212 U.S. 183 (1909), 92, Crawford v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 92
Citation:212 U.S. 183, 29 S.Ct. 260, 53 L.Ed. 465
Party Name:Crawford v. United States
Case Date:February 01, 1909
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 183

212 U.S. 183 (1909)

29 S.Ct. 260, 53 L.Ed. 465



United States

No. 92

United States Supreme Court

February 1, 1909

Argued October 13, 14, 1908




An agreement by an official of the United States under which he secretly receives any portion of what is paid for supplies furnished on his requisition is one to defraud the United States within § 5440, Rev.Stat.

An indictment which sets forth the details of a corrupt contract between defendant and a government official by which, from its nature, the government would be defrauded is sufficient to sustain a charge of conspiracy under § 5440, Rev.Stat., even if it does not allege in what particular manner the conspirators intended to defraud the United States.

In criminal cases, courts are not as exacting in regard to the character of objections as in civil cases, and will notice error in the trial of a criminal case although the question may not have been raised in exactly the proper manner at the trial. Wiborg v. United States, 163 U.S. 632.

Where defendant was on trial for conspiracy under § 5440, Rev.Stat., an objection to a juror on the ground that he was a salaried official of the United States held in this case to reach to the qualifications of the juror by reason of his relations with the government, although he was not a salaried officer thereof.

The common law in force in Maryland on February 27, 1801, remains in force in the District of Columbia except as inconsistent with statutes subsequently enacted.

Under the common law, one is not a competent juror who is master, servant, steward, counselor or attorney of either party, and statutory provisions of qualifications not inconsistent with this rule do not strike it down.

In the District of Columbia, jurors must at least have the qualifications stated in § 215, and are exempt under § 217 of the Code, but these sections are not inconsistent with, or exclusive of, the common law rule that one in relation with either party is incompetent.

Bias disqualifies a juror, and bias is implied in the relation between employer and employee, and actual evidence thereof is unnecessary.

Page 184

An employee of the United States is not competent as a juror where defendant is on trial for conspiracy against the United States under 5440, Rev.Stat.

Where a letter written to defendant is admitted in evidence for the purpose of showing the moral character of defendant and that he had endeavored to destroy evidence in the writer's hands so as to prevent its being used against him on the trial, the answer immediately written should also be admitted, whether written by defendant or his counsel under his direction, and defendant's own evidence in regard to the matter alleged is admissible so as to disclose the whole transaction.

There is a presumption of harm caused by errors in regard to the admission or exclusion of evidence in a jury trial which requires the reversal of the judgment unless the record clearly shows the absence of harm.

The extent to which the law officers of the government will use evidence of persons already convicted of the crime of conspiracy for which defendant is also indicted is within their discretion, and their action will not be reviewed by the courts; but the evidence of such witnesses is to be received with caution and suspicion, and is not entitled to the same credence as that given to ordinary witnesses.

In considering whether error in excluding defendant's evidence in a criminal trial is reversible, it is not enough that inferences favorable to defendant might have been drawn from some of the admitted testimony; he is entitled to state directly on oath facts that are relevant.

While a book of accounts may be inadmissible as evidence so far as it relates to accounts between the parties, it may be admissible as written corroborative evidence, and as part of a transaction, to be submitted to the jury for what it is worth.

30 App.D.C. 1 sustained as to sufficiency of indictment and reversed on other points.

On the third of April, 1905, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, the defendant was indicted, together with George E. Lorenz and August W. Machen, for a conspiracy to defraud the United States, by means stated in the indictment, and in relation to a contract between the Postal Device & Lock Company, a corporation of the State of New Jersey, and the Post Office Department of the United States, by which the company was to furnish certain satchels to the Department for the use of the letter carriers in the free delivery system of the government.

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The indictment was founded upon § 5440 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, which reads as follows:

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such parties do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, all the parties to such conspiracy shall be liable to a penalty of not more than ten thousand dollars, or to imprisonment for not more than two years, or to both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

Nearly two years before the finding of this indictment (viz., in July, 1903), the defendant had been indicted in the same court by two different indictments, relating to the same general subject matter as the one found in April, 1905 -- one indictment charging him with conspiring (together with Lorenz and Machen) against the United States by agreeing to present false bills of account to the Post Office Department, in relation to the contract mentioned, for supplying the Department with satchels for letter carriers, in alleged violation of § 5438 of the Revised Statutes. The other indictment was against the defendant individually for presenting false claims to a clerk in the Post Office Department under this same contract, and in violation of the same section of the Revised Statutes. Upon motion, the three indictments were consolidated for the purpose of trial of the defendant and were tried together, a severance in the conspiracy indictments having been granted upon the defendant's motion for his separate trial. The two indictments found in 1903 have been so disposed of in the court below that no question arises in regard to either.

Upon the trial, the defendant was convicted, as hereinafter more particularly stated, and he then appealed from the judgment entered upon the verdict of conviction to the Court of Appeals of the District, where it was affirmed by a divided court, Mr. Chief Justice Shepard dissenting. 30 D.C. App. 1.

Page 186

PECKHAM, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The defendant was convicted on the first count of the indictment found in April, 1905 (which contained six counts), and was acquitted on the fifth and sixth counts. The court having, previous to the trial, sustained a demurrer to the second, third, and fourth counts, there is nothing left under this indictment except the conviction of defendant on the first count, and the question to be considered at the outset is as to the sufficiency of that count. The grounds of the demurrer were that the indictment [29 S.Ct. 262] did not set forth any offense under § 5440 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, nor did it set forth any offense under any statute, or at common law; that, as to the first count, it did not appear how the government could have been defrauded by the alleged scheme of conspiracy, and that it is not alleged in the indictment that any payment to Machen under the agreement set forth in the count was intended to influence Machen's official action, and it is not alleged that the government was to pay more than it would have had to pay if the alleged agreement between the defendants had not been entered into, and it is not alleged that the contract was not honestly awarded. These questions may be considered, notwithstanding the defendant, when his demurrer was overruled, pleaded over and went to trial on the plea of not guilty. See Code of District of Columbia, § 1532, p. 300.

Without going into any very great detail, it is necessary to state what, in substance, is alleged in the first count. It is therein averred that Machen (one of the alleged conspirators) was the General Superintendent of the Division of Free Delivery of the Post Office Department of the United States, and that the Department used satchels for letter carriers which were supplied by contract at a certain price named therein for each satchel, and in such numbers as the Department might from time to time require. It was the duty of the General Superintendent to keep the Department advised from time to time of the approaching expiration of existing contracts for furnishing supplies, and of the necessity for advertising for bids for contracts for the furnishing of supplies, including satchels for letter carriers, and also to advise as to the matter and form of such proposed contracts, and it was his duty to use his best and honest judgment as to the number of satchels that, from time to time, might be required for the use of the carriers under any contract that might be made. It was his duty to examine the bills for such of the satchels as had been delivered, and approve them if correct, upon which payment would be made, in due course, by the Post Office Department. The defendant and Lorenz knew fully the duties pertaining to the office of General Superintendent prior to the making of the contract mentioned.

On the sixth of May, 1902, on the advice of the General Superintendent, the Department...

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