same abilities. Were the courts to adopt defendant's arguments, we would be denied scientific truths and would still be struggling with problems created by concepts long known to be false.
It was not error to admit Mr. Zimmers' evidence.
V. Did the trial judge err in charging the jury that if they found the defendant had recent possession of a stolen vehicle, they could infer that the defendant knew the vehicle was stolen?
The statute defining the crime with which defendant was charged contains as an express element that the offender must know the motor vehicle was stolen. The trial judge charged the jury that possession of a stolen motor vehicle shortly after its theft, in the absence of a reasonable and sufficient explanation, will justify the inference that the possessor had knowledge that the vehicle was stolen. In giving this instruction, the Court followed a well-established principle of law: Rugendorf v. United States, 376 U.S. 528, 536-37, 84 S. Ct. 825, 830, 11 L. Ed. 2d 887 (1964); United States v. Pounds, 323 F.2d 419 (3rd Cir. 1963). Nevertheless, defendant contends that the inference is unconstitutional because it cannot be said with substantial assurance that the inferred fact is accurate beyond a reasonable doubt or alternatively, the inferred fact cannot with substantial assurance be said to flow from the proved fact on which it is made to depend.
The general teaching of Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 89 S. Ct. 1532, 23 L. Ed. 2d 57 (1969), is that a criminal presumption is unconstitutional "unless it can at least be said with substantial assurance that the presumed fact is more likely than not to flow from the proved fact on which it is made to depend." Recently, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth v. Owens, 441 Pa. 318, 271 A. 2d 230 (1970), held that in view of Leary, the knowledge inference with respect to possession of a recently stolen pistol was unconstitutional.
There are several reasons why Leary and Owens are not applicable in the instant case. Leary dealt with a statutory presumption that one who possessed marijuana did so knowing it had been illegally imported. The presumption was based on data more than 12 years old when Leary came before the Supreme Court. In the meantime, there had been vast changes in the extent and nature of marijuana use in the United States. Domestic production had greatly increased so that the Court concluded there was no justification in believing that one who possessed marijuana knew that it had been grown abroad. Thus, the presumption of guilty knowledge was not justified by the actual circumstances and was therefore constitutionally infirm. The Supreme Court reached the opposite result with regard to heroin in Turner v. United States, 396 U.S. 398, 90 S. Ct. 642, 24 L. Ed. 2d 610 (1970), because it is not produced domestically and may not be legally imported. Thus, guilty knowledge of an illegal source could be inferred from possession of that drug.
In the case at bar, the presumption of guilty knowledge that arises from recent possession of stolen goods is not statutory in origin, but is a long recognized rule of common law. It is supported by good sense and every-day experience: United States v. Coppola, 424 F.2d 991, 993 (2d Cir. 1970). For centuries, unexplained possession of recently stolen property has been accepted as evidence of wrong-doing. As a permissible inference for the jury, it satisfies the requirements of due process: United States v. Johnson, 140 U.S. App. D.C. 54, 433 F.2d 1160, 1169 (1970). Leary does not change the long-established rule that a jury may infer guilty knowledge on the part of one in possession of recently stolen property: McAbee v. United States, 434 F.2d 361, 363 (9th Cir. 1970).
In Owens, the defendant was convicted of knowingly possessing a stolen pistol, the only evidence of knowledge having been established by his possession. After a review of certain statistics, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined that a substantial number of used guns, stolen and non-stolen are transferred in seemingly innocent circumstances. Among low income groups, the Court observed that 71 per cent of all used firearms were obtained from a friend or private party in 1968. This led to the conclusion that a stolen gun could pass freely from hand to hand, and that a possessor would have no way to know it was originally stolen.
The same is not true of automobiles. Each transfer of a motor vehicle involves an assignment of the title certificate, the application for a new certificate, the payment of taxes, and the notarization of signatures. The name and address of both transferor and transferee is recorded by the state for permanent reference. The possibility that a stolen automobile may be innocently acquired is kept to a minimum.
"Automobiles, like many other items, are not hawked on street corners. Because they are expensive, durable, and identifiable, they are usually bought from established dealers or others who can show some proof of their title to the property. Buyers should and generally do seek proof of title. Therefore, it is proper to infer that one possessing a recently stolen car did not haphazardly buy it on the street without knowledge of the theft. For the same reasons, it should be easier than in the Leary situation -- where contraband was involved -- for the defendant to support allegations that he acquired the property legitimately." United States v. Polk, 433 F.2d 644, 648 (5th Cir. 1970).
Moreover, in the instant case, there was ample evidence, and even comments by defense counsel, that defendant had altered the identification numbers of the stolen cars in his possession. Ordinarily, neither private parties nor dealers change these numbers, some of which are in secret, inaccessible places. Pennsylvania law makes it a felony, punishable by a fine of $5,000. and imprisonment for up to 10 years to sell a vehicle with the knowledge that its serial numbers have been defaced or altered: Section 304, Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, 75 P.S. § 304. The Code provides a means to obtain a valid title for cars with omitted, obliterated, or defaced serial numbers: 75 P.S. § 302. There was no indication that the defendant followed that procedure as to any of the vehicles in question. Therefore, the jury could have inferred knowledge that these cars were stolen not only from their being in the defendant's possession, but also from the fact that he had tried to obliterate the means by which they could be shown to be stolen vehicles and their true ownership established.
Under these circumstances, there was no error in this portion of the charges.
VI. Did the trial judge err in his charge to the jury concerning the definition of reasonable doubt?
Defendant maintains that the court's charge on reasonable doubt did not convey the law adequately, that the instructions confused the jury, and that prejudicial error resulted. I disagree.
The court charged:
What is a reasonable doubt? A reasonable doubt is such a doubt as would cause a reasonably prudent man to pause and to hesitate in a matter of the highest importance to himself. A doubt to be reasonable must be one which fairly strikes the conscientious mind and clouds the judgment. It is not such a doubt as one might conjure up out of nowhere merely for the purpose of escaping the consequences of an unpleasant verdict, but as the term itself implies, it is a doubt which is reasonable and which fairly arises out of the evidence. It means a doubt which is substantial and not merely shadowy. It does not mean a doubt arising out of sympathy for the defendant or out of anything other than a candid consideration of all the evidence presented. [Emphasis added] (N.T. 646-647)
The defendant argues that the charge is erroneous in that the law only requires a reasonable doubt, not a substantial doubt, in the minds of the jurors to acquit a defendant.
"Substantial" is defined by Black's Law Dictionary, 4th ed., 1968, as "real; not seeming or imaginary; not illusive." It is a term which is susceptible of different meanings according to the circumstances: 83 C.J.S. p. 762.
In Commonwealth v. Williams, 432 Pa. 557, 248 A. 2d 301 (1968), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania considered the following charge:
If you feel that [the Commonwealth's] testimony does not substantially do that [i.e. prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt], then you are not required to bring in a conviction. On the other hand if you have a real doubt as to the guilt of this defendant, a substantive doubt, that a reasonable man or woman might have, then you can stop there. (Italics added by Supreme Court.)
Reversible error was found in the phrase "then you are not required to bring in a conviction," because the jury was given the right to find defendant guilty even if it had a reasonable doubt. However, the use of "substantially" and "substantive" was not criticized.
In United States v. Evans, 239 F. Supp. 554 (E.D. Pa. 1965), aff'd 411 F.2d 591 (3rd Cir. 1969), this court cited with approval the following charge from the Manual on Uniform Jury Instructions in Federal Criminal Cases, 33 F.R.D. 523, 567:
A reasonable doubt means a doubt that is based on reason and must be substantial rather than speculative. (Emphasis mine)