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Nelson v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant appeals from a conviction for obtaining goods by false pretenses. The trial court entered an acquittal on a second count of grand larceny.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The intent to injure or defraud is presumed when the unlawful act resulting in loss or injury is proved to have been knowingly committed.

    Facts. This case is an appeal from a conviction for obtaining goods by false pretenses in violation of a District of Columbia statute. Evidence was offered to establish that Appellant purchased merchandise from Potomac Distributors over a period of months for the purpose of resale. In September 1952, Appellant’s account was more than thirty days delinquent. In late September, Appellant wanted immediate possession of two televisions and a washing machine. He had already sold the merchandise and taken payment for it. He told the secretary of Potomac he promised delivery of the goods that evening. The Potomac representative told Appellant no further credit could be extended to him. Appellant then offered to give security for the items and for his delinquent account. He said he owned a vehicle worth $4,260.50, but failed to disclose the total amount still due on the car payments ($3,028.08). Relying on Appellant’s representations, Potomac delivered the television sets and took in return
    a demand note for the entire debt amount totaling $2,047.37. The debt was secured by a chattel mortgage on the Appellant’s vehicle and the television sets worth $136 each. When Appellant did not pay the debt, Potomac learned he had left town. At about the same time, Appellant’s car was damaged in a collision and was repossessed by the bank.

    Issue. Did Appellant intend to defraud Potomac and was Potomac actually defrauded?

    Held. Yes. Conviction Affirmed.
    Appellant contends that Potomac could not have been defrauded for the car because it had equity between $900 and $1000 on the day of the alleged incident. This fact is immaterial.

    Appellant could not get the television sets without offering security for his past due account and in order to obtain them he lied.

    Appellant also argues that there was no proof of intent upon his part to defraud his victim. However, the Supreme Court in Agnew v. United States determined that intent to injure or defraud is presumed when the unlawful act resulting in loss or injury is proved to have been knowingly committed. This notion was said to be “unexceptionable as a matter of law.”

    Dissent. Judge Miller dissenting: The question here is whether there was evidence from which the jury could be permitted to infer that Appellant intended to defraud Potomac. The majority seems to think “defraud” means to make a false pretense in the process of obtaining goods even though the purchase price is well secured. Judge Miller thinks “defraud” means to make a false pretense as a result of which the seller is deprived of his goods or of the purchase price. A purchaser who makes a false statement in buying on credit has not defrauded the seller of his goods if he sufficiently secures the debt. Appellant is only charged with defrauding Potomac by obtaining through false pretenses the articles then delivered (the television sets), which had a total value of $349.50. The actual value of the property upon which Potomac took a lien was more than sufficient to cover the debt of $349.50. It is not rational to presume that a person intends to defraud when he buys goods on credit and s
    afeguards the credit by giving more than triple security for it. It is not logical to conclude that the creditor was defrauded. Appellant was guilty of a moral wrong in falsely misrepresenting his debt, but he should not have been convicted because of it. The statute under which he was charged does not make mere falsehood felonious.

    Discussion. The intent is presumed and inferred from the result of the action. The difference of opinion between the majority and the dissent lies within the meaning of the term “defraud.”


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