289 U.S. 137 (1933), 567, United States v. Flores

Docket Nº:No. 567
Citation:289 U.S. 137, 53 S.Ct. 580, 77 L.Ed. 1086
Party Name:United States v. Flores
Case Date:April 10, 1933
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 137

289 U.S. 137 (1933)

53 S.Ct. 580, 77 L.Ed. 1086

United States

v.

Flores

No. 567

United States Supreme Court

April 10, 1933

Argued March 14, 1933

[53 S.Ct. 580] APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Syllabus

1. The clause of the Constitution, Art. I, § 8, specifically granting to Congress the power "to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations," and the general provision of Art. III, § 2, extending the judicial power "to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," are the results of separate steps, independently taken in the Convention, by which the jurisdiction in admiralty, previously divided between the Confederation and the States, was transferred to the National Government. P. 146.

2. In view of the history of the two clauses and the manner of their adoption, the grant of power to define and punish piracies and felonies on the high seas cannot be deemed to be a limitation on the powers, either legislative or judicial, conferred on the National Government by Art. III, § 2. P. 149.

3. To construe the one clause as limiting, rather than supplementing, the other would be to ignore their history, and, without effecting any discernible purpose of their enactment, to deny to both the states and the national government powers which were common attributes of sovereignty before the adoption of the Constitution, including the power to define and punish crimes, of less gravity than felonies, committed on vessels of the United States while on the high seas, and crimes of every grade committed on them while in foreign territorial waters. P. 149.

4. The jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases extends to crimes committed on vessels of the United States while in navigable waters within the territorial jurisdiction of foreign sovereigns. P. 150.

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5. The jurisdiction is not affected by the fact that the vessel is on a river at a place remote from the sea where the water is not salt or tidal. P. 153.

6. Section 272 of the Criminal Code, making murder and other offenses punishable

when committed within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, on board any vessel belonging in whole or in part to the United States

or any of its citizens, etc., is broad enough to include crimes in the territorial waters of foreign sovereignties. Pp. 145, 155.

7. Congress, by incorporating in the statute the very language of the constitutional grant of power, has made its exercise of the power coextensive with the grant. P. 155.

8. The general rule that criminal statutes of the United States are not to be given extraterritorial effect is inapplicable to our merchant vessels. P. 155.

9. A merchant ship, for purposes of the jurisdiction of the courts of the sovereignty whose flag it flies to punish crimes committed upon it, is deemed to be a part of the territory of that sovereignty, and not to lose that character when in navigable waters within the territorial limits of another sovereignty. P. 155.

10. For some purposes, the jurisdiction to punish crimes committed on a foreign vessel in territorial waters is concurrent in the territorial sovereign and the sovereign of the vessel's flag. P. 157.

11. In the absence of any controlling treaty provision, and of any assertion of jurisdiction by the territorial sovereign, it is the duty of the courts of the United States to apply to offenses committed by its citizens on vessels flying its flag, its own statutes, interpreted in the light of recognized principles of international law. P. 159.

3 F.Supp. 134, reversed.

Appeal from a judgment sustaining a demurrer to an indictment, which charged the appellee, an American citizen, with having murdered another American citizen aboard an American ship in foreign territorial waters.

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STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

By indictment found in the District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania, it was charged that appellee, a citizen of the United States, murdered another citizen of the United States upon the Steamship Padnsay, an American vessel,

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while at anchor in the Port of Matadi, in the Belgian Congo, a place subject to the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Belgium, and that appellee, after the commission of the [53 S.Ct. 581] crime, was first brought into the Port of Philadelphia, a place within the territorial jurisdiction of the District Court. By stipulation, it was conceded, as though stated in a bill of particulars, that the Padnsay, at the time of the offense charged, was unloading, being attached to the shore by cables at a point 250 miles inland from the mouth of the Congo river.

The District Court, following its earlier decision in United States ex rel. Maro v. Mathues, 21 F.2d 533, aff'd, 27 F.2d 518, sustained a demurrer to the indictment and discharged the prisoner on the ground that the court was without jurisdiction to try the offense charged. 3 F.Supp. 134. The case comes here by direct appeal under the Act of March 2, 1907, c. 2564, 34 Stat. 1264, 18 U.S.C. § 682, and § 238 of the Judicial Code, as amended by Act of February 13, 1925, 28 U.S.C. § 345, the court below certifying that its decision was founded upon its construction of § 272 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 451.

Sections 273 and 275 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. §§ 452, 454, define murder and fix its punishment. Section 272,1 upon the construction of which the court below rested its decision, makes punishable offenses defined by other sections of the Criminal Code, among other cases,

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when committed within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state on board any vessel belonging in whole or in part to the United States

or any of its nationals. And, by § 41 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 102, venue to try offenses "committed upon the high seas, or elsewhere out of the jurisdiction of any particular state or district" is "in the district where the offender is found, or into which he is first brought." As the offense charged here was committed on board a vessel lying outside the territorial jurisdiction of a state, see Wynne v. United States, 217 U.S. 234; United States v. Rodgers, 150 U.S. 249, 265, and within that of a foreign sovereignty, the court below was without jurisdiction to try and punish the offense unless it was within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States.

Two questions are presented on this appeal: first, whether the extension of the judicial power of the federal government "to all cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction," by Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution confers on Congress power to define and punish offenses perpetrated by a citizen of the United States on board one of its merchant vessels lying in navigable waters within the territorial limits of another sovereignty; and, second, whether Congress has exercised that power by the enactment of § 272 of the Criminal Code, under which the indictment was found.

The court below thought, as appellee argues, that as § 8 of Art. I of the Constitution specifically granted to Congress the power "to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations," and "to make rules concerning captures on land and water," that provision must be regarded as a limitation on the general provision of § 2 of Art. III, that the judicial power shall extend "to all cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;" that, as the specific

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grant of power to punish offenses outside the territorial limits of the United States was thus restricted to offenses occurring on the high seas, the more general grant could not be resorted to as extending either the legislative or judicial power over offenses committed on vessels outside the territorial limits of the United States and not on the high seas.

Before the adoption of the Constitution, jurisdiction in admiralty and maritime cases was distributed between the Confederation and the individual states. Article IX of the Articles of Confederation provided that

the United States in Congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power . . . of establishing rules for deciding in all cases, what captures on land or water shall be legal, . . . appointing courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and establishing courts for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures. . . .

So much of the general admiralty and maritime jurisdiction as was not included in this grant of power remained with the states. The powers thus granted were in substance the same as those later conferred on the national government by Article I, § 8, of the Federal Constitution. This section was adopted to carry out a resolution of the Convention "that the national legislature ought to possess the legislative rights vested in Congress by the Confederation." Its primary purpose and effect was to transfer to the newly organized government [53 S.Ct. 582] the powers in a admiralty matters previously vested in the Confederation.2

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A proposal independently made and considered in the Convention that "the admiralty jurisdiction ought to be given wholly to the national government" resulted in the adoption of Article III, § 2, by which the judicial power of the United States was extended to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.3

This section has been consistently interpreted as adopting for the United States the system of...

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