The constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation entitles the defendant to insist that the indictment apprise him of the crime charged with such reasonable certainty that he can make his defense and protect himself after judgment against another prosecution on the same charge.147 No indictment is sufficient if it does not allege all of the ingredients that constitute the crime. Where the language of a statute is, according to the natural import of the words, fully descriptive of the offense, it is sufficient if the indictment follows the statutory phraseology,148 but where the elements of the crime have to be ascertained by reference to the common law or to other statutes, it is not sufficient to set forth the offense in the words of the statute. The facts necessary to bring the case within the statutory definition must also be alleged.149 If an offense cannot be accurately and clearly described without an allegation that the accused is not within an exception contained in the statutes, an indictment which does not contain such allegation is defective.150 Despite the omission of obscene particulars, an indictment in general language is good if the unlawful conduct is described so as reasonably to inform the accused of the nature of the charge sought to be established against him.151 The Constitution does not require the Government to furnish a copy of the indictment to an accused.152 The right to notice of accusation is so fundamental a part of procedural due process that the States are required to observe it.153
144 Lamar v. United States, 241 U.S. 103 (1916).
145 Jones v. United States, 137 U.S. 202, 211 (1890); United States v. Dawson, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 467, 488 (1853).
146 Cook v. United States, 138 U.S. 157, 182 (1891). See also United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 250-54 (1940); United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273 (1944).
147 United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 544, 558 (1876); United States v. Simmons, 96 U.S. 360 (1878); Bartell v. United States, 227 U.S. 427 (1913); Burton v. United States, 202 U.S. 344 (1906).
148 Potter v. United States, 155 U.S. 438, 444 (1894).
149 United States v. Carll, 105 U.S. 611 (1882).
150 United States v. Cook, 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 168, 174 (1872).
151 Rosen v. United States, 161 U.S. 29, 40 (1896).
152 United States v. Van Duzee, 140 U.S. 169, 173 (1891).
153 In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 273 (1948); Cole v. Arkansas, 333 U.S. 196, 201 (1948); Rabe v. Washington, 405 U.S. 313 (1972).
Last modified: June 9, 2014