Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386 (1958)

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Author: Earl Warren

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Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386 (1958)

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN, dissenting.

The problem of multiple punishment is a vexing and recurring one. It arises in one of two broad contexts: (a) a statute or a portion thereof proscribes designated conduct, and the question is whether the defendant’s conduct constitutes more than one violation of this proscription. Thus, murdering two people simultaneously might well warrant two punishments, but stealing two one-dollar bills might not. (b) Two statutes or two portions of a single statute proscribe certain conduct, and the question is whether the defendant can be punished twice because his conduct violates both proscriptions. Thus, selling liquor on a Sunday might warrant two punishments for violating a prohibition law and a blue law, but feloniously entering a bank and robbing a bank, though violative of two statutes, might warrant but a single punishment.

In every instance, the problem is to ascertain what the legislature intended. Often the inquiry produces few if any enlightening results. Normally these are not problems that receive explicit legislative consideration. But this fact should not lead the judiciary, charged with the obligation of construing these statutes, to settle such questions by the easy application of stereotyped formulae. It is at the same time too easy and too arbitrary to apply a presumption for or against multiple punishment in all cases, or even to do so one way in one class of cases and the other way in another. Placing a case in the category of "unit of offense" problems or the category of "overlapping statute" problems may point up the issue, but it does not resolve it.

Where the legislature has failed to make its intention manifest, courts should proceed cautiously, remaining sensitive to the interests of defendant and society alike. All relevant criteria must be considered, and the most useful aid will often be common sense. In this case, I am persuaded, on the basis of the origins of the three statutes involved, the text and background of recent amendments to these statutes, the scale of punishments prescribed for second and third offenders, and the evident legislative purpose to achieve uniformity in sentences, that the present purpose of these statutes is to make sure that a prosecutor has three avenues by which to prosecute one who traffics in narcotics, and not to authorize three cumulative punishments for the defendant who consummates a single sale.

* Regina v. Elrington, 9 Cox C.C. 86, 90, 1 B. & S. 688.

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Chicago: Earl Warren, "Warren, J., Dissenting," Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386 (1958) in 357 U.S. 386 357 U.S. 394–357 U.S. 395. Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQFVPC3ASJJAS1A.

MLA: Warren, Earl. "Warren, J., Dissenting." Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386 (1958), in 357 U.S. 386, pp. 357 U.S. 394–357 U.S. 395. Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQFVPC3ASJJAS1A.

Harvard: Warren, E, 'Warren, J., Dissenting' in Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386 (1958). cited in 1958, 357 U.S. 386, pp.357 U.S. 394–357 U.S. 395. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQFVPC3ASJJAS1A.