does not become several conspiracies because it continues over a period of time, see United States v. Kissel, 218 U.S. 601, 607; cf. In re Snow, 120 U.S. 274, 281-3, and that there may be such a single continuing agreement to commit several offenses. But they thought that, in the latter case, each contemplated offense renders the agreement punishable as a separate conspiracy.
The question whether a single agreement to commit acts in violation of several penal statutes is to be punished as one or several conspiracies is raised on the present record, not by the construction of the indictment, but by the Government's concession at the trial and here, reflected in the charge to the jury, that only a single agreement to commit the offenses alleged was proven. Where each of the counts of an indictment alleges a conspiracy to violate a different penal statute, it may be proper to conclude, in the absence of a bill of exceptions bringing up the evidence, that several conspiracies are charged rather than one, and that the conviction is for each. See Fleisher ...