CRS Annotated Constitution

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Article III, § 2 requires that federal criminal cases be tried by jury in the State and district in which the offense was committed,123 but much criticism arose over the absence of any guarantee that the jury be drawn from the “vicinage” or neighborhood of the crime.124 Madison’s efforts to write into the Bill of Rights an express vicinage provision were rebuffed by the Senate, and the present language was adopted as a compromise.125 The provisions limit the Federal Government only.126

An accused cannot be tried in one district under an indictment showing that the offense was committed in another;127 the place where the offense is charged to have been committed determines the place of trial.128 Thus, a defendant cannot be tried in Missouri for money–laundering if the charged offenses occurred in Florida and there was no evidence that the defendant had been involved with the receipt or transportation of the proceeds from Missouri.7 In a prosecution for conspiracy, the accused may be tried in any State and district where an overt act was performed.129 Where a United States Senator was indicted for agreeing to receive compensation for services to be rendered in a proceeding before a government department, and it appeared that a tentative arrangement for such services was made in Illinois and confirmed in St. Louis, the defendant was properly tried in St. Louis, although he was not physically present in Missouri when notice of ratification was dispatched.130 The offense of obtaining transportation of property in interstate commerce at less than the carrier’s published rates,131 or the sending of excluded matter through the mails,132 may be made triable in any district through which the forbidden transportation is conducted. By virtue of a presumption that a letter is delivered in the district to which it is addressed, the offense of scheming to defraud a corporation by mail[p.1420]was held to have been committed in that district although the letter was posted elsewhere.133 The Constitution does not require any preliminary hearing before issuance of a warrant for removal of an accused to the court having jurisdiction of the charge.134 The assignment of a district judge from one district to another, conformably to statute, does not create a new judicial district whose boundaries are undefined nor subject the accused to trial in a district not established when the offense with which he is charged was committed.135 For offenses against federal laws not committed within any State, Congress has the sole power to prescribe the place of trial; such an offense is not local and may be tried at such place as Congress may designate.136 The place of trial may be designated by statute after the offense has been committed.137


The constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation entitles the defendant to insist that the indictment apprise him of the crime charged with such reasonable certainty that he can make his defense and protect himself after judgment against another prosecution on the same charge.138 No indictment is sufficient if it does not allege all of the ingredients that constitute the crime. Where the language of a statute is, according to the natural import of the words, fully descriptive of the offense, it is sufficient if the indictment follows the statutory phraseology,139 but where the elements of the crime have to be ascertained by reference to the common law or to other statutes, it is not sufficient to set forth the offense in the words of the statute. The facts necessary to bring the case within the statutory definition must also be alleged.140 If an offense cannot be accurately and clearly described without an allegation that the accused is not within an exception contained in the statutes, an indictment which does not contain such allegation is defective.141 Despite the omission of obscene particulars, an indictment in general language is good if the[p.1421]unlawful conduct is described so as reasonably to inform the accused of the nature of the charge sought to be established against him.142 The Constitution does not require the Government to furnish a copy of the indictment to an accused.143 The right to notice of accusation is so fundamental a part of procedural due process that the States are required to observe it.144


123 “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crime shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by law have directed.”
124 “Vicinage” means neighborhood, and “vicinage of the jury” means jury of the neighborhood or, in medieval England, jury of the County. 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England *350– 351 (T. Cooley 4th ed. 1899). See 3 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 1775–85 (1833).
125 The controversy is conveniently summarized in Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78, 92–96 (1970) .
126 Nashville, C. & St. L. Ry. v. Alabama, 128 U.S. 96, 101 (1888) .
127 Salinger v. Loisel, 265 U.S. 224 (1924) .
128 Beavers v. Henkel, 194 U.S. 73, 83 (1904) . For some more recent controversies about the place of the commission of the offense, see United States v. Cores, 356 U.S. 405 (1958) , and Johnston v. United States, 351 U.S. 215 (1956) .
7 United States v. Cabrales, 524 U.S. 1 (1998).
129 Brown v. Elliott, 225 U.S. 392 (1912) ; Hyde v. United States, 225 U.S. 347 (1912) ; Haas v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462 (1910) .
130 Burton v. United States, 202 U.S. 344 (1906) .
131 Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U.S. 56 (1908) .
132 United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273, 274 (1944) .
133 Hagner v. United States, 285 U.S. 427, 429 (1932) .
134 United States ex rel. Hughes v. Gault, 271 U.S. 142 (1926) . Cf. Tinsley v. Treat, 205 U.S. 20 (1907) ; Beavers v. Henkel, 194 U.S. 73, 84 (1904) .
135 Lamar v. United States, 241 U.S. 103 (1916) .
136 Jones v. United States, 137 U.S. 202, 211 (1890) ; United States v. Dawson, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 467, 488 (1853).
137 Cook v. United States, 138 U.S. 157, 182 (1891) . See also United States v. Socony–Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 250–54 (1940) ; United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273 (1944) .
138 United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 544, 558 (1876) ; United States v. Simmons, 96 U.S. 360 (1878) ; Bartell v. United States, 227 U.S. 427 (1913) ; Burton v. United States, 202 U.S. 344 (1906) .
139 Potter v. United States, 155 U.S. 438, 444 (1894) .
140 United States v. Carll, 105 U.S. 611 (1882) .
141 United States v. Cook, 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 168, 174 (1872).
142 Rosen v. United States, 161 U.S. 29, 40 (1896) .
143 United States v. Van Duzee, 140 U.S. 169, 173 (1891) .
144 In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 273 (1948) ; Cole v. Arkansas, 333 U.S. 196, 201 (1948) ; Rabe v. Washington, 405 U.S. 313 (1972) .

Supplement Footnotes

7 United States v. Cabrales, 524 U.S. 1 (1998) .
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