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UNITED STATES v. BERKENESS, 275 U.S. 149 (1927)

U.S. Supreme Court

UNITED STATES v. BERKENESS, 275 U.S. 149 (1927)

275 U.S. 149

No. 175.

Argued Oct. 11, 1927.
Decided Nov. 21, 1927.

[275 U.S. 149, 150]   The Attorney General and Mrs. Mabel Walker Willebrandt, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the United States.

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court. $This proceeding was begun by the United States attorney in the District Court for Alaska to enjoin and abate a nuisance said to be maintained in Berkeness' private dwelling at Fairbanks.

The complaint alleges: That on the 5th day of May, 1925, the defendant 'had in his possession at and in said premises intoxicating liquor, to wit, beer and wine, and was engaged therein in manufacturing intoxicating liquor, to wit, beer, which said liquor was kept and stored in said premises and was being manufactured therein by said defendant, in violation of the provisions of the Act of Congress approved February 14, 1917, commonly known as the Alaska Dry Law, and particularly in violation of sections 19 and 20 of said act. That said defendant has for a long time prior to the 5th day of May, 1925, kept and maintained said premises as a common and public nuisance, and has, during said time, kept intoxicating liquor in his possession, and stored in said premises.' It was dismissed because unsupported by competent evidence.

A warrant issued May 5, 1925, by the United States commissioner at Fairbanks commanded the marshal to search the premises then occupied by Berkeness as a private dwelling for intoxicating liquors, alleged there to be kept, [275 U.S. 149, 151]   possessed, and stored by him contrary to the Act of Congress approved February 14, 1917. The preceding affidavits did not charge the use of the dwelling for unlawful sale of intoxicants or for any business purpose. The trial court declared the warrant invalid, and rejected all evidence obtained thereby. This action met approval by the Circuit Court of Appeals.

An act of Congress 'to prohibit the manufacture or sale of alcoholic liquors in the territory of Alaska,' etc., approved February 14, 1917, c. 53, 39 Stat. 903 (48 USCA 261, 274, 278 (Comp. St. 3643b, 3643h, 3643j)), provides:

The National Prohibition Act of October 28, 1919, 'to prohibit intoxicating beverages,' etc., c. 85, title 2, 41 Stat. 307 (27 USCA 12, 33, 34, 39, 50, 52), provides:

Chapter 134, 'An act supplemental to the National Prohibition Act,' approved November 23, 1921, 42 Stat. 222 (27 USCA 2, 3 and 18 USCA 53 ), declares:

The court below held that, by the legislation subsequent to the Act of February 14, 1917, Congress imposed 'a limitation on the right to search a private dwelling, which is available to residents of Alaska equally with those in other portions of the United States'; and we approve that conclusion.

Notwithstanding known difficulties attending enforcement of prohibition legislation, Congress was careful to declare in the National Prohibition Act that mere possession of liquor in one's home 'shall not be unlawful,' and to forbid procurement of evidence through warrants directing search of dwellings strictly private, not alleged to be used for unlawful sale. The definite intention to protect the home was further emphasized by section 6, Act of 1921

It is argued that both the act of 1917 and the later general act are in full effect within Alaska-one a special act for that territory, and the other a general law for the United States and all territory subject to their jurisdiction. But the emphatic declaration that no private dwelling shall be searched except under specified circumstances discloses a general policy to protect the home against intrusion through the use of search warrants. Certainly no adequate reason has been suggested for withholding from those who reside in Alaska the safeguards deemed essential in all other territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The provision of the earlier special act is hostile to the later declaration of Congress and must give way. [275 U.S. 149, 156]   Our conclusion is entirely consistent with established canons of construction, stated and exemplified by Henderson's Tobacco, 11 Wall. 652; State v. Stoll, 17 Wall. 425, 431; Rodgers v. United States, 185 U.S. 83, 87 , 22 S. Ct. 582; Washington v. Miller, 235 U.S. 422 , 35 S. Ct. 119; and similar cases.


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