269 U.S. 360
Argued Dec. 1, 1925.
Decided Jan. 4, 1926.
Mr. Assistant Attorney General Donovan, for the United States.
Mr. Anthony P. Nugent, of Kansas City, Mo., for respondent. [269 U.S. 360, 361]
Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
An indictment of three counts charged respondent with violating Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act, c. 1, 38 Stat. 785 (Comp. St. 6287g-6287q), by making unauthorized sales of cocaine to three different persons on different days. Each count alleged a completed sale to the named individual on a specified day. The judgment below followed a plea of guilty:
It is by the court considered and adjudged that said defendant is guilty of the crime aforesaid, and that as punishment therefor said defendant be confined in the United States penitentiary situated at Leavenworth, Kansas, for the term of five (5) years on each of said three counts, and until he shall have been discharged from said penitentiary by due course of law. Said term of imprisonment to run consecutively and not concurrently.
He took the cause to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and there maintained:
(1) That the (trial) court erred in imposing a sentence of 15 years upon defendant, James Daugherty; that the court exceeded its jurisdiction in imposing a sentence of 15 years, which is 10 years above the maximum penalty prescribed for a violation of the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act, as amended by Revenue Act of 1918, 40 Stat. 1130 ( Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 6287g, 6287l).
(2) That each of the offenses charged, alleged, and set forth in the indictment constitute a single continuous act inspired by the same intent, which is equally essential to each of the offenses charged in the three counts of said indictment, and the court erred and exceeded its jurisdiction in imposing a sentence of 15 years upon defendant.
That court interpreted and affirmed the judgment.
It held that:
It further concluded that the sentence was for 5 years only and, in support of this view, said:
Mr. Justice Bradley's opinion in United States v. Patterson (C. C.) 29 F. 775, was cited and relied upon.
The cause is here by certiorari, granted upon petition of the United States, for whom counsel say:
The constitutionality of the Anti-Narcotic Act, touching which this court so sharply divided in United States v. Doremus, 249 U.S. 86 , 39 S. Ct. 214, was not raised below, and has not been again considered. The doctrine approved in Hammer v. Dagenhart, 247 U.S. 251 , 38 S. Ct. 529, 3 A. L. R. 649, Ann. Cas. 1918E, 724, Child Labor Tax [269 U.S. 360, 363] Case, 259 U.S. 20 , 42 S. Ct. 449, Hill v. Wallace, 259 U.S. 44, 67 , 42 S. Ct. 453, and Linder v. United States, 268 U.S. 5 , 45 S. Ct. 446, may necessitate a review of that question, if hereafter properly presented.
In denying the contention that the indictment charged but a single crime the court below was clearly right. Further discussion of that point would serve no good purpose. But, we think, it erred in holding that the sentence was for only 5 years.
Sentences in criminal cases should reveal with fair certainty the intent of the court and exclude any serious misapprehensions by those who must execute them. The elimination of every possible doubt cannot be demanded. Tested by this standard, the judgment here questioned was sufficient to impose total imprisonment for 15 years, made up of three 5- year terms, one under the first count, one under the second, and one under the third, to be served consecutively, and to follow each other in the same sequence as the counts appeared in the indictment. This is the reasonable and natural implication from the whole entry. The words, 'said term of imprisonment to run consecutively and not concurrently,' are not consistent with a 5-year sentence.
United States v. Patterson, supra, grew out of a sentence under pleas of guilty to three separate indictments. A single judgment entry directed that the prisoner 'be confined at hard labor in the state's prison of the state of New Jersey, for the term of five (5) years upon each of the three indictments above named, said terms not to run concurrently, and from and after the expiration of said terms until the costs of this prosecution shall have been paid.' The question there was materially different from the one here presented, which concerns counts in one indictment. We think the reasoning of that opinion is not applicable to the present situation. Neely v. United States (C. C. A.) 2 F.(2d) 849, 852, 853, is more nearly in point. [269 U.S. 360, 364] This and similar unfortunate causes should admonish the trial courts to require the use of meticulously precise language in all judgment entries. Especial care is essential where sentences for crime are imposed.
We deem it proper to add that the sentence of 15 years imposed upon respondent seems extremely harsh. Circumstances not disclosed by the record may justify it, but only extraordinary ones could do so.
The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed, and the one entered by the District Court is affirmed. The cause will be remanded to the latter court for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.