Leary v. United States (395 U.S. 6)/Concurrence Black

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Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinions

United States Supreme Court

395 U.S. 6

Timothy F. LEARY, Petitioner,  v.  UNITED STATES.

 Argued: Dec. 11 and 12, 1968. --- Decided: May 19, 1969

Mr. Justice BLACK, concurring in the result.

I concur in the Court's outright reversal of the petitioner's conviction on Count 3 of the indictment for the reasons set out in Part I of the Court's opinion.

I also concur in reversal of the petitioner's conviction on Count 2 of the indictment, based on 21 U.S.C. § 176a. That section makes it a crime to import marihuana into the United States or to receive, conceal, or transport it, knowing it to have been imported contrary to law, and then goes on to provide that the mere possession of marihuana shall be 'deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction unless the defendant explains his possession to the satisfaction of the jury.' The trial court in this case charged the jury that proof that petitioner merely had possession of marihuana was sufficient to authorize a finding that he knew it had been imported or brought into the United States contrary to law. It is clear beyond doubt that the fact of possession alone is not enough to support an inference that the possessor knew it had been imported. Congress has no more constitutional power to tell a jury it can convict upon any such forced and baseless inference than it has power to tell juries they can convict a defendant of a crime without any evidence at all from which an inference of guilt could be drawn. See Thompson v. Louisville, 362 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 624, 4 L.Ed.2d 654 (1960). Under our system of separation of powers, Congress is just as incompetent to instruct the judge and jury in an American court what evidence is enough for conviction as the courts are to tell the Congress what policies it must adopt in writing criminal laws. The congressional presumption, therefore, violates the constitutional right of a defendant to be tried by jury in a court set up in accordance with the commands of the Constitution. It clearly deprives a defendant of his right not to be convicted and punished for a crime without due process of law, that is, in a federal case, a trial before an independent judge, after an indictment by grand jury, with representation by counsel, an opportunity to summon witnesses in his behalf, and an opportunity to confront the witnesses against him. This right to a full-fledged trial in a court of law is guaranteed to every defendant by Article III of the Constitution, in the Sixth Amendment, and by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' promises that no person shall be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law-that is A trial according to the law of the land, both constitutional and statutory.

It is for these reasons, and not because I think the law is "irrational' or 'arbitrary,' and hence unconstitutional,' ante, at 30, that I would invalidate this presumption. I am firmly and profoundly opposed to construing 'due process' as authorizing this Court to invalidate statutes on any such nebulous grounds. My quite different reasons for holding that the presumption does deny due process of law, that is the benefit of the 'law of the land,' have been fully set out in many opinions, including, for illustration, my concurring opinion in Tot v. United States, 319 U.S. 463, 473, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 87 L.Ed. 1519 (1943), and my dissenting opinion in United States v. Gainey, 380 U.S. 63, 74, 85 S.Ct. 754, 761, 13 L.Ed.2d 658 (1965).


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).