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View Full Version : When alcohol prohibition ended, did alcohol criminals get out of jail?


diggleblop
03-26-2007, 10:39 PM
In other words, say that during prohibition I was arrested for having a still in the woods. I was sentenced to two years in jail and during my first year, the Government made alcohol legal again, did they let me out or did I serve the remainder of my time?

Blalron
03-26-2007, 10:55 PM
I've read up quite a bit on Prohibition, and haven't seen anything indicating a mass pardon or commutation of sentences after Prohibition ended, so I assume the answer is they served their sentences.

Little Nemo
03-26-2007, 11:10 PM
Legally speaking, the overturning of a law does not exonerate the people who were convicted of breaking the law when it was in effect. They could theoretically be pardoned or have their sentences commuted, but only in the same way that would occur of the law was still in force.

pkbites
03-26-2007, 11:46 PM
I can't find anything that says they got off.

But why would they? Lots of laws get changed. Doesn't mean it was right to break it while it was the law.

kaylasdad99
03-27-2007, 12:17 AM
Did people get imprisoned on charges of producing/trafficking in alcohol, though? Wouldn't there usualy have been some kind of tax/regulatory-based offense to put somebody away on?

ParentalAdvisory
03-27-2007, 01:16 AM
I can't find anything that says they got off.

But why would they? Lots of laws get changed. Doesn't mean it was right to break it while it was the law.

True, but doesn't the fact that the law was changed mean that something was horribly wrong with the law in the first place?

Eleusis
03-27-2007, 01:19 AM
Did people get imprisoned on charges of producing/trafficking in alcohol, though? Wouldn't there usualy have been some kind of tax/regulatory-based offense to put somebody away on?
I'm pretty sure that, yes. I don't think they needed the tax/regulatory-based offenses when it was out-right banned federally.

However I'll hold off on an official answer because I have a couple questions of my own.

What was the federal crime for mere posession? Say a 60 year old buys a beer at a speakeasy and gets caught with it? Max/min penalties? Most common?

BobT
03-27-2007, 01:31 AM
An article I found in the December 6, 1933 Los Angeles Times had a headline of "Old Federal Dry Law Violators to Stay in Jail".

A Federal prosecutor stated that absent any instructions from the Attorney General, no sentences would be commuted, but the prosecutor said that there weren't many people left in jail on bootlegging charges.

pkbites
03-27-2007, 01:41 AM
True, but doesn't the fact that the law was changed mean that something was horribly wrong with the law in the first place?

Not neccessarily. Societies change their minds about some issues as time goes on.

But even if it's so, should every person punished for breaking a law have that punishment automatically reversed if the law is changed?

In 1978 I got a ticket for going 62 in a 55. In 1986 the speed limit was raised to 65 in the exact same spot. Should I have gotten my fine money back because the national 55mph speed limit was horribly insane?

t-bonham@scc.net
03-27-2007, 02:58 AM
True, but doesn't the fact that the law was changed mean that something was horribly wrong with the law in the first place?Even that may not have mattered.

The US Supreme Court overturned all US laws against sodomy (except military law), saying it was unconstitutional. Thus this law was "wrong in the first place". But people in jail throughout the country for sodomy-law violations were not released from prison. They had to each sue individually to be released. Not all were successful. Some who did get released were then charged again on various other related charges.

Eleusis
03-27-2007, 03:13 AM
Yeah, it's bullshit, but they did break "the letter of the law".

Ergo, they were "outlaws".

Keeve
03-27-2007, 05:38 AM
An article I found in the December 6, 1933 Los Angeles Times ...Sorry for the hijack, but did you just happen to have that issue sitting in your attic? Or has the LATimes digitized their archives that far back, and made them searchable on the web?

IOW, how the heck did you find that article?

advTHANKSance

ParentalAdvisory
03-27-2007, 09:11 AM
In 1978 I got a ticket for going 62 in a 55. In 1986 the speed limit was raised to 65 in the exact same spot. Should I have gotten my fine money back because the national 55mph speed limit was horribly insane?

Yes, and they should reimburse you at the rate of inflation :p

Elendil's Heir
03-27-2007, 09:25 AM
All of those jailed under Prohibition remained in jail after its repeal, IIRC.

By contrast, President Jefferson pardoned all those previously convicted under the (now generally considered to have been unconstitutional) Alien and Sedition Acts when the legislation expired. A big part of the reason was partisanship - the Federalists under John Adams had passed the Acts and used them to punish their political enemies, including newspaper editors and a Congressman. Jefferson opposed the Federalists, and wanted to help his political allies and correct what he saw (correctly, IMHO) as an injustice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_and_Sedition_Acts

zev_steinhardt
03-27-2007, 10:11 AM
Sorry for the hijack, but did you just happen to have that issue sitting in your attic? Or has the LATimes digitized their archives that far back, and made them searchable on the web?

