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Criminal Law Keyed to Lee
Morissette v. United States
Citation:342 U.S. 246, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288 (1952)
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Morissette was a fruit stand operator in the summer in the summer and a trucker/scrap iron collector in the winter. In December of 1948, he went hunting and salvaged some spent bomb cases he found. These casings were thrown into piles. They were not stacked or piled in any order, and some heaps had been accumulating for four years or more. They were exposed to the weather and rusted.
Morissette loaded three tons of them onto his truck and took them to a nearby farm, where they were flattened and them marketed for $84. The loading, crushing, and transporting of the casings were all in broad daylight without the slightest effort of concealment.
An investigation began and Morissette voluntarily and promptly told the whole story to authorities. He stated that he thought the property was abandoned and had no intention of stealing. He was indicted on the charge that he “did unlawfully, willfully and knowingly steal and convert” property of the United States.
At trial, the court ruled that Morissette’s belief that the property was abandoned was no defense. The court refused to allow counsel to argue to the jury whether Morissette acted with innocent intention. The court told the jury that the question on intent is whether or not he intended to take the property.
Morissette was found guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, ruling that this particular offense requires no element of criminal intent.
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