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. § 835.
The statute directs that "[w]hoever knowingly violates" the Regulation shall be subject to fine or imprisonment or both.
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 . . . ."
The District Court dismissed those counts of the indictment which were based upon the Regulation in question,
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.
In Sproles v. Binford, 286 U.S. 374 (1932), these principles were applied in upholding words in a criminal statute similar to those now before us. Chief Justice Hughes, speaking for a unanimous court, there said:
The Regulation challenged here is the product of a long history of regulation of the transportation of explosives and inflammables. Congress recognized the need for protecting the public against the hazards involved in transporting explosives as early as 1866.
The statute punishes only those who knowingly violate the Regulation. This requirement of the presence of culpable intent as a necessary element of the offense does much to destroy any force in the argument that application of the Regulation would be so unfair that it must be held invalid.
We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals remanding the cause to the District Court with directions to reinstate counts 1, 3, and 5 of the indictment.
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, with whom MR. JUSTICE BLACK and MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER join, dissenting.
Congress apparently found the comprehensive regulation needed for the transportation of explosives and inflammables too intricate and detailed for its own processes. It delegated the task of framing regulations to the Interstate Commerce Commission and made a knowing violation of them criminal. Where the federal crimemaking power is delegated to such a body, we are
This regulation does not prohibit carriage of explosives. It presupposes that they must be transported, and therefore, attempts to lay down a rule for choice of routings. Petitioner was admonished to avoid congested thoroughfares, places where crowds are assembled, streetcar tracks, tunnels, viaducts and dangerous crossings. Nobody suggests that it was possible to avoid all of these in carrying this shipment from its origin to its destination. Nor does the regulation require that all or any one of them be avoided except "so far as practicable." I do not disagree with the opinion of Chief Justice Hughes and the Court in Sproles v. Binford, 286 U.S. 374, that, in the context in which it was used, " `shortest practicable route' is not an expression too vague to be understood." A basic standard was prescribed with definiteness—distance. That ordinarily was to prevail, and, if departed from, the trucker was to be prepared to offer practical justifications.
But the regulation before us contains no such definite standard from which one can start in the calculation of his duty. It leaves all routes equally open and all equally closed. The carrier must choose what is "practicable," not, as in the Sproles case, by weighing distance against obstacles to passage. We may, of course, take judicial notice of geography. Delivery of these goods was impossible except by passing through many congested thoroughfares and either tunnels, viaducts or bridges. An explosion would have been equally dangerous and equally incriminating in any of them. What guidance can be gleaned from this regulation as to how one could with reasonable certainty make a choice of routes that would comply with its requirements?
It is said, however, that definiteness may be achieved on the trial because expert testimony will advise the jury as to what routes are preferable. Defects in that solution
It is further suggested that a defendant is protected against indefiniteness because conviction is authorized only for knowing violations. The argument seems to be that the jury can find that defendant knowingly violated the regulation only if it finds that it knew the meaning of the regulation he was accused of violating. With the exception of Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, which rests on a very particularized basis, the knowledge requisite to knowing violation of a statute is factual knowledge as distinguished from knowledge of the law. I do not suppose the Court intends to suggest that if petitioner knew nothing of the existence of such a regulation its ignorance would constitute a defense.
This regulation prescribes no duty in terms of a degree of care that must be exercised in moving the shipment. The utmost care would not protect defendant from prosecution under it. One can learn his duty from such terms as "reasonable care" or "high degree of care." Of course, one may not be sure whether a trier of fact will find particular conduct to measure up to the requirements of the law, but he may learn at least what he must strive for, and that is more than he can learn from this regulation.
This question is before this Court on the indictment only. In some circumstances we might feel it better that a case should proceed to trial and our decision be reserved until a review of the conviction, if one results. But a trial can give us no better information than we have now as to whether this regulation contains sufficiently definite standards and definition of the crime. An acquittal or disagreement would leave this unworkable, indefinite regulation standing as the only guide in a matter that badly needs intelligible and rather tight regulation. It
"The Interstate Commerce Commission shall formulate regulations for the safe transportation within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States of explosives and other dangerous articles, including flammable liquids, flammable solids, oxidizing materials, corrosive liquids, compressed gases, and poisonous substances, which shall be binding upon all common carriers engaged in interstate or foreign commerce which transport explosives or other dangerous articles by land, and upon all shippers making shipments of explosives or other dangerous articles via any common carrier engaged in interstate or foreign commerce by land or water.
"Such regulations shall be in accord with the best-known practicable means for securing safety in transit, covering the packing, marking, loading, handling while in transit, and the precautions necessary to determine whether the material when offered is in proper condition to transport."