Opinion of the Court.

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its constitutionality, if it be not construed as contended by the Grant Company.

If the case were the first of its kind, it and its apparent paradoxes might compel a lengthy discussion to harmonize the section with the accepted tests of human conduct. Its words taken literally forfeit property illicitly used though the owner of it did not participate in or have knowledge of the illicit use. There is strength, therefore, in the contention that, if such be the inevitable meaning of the section, it seems to violate that justice which should be the foundation of the due process of law required by the Constitution. It is, hence, plausibly urged that such could not have been the intention of Congress, that Congress necessarily had in mind the facts and practices of the world and that, in the conveniences of business and of life, property is often and sometimes necessarily put into the possession of another than its owner. And it follows, is the contention, that Congress only intended to condemn the interest the possessor of the property might have to punish his guilt, and not to forfeit the title of the owner who was without guilt.

Regarded in this abstraction the argument is formidable, but there are other and militating considerations. Congress must have taken into account the necessities of the Government, its revenues and policies, and was faced with the necessity of making provision against their violation or evasion and the ways and means of violation or evasion. In breaches of revenue provisions some forms of property are facilities, and therefore it may be said, that Congress interposes the care and responsibility of their owners in aid of the prohibitions of the law and its punitive provisions, by ascribing to the property a certain personality, a power of complicity and guilt in the wrong. In such case there is some analogy to the law of deodand by which a personal chattel that was the immediate cause of the death of any reasonable creature was forfeited.

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To the superstitious reason to which the rule was ascribed, Blackstone adds "that such misfortunes are in part owing to the negligence of the owner, and therefore he is properly punished by such forfeiture." And he observed, "A like punishment is in like cases inflicted by the Mosaical law: 'if an ox gore a man that he die, the ox shall be stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten.' And, among the Athenians, whatever was the cause of a man's death, by falling upon him, was exterminated or cast out of the dominions of the republic." See also The Blackheath, 195 U. S. 361, 366, 367; Liverpool &c. Navigation Co. v. Brooklyn Terminal, 251 U. S. 48, 53.

But whether the reason for § 3450 be artificial or real, it is too firmly fixed in the punitive and remedial jurisprudence of the country to be now displaced. Dobbins's Distillery v. United States, 96 U. S. 395, is an example of the rulings we have before made. It cites and reviews prior cases, applying their doctrine and sustaining the constitutionality of such laws. It militates, therefore, against the view that § 3450 is not applicable to a property whose owner is without guilt. In other words, it is the ruling of that case, based on prior cases, that the thing is primarily considered the offender. And the principle and practice have examples in admiralty. The Palmyra, 12 Wheat. 1.

The same principle was declared in United States v. Stowell, 133 U. S. 1. The following cases at circuit may also be referred to: United States v. Mincey, 254 Fed. Rep. 287 (1918); Logan v. United States, 260 Fed. Rep. 746 (1919); United States v. One Saxon Automobile, 257 Fed. Rep. 251; United States v. 2461 Pounds of Tobacco, 103 Fed. Rep. 791; United States v. 220 Patented Machines, 99 Fed. Rep. 559.

Counsel resist the reasoning and precedent of these cases in an argument of considerable length erected on the contention of the injustice of making an innocent man

Opinion of the Court.

254 U.S.

suffer for the acts of a guilty one, and the anxious solicitude the court must feel and exercise, and which, it is said, it has often expressed, and by which it has been impelled to declare laws unconstitutional that offend against reason and justice.

The changes are rung on the contention, and illustrations are given of what is possible under the law if the contention be rejected. It is said that a Pullman sleeper can be forfeited if a bottle of illicit liquor be taken upon it by a passenger, and that an ocean steamer can be condemned to confiscation if a package of like liquor be innocently received and transported by it. Whether the indicated possibilities under the law are justified we are not called upon to consider. It has been in existence since 1866, and has not yet received such amplitude of application. When such application shall be made it will be time enough to pronounce upon it. And we also reserve opinion as to whether the section can be extended to property stolen from the owner or otherwise taken from him without his privity or consent.

Counsel further urge that § 3450 should be read in connection with §§ 3460 and 3461, and other sections of the Revised Statutes, and should be construed to provide for the forfeiture of no interest for which those sections offer protection. We are, however, unable to concur with counsel that they modify the requirement or effect of § 3450. They have no relation to the latter section, nor is their remedy applicable to cases under that section.

There is an intimation that in the prior cases there was something in the relation of the parties to the property or its uses from which it was possible to infer its destination to an illegal purpose; at any rate, the risk of such purpose; and that such relation had influence in the decision of the cases.

We are unable to accept the intimation. There may, indeed, be greater risk to the owner of property in one

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form or purpose of its bailment than in another, but wrong cannot be imputed to him by reason of the form or purpose. It is the illegal use that is the material consideration, it is that which works the forfeiture, the guilt or innocence of its owner being accidental. If we should regard simply the adaptability of a particular form of property to an illegal purpose, we should have to ascribe facility to an automobile as an aid to the violation of the law. It is a "thing" that can be used in the removal of "goods and commodities" and the law is explicit in its condemnation of such things.


Judgment affirmed.




No. 262. Argued December 6, 7, 1920.—Decided January 17, 1921.

1. The judgment of the state Supreme Court was reviewable in this case by certiorari and not by writ of error. P. 518.

2. Where a judgment of a state Supreme Court prohibiting proceedings in a lower court was essentially based on the denial of a substantive right claimed by a party, this court is not precluded from reviewing, on a constitutional ground, by the fact that the judgment was in terms based on a denial of the prohibited court's jurisdiction. P. 520.

Argument for Petitioners.

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3. Apart from statute or express contract, those who invest in a railroad, though built under a charter and the eminent domain power received from the State, are not bound to go on operating at a loss if there is no reasonable prospect of future profit; and their right to stop does not depend upon the consent of the State. P. 520.

4. Where a state Supreme Court prohibited a lower court, in foreclosing a railroad, from authorizing and confirming a sale with liberty to the purchaser to dismantle the railroad, basing its decision upon the ground that the State was not a party and that the dismantling could not be so authorized without the State's consent, held, that the prohibition could not affect the constitutional rights of the mortgagor, since the right to dismantle, as against the State, could not be conferred by a foreclosure decree in the State's absence, and would pass to the purchaser, if it existed, whether the decree so provided or not. P. 521.

5. Whether a State is bound by a foreclosure proceeding to which it voluntarily makes itself a party before final decree, is a local question, the decision of which this court will not review in a case from a state court. P. 522.

82 So. Rep. 866, affirmed.

THE case is stated in the opinion.

Mr. George C. Bedell for petitioners:

The judgment and writ of prohibition under review deprive the mortgagee Hood of his property without due process of law, and deny to him the equal protection of the law, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment. BrooksScanlon Co. v. Railroad Commission of Louisiana, 251 U. S. 396, 399.

See also Munn v. Illinois, 94 U. S. 113, 116; Mississippi Railroad Commission v. Mobile & Ohio R. R. Co., 244 U. S. 388; Northern Pacific Ry. Co. v. North Dakota, 236 U. S. 585, 595; Norfolk & Western Ry. Co. v. West Virginia, 236 U. S. 605, 609, 614.

The court's finding that the railroad cannot be operated except at a loss is conclusive and has not been questioned by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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