United States v. Smith

The Facts

The defendant, Alfred Smith, has got joint bank account with his mother where she has been receiving social security benefits. He did not report the death of his mother to the Social Security Administration and continued to receive her monthly social security benefits for many months. His conduct constituted knowingly, intentionally and willfully embezzling, stealing, purloining and converting to his own use, on a recurring basis, a record, voucher,  money and thing of value belonging to the Social Security Administration.

Procedural History

The appellate court affirmed conviction.


There is no statutory requirement for an individual to defend himself/herself against criminal indictment when evidentiary facts got obscured by the passage of time. In such a case statute of limitations minimizes the danger of official punishment because acts were committed in the far-distant past.

Separate criminal acts over an extended period are to be treated as a continuing offense for purpose of statute of limitations when statutory formulation of a crime explicitly compels that result. In this regard a legislative body must explicitly have intended to view the crime as a continuing one. A series of criminal acts should be committed on base of a plan or scheme embraced by single malicious intent. Only in such a case crime committed on a recurring basis can be joined into a single count.

The Issue

Whether the indictment impermissibly joined separate offenses into a single count.

The Holding/Reasoning

The appellate court held defendant’s acts must be evaluated as a continuing offense rather than a series of separate acts. According to opinion of the court the indictment was properly filed within the limitations period. “Charging defendant’s patterned and methodical conduct in a single count in the indictment was thus proper, and the government’s proof of defendant’s embezzlement as a continuing offense was sufficient to support the conviction. The payments were voluntarily, although erroneously, placed in defendant’s control, defendant misappropriated the payments for his own use, and proof of embezzlement did not require a fiduciary relationship between the government and defendant”.

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