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decided: December 6, 1954.



Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Minton, Harlan

Author: Clark

[ 348 U.S. Page 161]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is similar to the question presented in Smith v. United States, ante, p. 147, on the corroboration of respondent's extra-judicial statements concerning his "opening net worth." The admissibility of these statements is not questioned.

Respondent, an operator of a legitimate coin-machine business, was tried and convicted on four counts charging him with willful attempts to evade and defeat his own and his wife's income taxes for the years 1946 through 1949. The Government's case rested primarily on a net

[ 348 U.S. Page 162]

     worth computation, which showed net worth increases and nondeductible expenditures of $62,993.47 for the prosecution period; during these same four years respondent declared only $16,775.14 income. It was stipulated that the computation was correct except as to the items "cash on hand" and "cash in bank." Respondent's bank balances were proved by introducing the bank records, and, with some minor adjustments, the Government's net worth computation was amply verified in this respect. As to "cash on hand," particularly the amount credited to the taxpayer as of the beginning of the prosecution period, respondent contends that the only evidence tending to substantiate the Government's figures is the uncorroborated admissions of the accused. He argues that lacking independent evidence of the corpus delicti, the conviction cannot stand. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the judgment of conviction, observing that, absent a starting item such as cash on hand, "the remainder of the statement proves nothing." 207 F.2d 377. We granted the Government's petition for certiorari. 347 U.S. 1008.

The Government credited the respondent with $500 cash on hand at the starting point. One of the Government agents testified that the $500 figure was an approximation based on respondent's oral answer to a request that he estimate his year-end balances of cash on hand. According to the agent's notes, respondent replied that he had "approximately $500.00 cash in his pocket. He believes that because it is his habit to carry about that much money in his pocket at all times." It was admitted that the taxpayer might have had more than this amount on hand at certain times, since he had frequently made deposits in his bank accounts in sums of $1,000 and $2,000. It appears that the agent did not inquire into how much money respondent had in his safe or his business, as opposed to the funds in his pocket, maintaining

[ 348 U.S. Page 163]

     that he was justified in treating the taxpayer's statement regarding the $500 as covering his total cash on hand. Respondent contended that this figure failed to embrace a substantial sum in currency in his safe at the starting date. Both the Government and the respondent adduced a number of circumstances in support of their respective positions, and in interpreting the meaning of respondent's statement the jury could readily have found the Government's circumstantial proof more persuasive. In our view, it could have concluded from the evidence that respondent's statement as to the $500 referred to his total cash on hand at the starting point.

Respondent also signed a written statement admitting to the same opening cash on hand. This document contained the over-all net worth computation relied on by the Government at the trial. The Government's evidence tended to show that it had been signed by the respondent after the usual warning and after he and the agents had worked over the statement, item by item, for some eight hours. Though admitting that both he and his accountant had read the statement, the respondent sought to prove that he had not understood the net worth computation as a whole or the individual item of "cash on hand"; that before signing the statement he had asked his accountant whether it was correct, intending to rely on the latter's judgment; and that the accountant, in giving defendant the go-ahead, had merely approved the method employed in compiling the statement without passing on the accuracy of the particular figures. Again it was for the jury to consider all these circumstances in determining the weight to be given the signed statement; we cannot say that the document should have been rejected as a matter of law.

But all these factors are relevant in determining whether the independent evidence provided adequate corroboration. As in Smith v. ...

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