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United States v. Rutherford

May 27, 1964

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GEORGE ALBERT RUTHERFORD



Author: Dimock

DIMOCK, District Judge : This is an appeal from a judgment of conviction under section 35(a) of title 18 of the United States Code, the first part of the so-called "bomb hoax" or "false tip" section. A one-count indictment charged that appellant, while on board a United States airplane at the New York International Airport, "imparted and conveyed the false information that he then and there had a bomb, which information concerned an attempt to do an act which would be a crime prohibited by Title 18, U.S.C. Section 32, and which information the defendant knew to be false." Appellant testified that he had used the word "bomb" as a colloquial expression for a marine sextant that he was carrying in a case.

Appellant was sentenced to serve ten days with service of the remainder of a one year sentence suspended.

On a trial without a jury before District Judge Mishler, the court, on conflicting but sufficient evidence, made the following findings:

"(2) While walking near the rear of the said plane defendant said to Ruth Raolo, or within her hearing, 'I have to sit near the back because I have a bomb.'"

"3) After someone (unidentified) made a statement containing the phrase or expressed the thought of the 'tail blowing off,' defendant stated that he didn't care since he had plenty of insurance."

"5) The navigational sextant is not commonly referred to by seamen or anyone else as a 'bomb.'"

"6) The reference in finding No. 3, concerning insurance, was knowingly and intentionally made to impart and convey the false information that the destructive force of the bomb would destroy the plane and end his life."

"7) Defendant knowingly and intentionally imparted the false information that he was carrying a destructive and explosive substance referring to the wooden case holding the navigational sextant."

Appellant's contention that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction is without substance.

It is contended that the statute abridges freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment.

Both section 32 and an earlier form of section 35(a) were parts of Public Law 709 adopted July 14, 1956, entitled "An act to punish the willful damaging or destroying of aircraft or motor vehicles and their facilities, and for other purposes." In amended form it constitutes Chapter 2 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Sections 32 and 35(a) are quoted in the margin.*fn*

Section 32 deals with damaging or destroying aircraft, damaging or destroying aircraft parts with intent to damage or destroy the aircraft, placing destructive substances on aircraft or parts with like intent, and damaging or placing destructive substances on aircraft facilities with like intent. Section 33 deals similarly with motor vehicles except that no act is made criminal unless done with intent to endanger, or with reckless regard for, human life.

Section 35(a), under consideration in this case, makes criminal the imparting of information, knowing the information to be false, concerning an attempt or an alleged attempt being made or to be made to do any act which would be a crime prohibitied by the chapter. Thus the statute would be violated by the imparting of knowingly false information with respect to an attempt about to be made to damage an aircraft, in any way irrespective of the saboteur's intent, or to damage a motor vehicle in any way, with intent to endanger the safety of any person on board.

If the statute so far as it applied to aircraft were limited to making criminal the imparting of false information with respect to the existence of a bomb on a loaded aircraft, there could be little doubt that the giving of the false information would be beyond the protection of the First Amendment. It would fall within the principle of the false cry of fire in a crowded theatre, the classic illustration of unprotected speech given by Mr. Justice Holmes in Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52. Such speech is ...


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