97 U.S. 509 (1879), Coleman v. State Of Tenn.

Citation:97 U.S. 509, 24 L.Ed. 1118
Case Date:March 03, 1879
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 509

97 U.S. 509 (1879)

24 L.Ed. 1118




United States Supreme Court.

March 03, 1879


ERROR to the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.


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Mr. Henry S. Foote and Mr. Leonidas C. Houk for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. J. B. Heiskell, contra.

MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.

This case comes before us from the Supreme Court of Tennessee. The plaintiff in error, the defendant in the court below, was indicted in the Criminal Court for the District of Knox County in that State, on the 2d of October, 1874, for the murder of one Mourning Ann Bell, alleged to have been committed in that county on the 7th of March, 1865. To this indictment he pleaded not guilty, and a former conviction for the same offence by a general court-martial regularly convened for his trial at Knoxville, Tenn., on the 27th of March, 1865, the United States at that time, and when the offence was committed, occupying with their armies East Tennessee as a military district, and the defendant being a regular soldier in their

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military service, subject to the articles of war, military orders, and such military laws as were there in force by their authority. The plea states that before the said court-martial thus convened at Knoxville, then the head-quarters of the military district, the defendant was arraigned upon a charge of murder, in having killed the same person mentioned in the indictment, and that he was afterwards, on the 9th of May, 1865, tried and convicted of the offence by that tribunal, and sentenced to death by hanging, and that said sentence is still standing as the judgment of the court-martial, approved as required by law in such cases, without any other or further action thereon. In consideration of the premises, and by reason of the said trial and conviction, and of the jeopardy involved in said proceedings, the defendant prays that the indictment may be quashed.

Objection being taken by demurrer to this plea, it was twice amended by leave of the court. The first amendment consisted in setting forth with particularity the organization of the court-martial, and the proceedings before it upon which the defendant was convicted of the offence with which he is charged in the indictment. The second amendment consisted in adding an averment that the offence charged was committed, and that the court-martial which tried the defendant was held in time of civil war, insurrection, and rebellion.

To the plea thus amended a demurrer was sustained, on two grounds; one of which was, in substance, that the defendant's conviction of the offence charged by a court-martial, under the laws of the United States, on the 9th of May, 1865, was not a bar to the indictment for the same offence; because by the murder alleged he was also guilty of an offence against the laws of Tennessee.

The defendant was thereupon put upon his trial in the Criminal Court, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State the judgment was affirmed.

Pending the appeal to that court, the defendant was brought before the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Tennessee on habeas corpus, upon a petition stating that he was unlawfully restrained of his liberty and imprisoned

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by the sheriff of Knox County, upon the charge of murder, for which he had been indicted, tried, and convicted, as already mentioned; and setting forth his previous conviction for the same offence by a court-martial, organized under the laws of the United States, substantially as in the plea to the indictment. The sheriff made a return to the writ, that he held the defendant upon a capias from the criminal court for the offence of murder, and also upon an indictment for assisting a prisoner in making his escape from jail. The Circuit Court being of opinion that so far as the defendant was held under the charge of murder, he was held in contravention of the Constitution and laws of the United States, ordered his release from custody upon that charge. His counsel soon afterwards presented a copy of this order to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, and moved that he be discharged. That court took the motion under advisement, and disposed of it together with the appeal from the Cirminal Court, holding, in a carefully prepared opinion, that the act of Congress of Feb. 5, 1867, under which the writ of habeas corpus was issued, did not confer upon the Federal Court, or upon any of its judges, authority to interfere with the State courts in the exercise of their jurisdiction over offences against the laws of the State, especially when, as in this case, the question raised by the pleadings was one which would enable the accused to have a revision of their action by the Supreme Court of the United States; and, therefore, that the order of the Circuit Court in directing the discharge of the defendant was a nullity. And upon the question of the effect of the conviction by the court-martial, it held that the conviction constituted no bar to the indictment in the State court for the same offence, on the ground that the crime of murder, committed by the defendant whilst a soldier in the military service, was not less an offence against the laws of the State, and punishable by its tribunals, because it was punishable by a court-martial under the laws of the United States.

The case being brought to this court, it has been argued as though its determination depended upon the construction given to the thirtieth section of the act of Congress of March 3, 1863, to enroll and call out the national forces, the defendant's counsel

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contending that the section vested in general courts-martial and military commissions the right to punish for the offences designated therein, when committed in time of war, by persons in the military service of the United States, and subject to the articles of war, to the exclusion of jurisdiction over them by the State courts. That section enacts:----

'That in time of war, insurrection, or rebellion, murder, assault and battery with an intent to kill, manslaughter, mayhem, wounding by shooting or stabbing with an intent to commit murder, robbery, arson, burglary, rape, assault and battery with an intent to commit rape, and larceny, shall be punishable by the sentence of a general court-martial or military commission, when committed by persons who are in the military service of the United States, and subject to the articles of war; and the punishment for such offences shall never be less than those inflicted by the laws of the State, territory, or district in which they may have been committed.' 12 Stat. 736.

The section is part of an act containing numerous provisions for the enrolment of the national forces, designating who shall constitute such forces; who shall be exempt from military service; when they shall be drafted for service; when substitutes may be allowed; how deserters and spies and persons resisting the draft shall be punished; and many other particulars, having for their object to secure a large force to carry on the then existing war, and to give efficiency to it when called into service. It was enacted not merely to insure order and discipline among the men composing those forces, but to protect citizens not in the military service from the violence of soldiers. It is a matter well known that the march even of an army not hostile is often accompanied with acts of violence and pillage by straggling parties of soldiers, which the most rigid discipline is hardly able to prevent. The offences mentioned are those of most common occurrence, and the swift and summary justice of a military court was deemed necessary to restrain their commission.

But the section does not make the jurisdiction of the military tribunals exclusive of that of the State courts. It does not declare that soldiers committing the offences named shall not be amenable to punishment by the State courts. It simply

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declares that the offences shall be 'punishable,' not that they shall be punished by the military courts; and this is merely saying that they may be thus punished.

Previous to its enactment, the offences designated were punishable by the State courts, and persons in the military service who committed them were delivered over to those courts for trial; and it contains no words indicating an intention on the part of Congress to take from them the jurisdiction in this respect which they had always exercised. With the known hostility of the American people to any interference by the military with the regular administration of justice in the civil courts, no such intention should be ascribed to Congress in the absence of clear and direct language to that effect.

We do not mean to intimate that it was not within the competency of Congress to confer exclusive jurisdiction upon military courts over offences committed by persons in the military service of the United States. As Congress is expressly authorized by the Constitution 'to raise and support armies,' and 'to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,' its control over the whole subject of the formation, organization, and government of the national armies, including therein the punishment of offences committed by persons in the military service, would seem to be plenary. All we now affirm is, that by the law to which we are referred, the thirtieth section of the Enrolment Act, no such exclusive jurisdiction is vested in the military tribunals mentioned. No public policy would have been subserved by investing them with such jurisdiction, and many reasons may be suggested against it. Persons in the...

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