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Argument for Defendants in Error.
criminal character independent of its owner's fault. United States v. Barrels of Spirits, 1 Lowell, 239; Dobbins's Distilled Spirits v. United States, 96 U. S. 395.
III. The general object of the statute is to enforce the payment of a tax on all liquor manufactured. It proposes to accomplish this object by inflicting punishments of fine, impris onment and forfeiture on all actually guilty of attempting to defraud the government of the tax and by requiring vigilance on the part of all who are in any way concerned in the business and property to prevent and disclose any illegal acts under a penalty of a forfeiture of their goods. The legislature thought that the watchfulness of a man whose property was in danger would be greater than that of any government officer. Therefore every one concerned with an open distillery is bound to see that the law is not violated. If he chooses to leave his property in such a distillery, he does so knowing the risk and ought first to satisfy himself that there is no violation of law.
But if the distillery is a secret one and the owner is in ignorance of its existence and in no fault, what conceivable purpose is served by punishing him by a forfeiture of his property?
IV. If then the construction of the statute claimed by the government is, first, unjust, and, second, in no way within the object or intent of the law, the next question would seem to be whether the words of the statute are so imperative that we are driven to say that Congress intended this unjust and unreasonable thing when they passed the law. We claim on the contrary that it clearly appears that the intention wast just and reasonable and that Congress does not deserve the imputation which the government would cast upon them.
V. Examining the whole chapter, Rev. Stat. Title 35, c. 4, in the light of these principles we find the law contemplates (1) open lawful distilleries which are stringently regulated with numerous penalties and forfeitures. § 3259, 3260, 3262, 3263, 3264, 3267, 3269, 3271, 3275, 3277, 3279, 3280, 3283, 3284, 3286, 3288, 3303, 3304, 3305.
In all cases arising under these sections knowledge of the
Argument for Defendants in Error.
nature of the business at least is either expressly required or is assumed from the very nature of the thing. Thus every such open distillery must have a conspicuous sign stating that it is a distillery. § 3279.
For instance, the elaborate provisions of $ 3269 are absurd if applied to an illicit distillery. Of what consequence is it whether the pipes are painted black or red so long as the whole is concealed and secret.
The spirit of the law is farther well indicated by § 3262 which contains elaborate provisions, the sole object of which appears to be to protect the government on one side and on the other to secure all innocent parties from loss. The spirit of that section is that no person is to be subjected to the forfeiture unless he has consented to assume that liability. United States v. Distillery at Spring Valley, 11 Blatchford, 255, 271.
It is clear then that the statute both by its express provisions and by necessary implication, in the case of open distilleries, imposes no forfeiture except on those who have expressly consented or knowingly exposed their property to the risk of forfeiture.
But there is another class of distilleries against which the law is also aimed; which are illicit distilleries. This falls under
3257 and 3281, which latter section has been superseded by Stat. 1875, c. 36, § 16, 18 Stat. 310. In this latter case the owner of the property may be wholly innocent of any knowledge of the existence of the distillery. The proposition which we desire to maintain is that if he is ignorant of the existence of the distillery, his property cannot be forfeited.
As we have seen in case of lawful distilleries no person's goods are forfeited unless he has knowingly exposed them to forfeiture. There is no reason why any harsher rule should be applied in case of illicit distilleries. Gregory v. United States, 17 Blatchford, 328.
It is undoubtedly true that the presumption is against any one whose property is found in the illicit distillery, especially if such property is in its nature adapted to use in the illegal business. But it is equally clear that the owner may rebut
Argument for Defendants in Error.
this presumption and prove that he was wholly innocent. United States v. One Still, 5 Blatchford, 403; S. C. 5 Int. Rev. Rec. 189. Take the case for instance of stolen property. It is clear that it would be unjust, unreasonable and preposterous that the real owner should forfeit such property by its being found in an illicit distillery. Suppose that a person drives his horse upon premises secretly used as a distillery for some innocent and legitimate purpose and while there the distillery and the horse are seized, cannot he claim it?
These illustrations and others of the like class which will suggest themselves prove two points: first, that innocence may be proved, and second, that there are exceptions to the literal meaning of the law. The moment it is admitted that there are such exceptions the matter is settled, for if there is any exception, no one will dispute that our case will fall within it. 2. Opinions Attys. Gen. 428; The Bello Corrunes, 6 Wheat. 152; Peisch v. Ware, 4 Cranch, 347, 362.
