The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON
In resolving the question presented in this litigation, "the statutes are first examined to ascertain if they will bear interpretation as creating separate offenses. If so the court then inquires whether Congress also intended 'to pyramid the penalties' or only to establish a different degree or type of offense."
Indisputably, the counts to which petitioner pleaded guilty charged independent crimes. "[Where] the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied to determine whether there are two offenses or only one, is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not."
The housebreaking count charged and made necessary the proof of the entry of a dwelling with an intent to steal property, but proof of an entry is not essential to the robbery count. At the same time, the robbery charge required proof of a taking, in a particular manner, of something of value from the victim's person or immediate actual possession, facts that are not essential elements of housebreaking.
In several types of situations unlike that presented here, principles for the application of which petitioner contends have been applied to preclude the imposition of consecutive sentences although two or more penal provisions were violated. One type has involved a single act affecting a single object;
others varied only in that the single act affected multiple objects,
or a single object in more than a single way.
In each case the crucial question was whether single or multiple penalties had been prescribed, and the statutes were unclear on that score. In each the doubt was resolved adversely to multiple punishment conformably with the policy that "[when] Congress leaves to the Judiciary the task of imputing to Congress an undeclared will, the ambiguity should be resolved in favor of lenity."
But it goes without saying that Congress has the power to cumulate penalties for different offenses, even though they proceed from a single act.
Somewhat more removed, but still in the same general legal area, are situations wherein singly inspired multiple act transactions, not rationally divisible either chronologically or spatially, violate more than a single penal provision. Where Congress has not clearly indicated its will as to single or multiple punishments, the policy of lenity has again been applied, as in the simpler types, to resolve the doubt in favor of but one.
Cases in which this was done have generally involved violations of different sections of one general act, or different but complementing statutes devoted to a single legislative scheme, a circumstance underscoring the probability that a stacking of sentences was not intended. But where Congress has disclosed its purpose to penalize particular acts or groups of acts as separate units, that effect is not avoided simply because those units happen to be components in a larger transaction.
In similar fashion, the same acts and words addressed to a public official create separate offenses when they violate different laws that prohibit boisterous language and the insulting of a public officer.
Mail fraud and causing stolen property to be transported in interstate commerce are separate although the subject of each and its movement are the same.
Assault with a dangerous weapon and carrying that weapon are independent offenses and support independent sentences.
Consecutive sentences may be imposed for housebreaking and assault with a dangerous weapon,
or robbery and assault with such a weapon,
although committed in the course of a single transaction. And forcible entry of a post office with intent to steal and actually stealing property therein provide separate bases for such sentences.
Each of the offenses to which petitioner entered pleas of guilty is historically an independent crime. Robbery and burglary - the forerunner of housebreaking - were, as every lawyer knows, different common law offenses. Each in that character became a part of the general law of the District of Columbia,
and as late as 1874 their common law separateness was recognized by Congress.
Indeed, robbery in this jurisdiction still retains its common law elements modified only to the extent that Congress has enlarged it to encompass stealthy as well as forcible takings.
And while the metamorphosis from common law burglary to statutory housebreaking has involved more of a change, the ancient distinction that robbery offends the person and burglary the habitation has hardly been obliterated legislatively even where a robbery inside a dwelling follows closely on the heels of a housebreaking of that dwelling.
In gauging the impact of the housebreaking and robbery statutes upon the question at bar, the significance of relevant historical facts is neither to be lost nor diluted. "Congress is, after all, not a body of laymen unfamiliar with the commonplaces of our law,"
nor, for that matter, were those who framed the statutes and submitted them for Congressional consideration. They were a part of a codification of the entire law of the District painstakingly prepared by the judges of this Court and approved by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, and adopted by Congress without substantial change.
Certainly here, equally as well as in other contexts, there can be attributed "to Congress a tacit purpose - in the absence of any inconsistent expression - to maintain a long-established distinction between offenses essentially different; a distinction whose practical importance in the criminal law is not easily overestimated."
And the legislative history of the statutes is devoid of even the slightest hint that Congress intended that the penalties they respectively prescribed should in any set of circumstances be restricted to alternative use.
At the heart of the rule of lenity is the consideration that "[we] should not derive criminal outlawry from some ambiguous implication,"
and in the present case all doubt as to the legislative purpose is conspicuously absent. That rule, like other canons of statutory interpretation, "only serves as an aid for resolving an ambiguity; it is not to be used to beget one,"
and "comes into operation at the end of the process of construing what Congress has expressed, not at the beginning as an overriding consideration of being lenient to wrongdoers."
What is involved here is a common instance of two different statutes defining two separate and unrelated offenses, each possessing its distinctive elements and enjoying its own lengthy history and understanding of ...