Gorin v. United States
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued December 19, 1940
Decided January 13, 1941
Full case name Gorin v. United States; Together with No. 88, Salich v. United States, also on certiorari, 310 U.S. 622, to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Citations 312 U.S. 19 (more)
61 S. Ct. 429; 85 L. Ed. 488; 1941 U.S. LEXIS 1033
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Reed, joined by Hughes, McReynolds, Stone, Roberts, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas
Murphy took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Gorin v. United States, Template:Scite, was a United States Supreme Court case. It involved the Espionage Act and it's use against Mihail Gorin, an intelligence agent from the Soviet Union, and Hafis Salich, a Navy employee who sold to Gorin information on Japanese activity in the US.

Background[edit | edit source]

Hafis Salich worked in Naval Intelligence in the San Pedro, California branch office, starting in 1936. He was a Georgian immigrant who had worked in the Berkeley Police Department and knew some Japanese. He was also out of money, according to Zacharias because of card-playing.[1]

Mihail Gorin came to the US in 1936 and ran a Soviet Tourist company "Intourist" in Los Angeles. He was also an intelligence agent of the Soviet Union. Gorin and Salich met in 1937 and by 1938 Gorin was buying information from Salich. Salich sold information to Mihail Gorin on the theory that Japan was a 'common enemy' of the Soviet Union and the United States. The information regarded US spying on Japanese government officials as well as private citizens.[1]


They were caught in late 1938 when Gorin left a spy-note and cash in his dry-cleaning. The cleaners phoned the police, who contacted General R. H. Van Deman. The FBI began investigating Salich and Gorin at that time and obtained a confession from Salich.[1]

Indictment and prosecution[edit | edit source]

The indictment came in January 1939. Gorin, Salich, and Gorin's wife Natasha,[2] were all charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. At the time this act was under Title 50 of the US Code. There were three counts against each defendant:[1]

  • Count One: USC 50 §31 Copying, taking, making and obtaining documents, writings and notes of matters connected with the national defense (§1 of the act)[1]
  • Count Two: USC 50 §32 Communicating, delivering and transmitting to Gorin as a representative of the Soviet Union writings, notes, instruments and information relating to the national defense (§2 of the act)[1]
  • Count Three: USC 50 §34 Conspiring to communicate, deliver, transmit, and attempt to communicate, deliver and transmit to the Soviet Union and to a representative thereof, documents, writings, plans, notes, instruments and information relating to the national defense. (§4 of the act)[1]

All defendants pleaded not guilty.[1] The defense had several main arguments:

  • The Espionage Act of 1917 was too vague in its description of what information was considered illegal, and thus violated the Fifth Amendment (due process) and the 6th Amendment (right to know the nature and cause of accusation).[1][3]
  • The "innocuous" nature of the documents meant there was no intent to harm the US or to aid a foreign nation.[3]
  • The information trafficked in by the defendant was not related to the national defense.[3]
  • Courts, not juries, should decide whether information is 'connected or related' to 'national defense'.[3]
  • Some of the information was afterwards published in a periodical and thus not secret.[1]

The jury rejected these arguments and convicted Mihail Gorin and Salich on all three counts. Gorin got 6 years and Salich got 4. The Court told the jury to find Natasha innocent of the first two counts, and the jury also found her not guilty of the third count.[3]

The case was appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, 1940. Judges were Garrecht, Haney and Healy. They rejected all of defense counsel's arguments. The case then went to the Supreme Court of the United States. It was argued in December 1940 and decided in January 1941. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appeals court, and rejected all of defense counsel's arguments.[1][3]

Legal Principles[edit | edit source]

Several important legal principles involving the Espionage Act were discussed in Justice Stanley Forman Reed's opinion for the Court:

  • The act covers "obtaining" as well as "delivery" of information.
  • The act covers information "connected or related" to "national defense", not only specific items listed (ships, aircraft, forts, etc.).
  • The definition of "national defense'" is that of the Defense Secrets Act of 1911, namely, "a generic concept of broad connotations, referring to the military and naval establishments and the related activities of national preparedness."
  • The jury, not the court, is to decide whether or not information was "connected or related" to "national defense".
  • The vagueness and uncertainty of the law does not violate the 5th (due process) or 6th amendments.
  • The law requires '"bad faith" (scienter). The defendant must have "intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation".
  • Congress meant any foreign nation. "No distinction is made between friend or enemy".
  • When there is no "occasion for secrecy" as with public Congressional reports, there can be no "reasonable intent to give advantage to a foreign government".

Gorin was referenced in the 1971 case New York Times v. United States. The government also used Gorin in its arguments in the case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim in 2010.[4]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 GORIN v. UNITED STATES, SALICH v. SAME, 111 F.2d 712 (1940), US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  2. Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer, Ellis M. Zacharias, Naval Institute Press, 2003, accessed 2011 4 11
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 GORIN v. UNITED STATES. SALICH v. UNITED STATES. 312 U.S. 19. Argued Dec. 19, 1940. Decided Jan. 13, 1941., http://openjurist.org accessed 2011 4 11
  4. Defendant Stephen Kim's Omnibus Reply in Support of His Motions to Dismiss the Indictment, Abbe D. Lowell (defendant counsel), filed in US District Court, District of Columbia, March 2011, from http://stephenkim.org , accessed 2011 4 11
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.