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BOYCE MOTOR LINES v. UNITED STATES

decided: January 28, 1952.

BOYCE MOTOR LINES, INC
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton

Author: Clark

[ 342 U.S. Page 338]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner is charged with the violation of a regulation promulgated by the Interstate Commerce Commission under 18 U. S. C. ยง 835.*fn1 The Regulation provides:

"Drivers of motor vehicles transporting any explosive, inflammable liquid, inflammable compressed

[ 342 U.S. Page 339]

     gas, or poisonous gas shall avoid, so far as practicable, and, where feasible, by prearrangement of routes, driving into or through congested thoroughfares, places where crowds are assembled, street car tracks, tunnels, viaducts, and dangerous crossings."*fn2

The statute directs that "whoever knowingly violates" the Regulation shall be subject to fine or imprisonment or both.*fn3

The indictment, in counts 1, 3, and 5, charges that petitioner on three separate occasions sent one of its trucks carrying carbon bisulphide, a dangerous and inflammable liquid, through the Holland Tunnel, a congested thoroughfare. In each instance, the truck was en route from Cascade Mills, New York, to Brooklyn, New York. On the third of these trips the load of carbon bisulphide exploded in the tunnel and about sixty persons were injured. The indictment further states that "there were other available and more practicable routes for the transportation of said shipment, and . . . the [petitioner] well knew that the transportation of the shipment of carbon bisulphide . . . into the . . . Holland Tunnel was in violation of the regulations promulgated . . . by the Interstate Commerce Commission . . . ."*fn4 There is no allegation as to the feasibility of prearrangement of routes, and petitioner is not charged with any omission in that respect.

The District Court dismissed those counts of the indictment which were based upon the Regulation in question,

[ 342 U.S. Page 340]

     holding it to be invalid on the ground that the words "so far as practicable, and, where feasible" are "so vague and indefinite as to make the standard of guilt conjectural." 90 F.Supp. 996, 998. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the Regulation, interpreted in conjunction with the statute, establishes a reasonably certain standard of conduct. 188 F.2d 889. We granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 846.

A criminal statute must be sufficiently definite to give notice of the required conduct to one who would avoid its penalties, and to guide the judge in its application and the lawyer in defending one charged with its violation.*fn5 But few words possess the precision of mathematical symbols, most statutes must deal with untold and unforeseen variations in factual situations, and the practical necessities of discharging the business of government inevitably limit the specificity with which legislators can spell out prohibitions. Consequently, no more than a reasonable degree of certainty can be demanded. Nor ...


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