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The Decline and Fall of Mens Rea
By Harvey A. Silvergate
White-Collar Crime columns.
A little over a half-century ago, an Army veteran named Joseph Edward Morissette settled in small-town Michigan to raise his family. To support his wife and young son, the 27-year-old worked as a fruit stand operator during the summer and as a trucker and scrap iron collector during the winter. His seemingly normal life came to a screeching halt, however, when he was charged with stealing from the U.S. government in 1952. His case would ultimately wend its way through the federal court system and end up at the Supreme Court.
One time when Morissette was out hunting for deer with his brother-in-law, he came across a heap of spent bomb casings on a tract of uninhabited land located about half a mile from a traveled road and about six miles from the main highway. To Morissette, the casings appeared abandoned. There were no signs posted to the contrary, and, having sat in a pile through several harsh Michigan winters, the casings were showing signs of rust and decomposition. When Morissette
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