U.S. Supreme Court United States v. Tenbrock, 15 U.S. 2 Wheat. 248 248 (1817)
United States v. Tenbrock
15 U.S. (2 Wheat.) 248
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR
THE DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA
The Act of Congress of 24 July 1813, imposing a duty, according to the capacity of the still, on all stills employed in distilling spirits from domestic or foreign materials, and inflicting a penalty of one hundred dollars and double duties for using any still or stills or other implements in distilling spirituous liquors without first obtaining a license, as required by the act, does not extend to the rectification or purification of spirits already distilled.
This was an action of debt commenced in the District Court in Pennsylvania, by the United States against the defendant in error to recover a penalty alleged to have been incurred for using a still and distilling spirituous liquors without having a license therefor, as required by an act of Congress passed on 24 July, 1813.
This act imposes a duty, according to the capacity of the still on all stills employed in distilling spirits from domestic or foreign materials, and inflicts a penalty of $100 and double duties on all persons who, after the first day of January then ensuing, should use any still or stills or other implements in distilling spirituous liquors without having first obtained a license, as required by the provisions of the act. For every license the act imposes a duty of nine cents for each gallon of the capacity of the still employed in distilling spirits from domestic materials for the term of two weeks, and in proportion for a longer period. And, on all stills employed in distilling spirits from foreign materials, a duty of 25 cents for each gallon of the capacity of the still for the time of one month.
To the declaration, which was in the usual form, the defendant, in proper person, plead nil debet, on which issue was joined. It was proved on the trial and admitted by the defendant that he was the proprietor of a distillery within the District of Pennsylvania which he used and for which he had not taken out a license, agreeably to the act of Congress
before recited. It was also proved on the part of the defendant that his distillery was not used in distilling spirits from domestic materials, but in rectifying the said spirits after they had been distilled from domestic materials; that he is not a distiller, but a rectifier of spirits. He contended that distillation and rectification of spirits are distinct vocations; that rectifying such spirits is not a part of the process of distillation, but a mere purification of the spirits themselves from feculent or useless matter, and that he was not liable to the penalty of the act of Congress. The attorney for the United States contended that rectification of spirits in a distillery is nothing more than distillation repeated, and in this repetition the spirits must be deemed, and in fact are, domestic materials.
The court charged the jury that the act of Congress laying duties on licenses to distillers of spirituous liquors did not apply unless when the still is used for the purpose of distilling spirits from domestic or foreign materials, and that if the still or other implement be not employed in distilling spirits from domestic or foreign materials, there can be no penalty incurred for using a still for any other purpose, although no license be taken out, and that spirits cannot be considered as a domestic material. That penal laws must be construed strictly, and must not be amplified by intendment. That whether rectification be part of the process of distillation, was a fact to be left to the jury. The counsel for the United States excepted to this charge. There was a verdict and judgment for the defendant.
The cause was removed by writ of error to the circuit court, when the judgment of the district court was affirmed with costs.
MR. JUSTICE DUVALL delivered the opinion of the Court, and after stating the facts proceeded as follows:
The Court, in considering this question, must be governed by the language of the Act of Congress of 4 July, 1813. By this act, a specific duty is laid or licenses to stills employed in distilling spirituous liquors from domestic or foreign materials, and a penalty is inflicted for distilling without a license.
The distillation of spirituous liquors is performed by a double process -- by the application of heat to a still containing the material. The product of the first process, after running through the still, is commonly called low wines, or singlings; the low wines undergo a second process of distillation, by which spirits are produced; they are to be proof of the first, second, third, or fourth degree, as defined and required by law. These are marketable, and here the process ends. The material from which the spirits are extracted appears to be the object of the law. The rectification or purification of spirits after their distillation has been complete in order to fit them for certain purposes of combination with other materials is no part of the process of distillation, and is not a breach of the provisions of the act of Congress. The distillation of spirits and the rectification of them after they are distilled appear to be distinct and separate acts. No duty is specifically
laid by law on the rectification of spirits, nor does it appear that any was contemplated, and if the process is confined to the rectification of spirits already distilled, no penalty is incurred although a license is not previously obtained. It was evidently the intention of the legislature to exact one duty only on the distillation of spirits.
It is the opinion of this Court that there is no error in the judgment of the circuit court.
This opinion is given on the request of the Attorney-General, it being probable that the same question may frequently occur. But as this cause is improperly brought before this Court by writ of error, having been first carried from the district to the circuit court by the same process, it is dismissed.
Writ of error dismissed.