VI. It ought to be enough simply to state our position. a man leaves his property and parts with the control of it for a legal and proper purpose, no act of the tenant, unknown to him, and without his consent, can deprive him of his property.
VII. We understand that the decision in United States v. 33 Barrels of Spirits, 1 Lowell, 239, covers this case; and we cite the words of Judge Lowell: "It is impossible to believe that any such sweeping condemnation is intended to be passed founded upon mere proximity in place upon the goods of all persons, innocent or guilty." It is a rule of law as well as of natural justice that statutes will not be understood to forfeit property except for the fault of the owner, general or special, unless such a construction is unavoidable.
VIII. As the statute has absolutely required the assent of the landlord or lessor to the business of licensed distilling, it would certainly have reserved to him some power to control the property and restrain violations of the law, if it had intended to hold him responsible. If the law is as is claimed by the government the case would stand like this: A man lets his estate for a legal and legitimate business. After a time he learns that the tenant has set up an illicit still. He has no
Argument for Defendants in Error.
power to enter the premises and stop him. He can only inform the government officers that they may come and seize the premises; that is, may come and seize his own property. The government construction of this statute says to the landlord: “If you give us any information of the illegal acts of your tenant, you shall be punished by a heavy fine." Our construction says to the landlord: "If you do not as soon as you learn of the crime of your tenant inform the government, you shall be punished." Which construction will carry out the end of the law? Which construction is it probable the legislature had in view?
IX. We claim that any such construction would be unconstitutional. And we cite the dictum of the court in United States v. Distillery at Spring Valley, 11 Blatch. 255, 271.
X. But it may be asked why Congress did not more explicitly guard against such a construction as that claimed? The answer is that no Congress for one moment supposed that the government would ever attempt to rob a citizen of his property, when it knew and admitted that he was guilty of no crime. The suggestion made in one case that the remedy for an innocent person is to ask favor of some government officer, is unworthy of the court. If a man has rights a court of justice is the place to maintain them. If he has no rights except by the favor of government officers, it is oppression. But if a person humbled himself to beg, what encouragement has he, when the government with full knowledge of his innocence has instituted and pressed the prosecution. The place for discretion, if any, is in refusing to institute unjust suits.
XI. In the very late case of United States v. 16 Barrels Distilled Spirits, 10 Ben. 484, the court although criticising the case in Lowell admit that the statute must be limited in some way and suggest another plan of escaping from its literal terms by limiting the forfeiture to goods found in the very room where the illegal acts were. This seems to us a very illogical way of avoiding the difficulty. It amounts to this. The court says the forfeiture is too unjust to be allowed in a case of magnitude, but if it is only a small amount of property which is affected, we will overlook the injustice. But even if
Opinion of the Court.
this construction was adopted, there would be too small an amount of goods left here to make it worth the government's while to continue this controversy.
XII. There can be no question that the real estate is not liable to forfeiture. A farther question arises as to what is part of the real estate. It is not a question of fixtures but of the division line between real and personal estate. If an article is personal estate, it is not a fixture. If it is a part of the real estate and is severable by a tenant, it is a fixture; but this is allowed only in favor of trade and not in favor of forfeitures and penalties. In a case like that before the court the rule in its utmost strictness as between heir and executor is applicable and all machinery and other articles which are annexed to the realty or which go to make it the manufactory for which it is intended are part of the realty.
MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.
The property sought to be forfeited consisted of real estate, and of machinery and fixtures and personal property found thereon.
The real estate was a single lot of land, part of which was covered by a building and sheds opening by doors into one another, and the rest of which was a yard connected with the buildings. Dixon owned the premises, and used them for a lawful brewery. Stone and Bellows, with Dixon's knowledge and consent, set up and used a still in the principal building, and there carried on the business of distillers, without the still having been registered, and without giving bond, or keeping books, as required by the internal revenue laws, and with intent to defraud the United States of the tax on the spirits which they distilled.
The omission to register the still was a cause of forfeiture under § 3258 of the Revised Statutes; the carrying on of the business of a distiller, without having given bond, or with intent to defraud the United States of the tax on the spirits distilled, was a cause of forfeiture under § 3281, as reënacted