IOW, how the heck did you find that article?

advTHANKSance


Try here (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/latimes/results.html?st=advanced&QryTxt=Old+Federal+Dry+Law+Violators+to+Stay+in+Jail&x=0&y=0&type=historic&sortby=REVERSE_CHRON&datetype=0&frommonth=12&fromday=04&fromyear=1881&tomonth=12&today=31&toyear=1984&By=&Title=&restrict=articles) .

Zev Steinhardt

Polycarp
03-27-2007, 11:06 AM
There's a difference people are missing in the examples given above.

If a law is declared unconstitutional, that means that, despite the fact it was on the statute books, it was "not the law" in a more metaphysical sense -- it was contrary to what the Law of the Land holds to be valid law. I.e., if the God-fearin' City Council of Christian Falls, TX, makes it a criminal offense not to go to Church come Sunday mornin', that's not a valid law. It falls afoul of the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment (technically of the Fourteenth Amendment, but I'll let a lawyer explain that one). It is not a valid law under which American citizens can be prosecuted in the eyes of the courts. As noted, people arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced under an unconstitutional law may have to take positive action to free themselves, but the point is that it is not and never was a valid law in the USA, despite appearances.

On the other hand, a law which is repealed was in fact a valid law from its effective date until the effective date of its repeal. If it was illegal to sell moose meat in Minnesota effective Jan. 1, 1889 until the law was repealed on June 15, 1950 (law, dates, and everything pulled out of thin air as a hypothetical example), Lars Lutefisk, purveyor of contraband moose meat, who was duly tried and convicted of the crime in 1948, was in fact guilty of a crime, and the law's repeal does not void his sentence -- he broke a valid law while that law was in effect.

In the case of Prohibition, the Federal laws which depended on the 18th Amendment for their validity became null and void on the date of ratification of the 21st -- but remained valid laws while the 18th was in effect. (State laws were left valid by Section 2 of the 21st.)

So Cletus the Moonshiner and Gino the Speakeasy Guy, convicted during Prohibition under the Volstead Act and related statutes, were guilty of a crime as of their dates of conviction, even though the Constitutional authority for those laws was later repealed.

hajario
03-27-2007, 11:31 AM
The US Supreme Court overturned all US laws against sodomy (except military law), saying it was unconstitutional. Thus this law was "wrong in the first place". But people in jail throughout the country for sodomy-law violations were not released from prison. They had to each sue individually to be released. Not all were successful. Some who did get released were then charged again on various other related charges.

When did the SCOTUS overturn those laws? My memory is that it was relatively recently. Were there really people in jail for violating sodomy laws at that time? Do you have a cite for this?

hajario
03-27-2007, 11:40 AM
From Wiki:

Sodomy laws in the United States were largely a matter of state rather than federal jurisdiction. By the last quarter of the 20th century, 47 out of 50 states had repealed any specifically anti-homosexual-conduct laws, and 37 had repealed all sodomy laws. The remaining anti-homosexual laws have been invalidated by the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas.

I find it hard to believe that in 2003 there were more than one or two people in jail on sodomy charges if any.

pkbites
03-27-2007, 11:50 AM
There's a difference people are missing in the examples given above.If a law is declared unconstitutional, that means that, despite the fact it was on the statute books, it was "not the law" in a more metaphysical sense -- it was contrary to what the Law of the Land holds to be valid law.

Damn it, I was thinking about constitutional issues but was to lazy come back and mention it.

Could you imagine if everytime a law was changed those that were punished for breaking the law got their fines back or reimbursed cash for time spent in jail? The chaos would prevent any laws from being repealed. Going back to my example, it would cost billions alone reimbursing people that got nailed going over 55 where limits are now 65, 70, 75, or faster! (http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/defensor_fidei/images/80mph.jpg&imgrefurl=http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/defensor_fidei/travels/index.html&h=308&w=410&sz=23&hl=en&start=2&um=1&tbnid=bYuxHn_6UqbyyM:&tbnh=94&tbnw=125&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtexas%2Bspeed%2Blimits%26svnum%3D10%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26channel%3Ds%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26hs%3D9FZ%26sa%3DN)

No pol would dare suggest changing any law as it would bankrupt the system.

pkbites
03-27-2007, 11:50 AM
There's a difference people are missing in the examples given above.If a law is declared unconstitutional, that means that, despite the fact it was on the statute books, it was "not the law" in a more metaphysical sense -- it was contrary to what the Law of the Land holds to be valid law.

Damn it, I was thinking about constitutional issues but was too lazy come back and mention it.

