Gebardi v. United States

287 U.S. 112 (1932)

Quick Summary

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Gebardi (defendant) and an unmarried woman were indicted under the Mann Act for traveling interstate with intent to engage in sexual acts. The Supreme Court faced the issue of whether their consented actions constituted a criminal conspiracy under the Act.

Ultimately, the Court reversed their convictions, holding that the woman’s consent did not make her criminally liable under the Mann Act, nor could it form the basis of a conspiracy charge against Gebardi without other conspirators involved.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Gebardi (defendant), a man, and an unmarried woman decided to travel across state lines by train with the intention of engaging in sexual intercourse. This action led to charges against them for conspiring to break the Mann Act, which forbids interstate transport of an unmarried woman for immoral purposes such as sexual activity.

During their trial, it was established that Gebardi purchased train tickets for both of them for at least one trip, and the woman had consented to the journey with the knowledge of its purpose.

Despite this, there was no evidence suggesting that others were involved in their plan. The lower courts convicted both Gebardi and the woman, but they challenged their convictions, bringing the case before the Supreme Court for further examination.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Gebardi and the woman were indicted for conspiring to violate the Mann Act.
  2. The trial court found both parties guilty after a bench trial.
  3. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the convictions.
  4. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the convictions.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon
  • Whether a woman can be criminally charged for conspiring to violate the Mann Act when she consents to her own transportation for immoral purposes.
  • Whether her male companion can be convicted of conspiracy without evidence of other conspirators.

Rule of Law

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The Mann Act does not make it a crime for a woman to transport herself for immoral purposes, nor does it specifically penalize her for consenting to such transportation. The act targets the transporter rather than the transported. The conspiracy statute should not be applied to penalize a person for an act that is not criminalized by the substantive law it is meant to enforce.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The Supreme Court analyzed whether the evidence presented could support a conviction for conspiracy under the Mann Act. The Court noted that while the Mann Act criminalizes the act of transporting an unmarried woman across state lines for immoral purposes, it does not directly penalize a woman for her role if she merely consents to the transportation.

The Court also considered that since the woman’s participation in her own transportation was not made criminal by the Mann Act, it would be inconsistent with legislative intent to punish her under a conspiracy statute.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that if every instance where a woman consents to transportation was punishable as a conspiracy, it would effectively negate the legislative choice to not criminalize her consent within the Mann Act itself. Therefore, convicting her of conspiracy would contradict the policy reflected in the Mann Act.


Conclusion Icon

The convictions of both Gebardi and the woman were reversed by the Supreme Court.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. The Mann Act criminalizes those who transport or assist in transporting an unmarried woman across state lines for immoral purposes but does not penalize the woman’s consent to her own transportation.
  2. A conspiracy charge cannot be sustained solely on the basis of a woman’s consent if her participation is not criminalized by the substantive law in question.
  3. The legislative intent of the Mann Act suggests an affirmative policy not to punish a woman’s acquiescence in her own transportation for immoral purposes.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors determine whether an individual's consent negates criminal liability under a statute?

An individual’s consent can negate criminal liability when the statute explicitly recognizes consent as a defense or implies it through legislative intent or policy considerations. This determination often hinges on whether recognizing consent would nullify the purpose of the law.

  • For example: In a case of theft, if an owner consents to another’s taking of property, the essential element of wrongfulness is absent, negating criminal liability for what would normally be considered theft.

In what situations can a person be held liable for conspiracy if they are the only party with an active role?

A person cannot usually be held liable for conspiracy if they act alone because conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more individuals to commit an unlawful act. Therefore, without another party’s active participation, the element of an agreement is missing.

  • For example: Imagine a scenario in which an undercover agent pretends to agree to commit a crime with a suspect. The suspect might believe they have a co-conspirator, but since the agent has no intention to commit a crime, there is no genuine conspiracy.

How does legislative intent factor into the interpretation and application of criminal statutes?

Legislative intent plays a crucial role, as courts interpret statutes aiming to effectuate the lawmakers’ objectives. Courts assess the statute’s language, purpose, and history, and may also consider public policy arguments to ensure an outcome aligned with what legislators intended to achieve.

  • For example: If legislation is enacted to protect wildlife, and its language prohibits ‘hunting,’ this likely doesn’t include capturing images. Despite both actions involving pursuing animals, legislative intent focuses on conservation rather than restricting photography.


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