Could you imagine if everytime a law was changed those that were punished for breaking the law got their fines back or reimbursed cash for time spent in jail? The chaos would prevent any laws from being repealed. Going back to my example, it would cost billions alone reimbursing people that got nailed going over 55 where limits are now 65, 70, 75, or faster! (http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/defensor_fidei/images/80mph.jpg&imgrefurl=http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/defensor_fidei/travels/index.html&h=308&w=410&sz=23&hl=en&start=2&um=1&tbnid=bYuxHn_6UqbyyM:&tbnh=94&tbnw=125&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtexas%2Bspeed%2Blimits%26svnum%3D10%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26channel%3Ds%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26hs%3D9FZ%26sa%3DN)

No pol would dare suggest changing any law as it would bankrupt the system.

David Simmons
03-27-2007, 12:18 PM
Did people get imprisoned on charges of producing/trafficking in alcohol, though? Wouldn't there usualy have been some kind of tax/regulatory-based offense to put somebody away on?Yes. The Volstead Act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volstead_Act) enacted into law the provisions of the 18th Amendment.The Volstead Act specified that no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.

VernWinterbottom
03-27-2007, 03:02 PM
(law, dates, and everything pulled out of thin air as a hypothetical example), Lars Lutefisk, purveyor of contraband moose meat. . .

Hah. In the fictional Massachusetts town of Potter's Point, which I've been writing about since 1984, there's a character named Lutefisk Larson who is the leader of the band The Midnight Sons.

I might have to give him an uncle who once served time for dealing in contraband moose meat.

You may proceed with your regularly scheduled thread.

alphaboi867
03-27-2007, 04:04 PM
...What was the federal crime for mere posession? Say a 60 year old buys a beer at a speakeasy and gets caught with it? Max/min penalties? Most common?

There was no federal law against posession or consumption. It most states it remained perfectly legal to comsume alcohol in one's own home or as a bona fide guest it someone elses. Before prohibition went into effect wealth people bought vast quantities of liquor for their personal wine cellers.

David Simmons
03-27-2007, 05:50 PM
There was no federal law against posession or consumption. It most states it remained perfectly legal to comsume alcohol in one's own home or as a bona fide guest it someone elses. Before prohibition went into effect wealth people bought vast quantities of liquor for their personal wine cellers.Actually the Voltead Act (http://www.multieducator.com/Documents/Volstead.html) did prohibit the possession of alcohol except for medicinal purposes required a prescription, sacramental purposes, and and in the home. Consumption was not against federal law.

The provision allowing possession in the home was limited to the personal use of the home owner and guests. The onus was on the possessor to show that the liquor had been legally obtained and transported to the home.

Lumpy
03-27-2007, 07:27 PM
I believe the possession provision was so authorities could summarily confiscate or destroy any illegal alcohol they found. Remember all those newsreel scenes showing Prohibition agents and police smashing stills and barrels of beer with axes? They couldn't do that if the people arrested for making and selling the stuff could claim that they still had a right to own the alcohol. That said, I doubt in the extreme that many people were ever arrested for being caught with a flask on them; the cops would just confiscate the booze (probably for themselves).

David Simmons
03-27-2007, 07:54 PM
I believe the possession provision was so authorities could summarily confiscate or destroy any illegal alcohol they found. Remember all those newsreel scenes showing Prohibition agents and police smashing stills and barrels of beer with axes? They couldn't do that if the people arrested for making and selling the stuff could claim that they still had a right to own the alcohol. That said, I doubt in the extreme that many people were ever arrested for being caught with a flask on them; the cops would just confiscate the booze (probably for themselves).Very possible. But my post was to correct the statement that there was no federal law against possession.

I remember prohibition and I also remember people being worried about being caught in possession of alcohol so it wasn't just a hollow threat. I do agree that local police probably didn't go out of their way to look for someone in possession.

David Simmons
03-27-2007, 11:06 PM
I remember prohibition and I also remember people being worried about being caught in possession of alcohol so it wasn't just a hollow threat. I do agree that local police probably didn't go out of their way to look for someone in possession.On further thought, it's quite possible that Iowa also had liquor prohibitions, such as a ban on possession, and that's what the local police and sheriff would enforce. Local police usually don't enforce federal laws.

That's made quite likely by the fact that Iowa was painfully slow to modify its laws after the repeal of the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act. Up until about 1938 the only alcohol served legally in Iowa was 3.2% beer. Then the state opened state owned liquor stores. You bought a book of coupons and traded those in at the liquor store. You could only buy one book every so often. Finally, post WWII, in the late 1950's I think, liquor could be served by the drink but the bar still bought its liquor from the state.

Elendil's Heir
03-27-2007, 11:37 PM
IIRC, you can still drink in public in Utah only if you join a "club" (called a "bar" anywhere else) for nominal dues. Your "membership" might last only the night you're in town on a business trip. :rolleyes:

BobT
03-28-2007, 01:26 AM
Sorry for the hijack, but did you just happen to have that issue sitting in your attic? Or has the LATimes digitized their archives that far back, and made them searchable on the web?

IOW, how the heck did you find that article?

advTHANKSance

I have access to a digitized version of the LA Times from 1881-1985 through my work.

Balthisar
03-28-2007, 08:11 AM
IIRC, you can still drink in public in Utah only if you join a "club" (called a "bar" anywhere else) for nominal dues. Your "membership" might last only the night you're in town on a business trip. :rolleyes:
In Moab in November 2005 we drank plenty of micro-brew without having to join a club. Of course being Utah, it was strange. There was a restaurant side, and the bar side. On the restaurant side, there was no beer or any other booze served, but children were welcome. If you wanted a beer, you had to be on the bar side, but children weren't allowed to enter.

When I was stationed in Texas in the Military in the mid 1990's, there was this thing where the several counties managed their own liquor and beer regulations. There was a dry county on the western side of Ft. Hood, but to the east you could purchase retail beer and booze at most normally expected places. To drink at a restaurant or bar, you had to join their private club. Sometimes it was free, sometimes it was the price of cover, and sometimes it was just additional profit. There were no qualifications other than you money. Sometimes it was good for a week, and sometimes good for a year or life. It's strange going into a Pizza Hut and having to join a private club in order to enjoy a pitcher of beer.

In Oklahoma I know they still sell near-beer -- that 3.2% stuff. You can buy it virtually anywhere and cold. It's the standard millwater like Bud and Miller. Or, you can go to the liquor store to get full strength beer, but by law it can only be sold warm.

In Ontario all of the Beer and Liquor are controlled through "The Beer Store" and the "LCBO", both of which are government controlled (although it seems like in the case of The Beer Store it looks like there's some private enterprise coalition thing between the manufactureres that may be at play). I kind of hate this arrangement per my libertarian principles, but on the other hand, you know that every beer store has dozens of beer varieties to choose from.

And in my home of Michigan, until recently the MLCC regulated the prices of liquor in all stores. It's still the only place where retail outlets and the service industry can purchase hard liquor.

David Simmons
03-28-2007, 09:24 AM
In Oklahoma I know they still sell near-beer -- that 3.2% stuff. You can buy it virtually anywhere and cold. It's the standard millwater like Bud and Miller. Or, you can go to the liquor store to get full strength beer, but by law it can only be sold warm.I believe it was Will Rogers who wrote that, "Oklahoma is dry and will vote to remain dry. At least all of those sober enough to stagger to the polls will."

During the Seattle Worlds Fair I went into a bar there and they wouldn't sell me a beer as long as I was standing at the bar. I had to sit down. And then I decided to move to a table, picked up my glass and started to carry it. A waitress rushed up, bawled me out and carried the beer to the table. In Virginia the last time I was there (26 or 27 years) a woman alone wouldn't be served at the bar and you also weren't allowed to carry your drink to a table. Virginia also had state owned liquor stores at that time.

Elendil's Heir
03-29-2007, 09:58 AM
The bizarre patchwork of alcohol laws in the U.S. should the topic of a thread all its own. Any takers?

Eleusis
04-01-2007, 01:24 AM
The bizarre patchwork of alcohol laws in the U.S. should the topic of a thread all its own. Any takers?
Up until about 1938 the only alcohol served legally in Iowa was 3.2% beer. Then the state opened state owned liquor stores. You bought a book of coupons and traded those in at the liquor store. You could only buy one book every so often. Finally, post WWII, in the late 1950's I think, liquor could be served by the drink but the bar still bought its liquor from the state.
In fact, here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, ALL bars, restaurants, liquor stores, grocery stores, etc.... who wish to purchase any alcohol for sale must purchase it through the (edit: state owned) ABC: Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

To this day, in Mississippi.

Also many counties remain totally dry. Mine (Lee County), one of the "progressive" counties (they recently outlawed smoking in bars), still forbids alcohol sales on Sunday, liquor after 10pm, and beer after midnight.

DSYoungEsq
04-01-2007, 08:46 AM
So move. :D

Seriously, while such laws are a pain, I often regret the slow erosion of difference from place to place in this country. Its sameness is quite boring. Patchwork laws were one of the more interesting aspects of being in a new area.

In Ohio, individual voting precincts can establish how they wish to handle alchohol sales, at least with respect to Sundays. Growing up in California, we were a 21 state at a time when others (including where I chose to go to college :D ) were 18. Nevada, next door, had near beer sales for 18-year-olds, as I recall from one summer of field school there.

I never have gotten used to Ohio allowing kids at the bar. Not just in a place that serves, but actually seated on the bar stools. Both progressive AND incredibly tolerant in one approach. :p