Ex parte Wilson

Decision Date30 March 1885
PartiesEx parte WILSON
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, presented to this court by a man confined in the house of correction at Detroit, in the state of Michigan, under a sentence to be imprisoned there for 15 years at hard labor, passed by the district court of the United States for the Eastern district of Arkansas, upon an information filed by the district attorney for that district. The record of the conviction and sentence, a copy of which was annexed to the petition, showed the following case:

The information, which was filed by leave of the court, contained two counts: The first count upon Rev. St. § 5430, for unlawfully having in possession, with intent to sell, an obligation engraved and printed after the similitude of securities issued under authority of the United States, to-wit, of an interest-bearing coupon bond of the United States; and the second count upon section 5431, for passing, with intent to defraud, a counterfeited interest-bearing coupon bond of the United States; and each count alleging that the bond was in the words and figures of a copy attached to the indictment and made part thereof. That copy was of an instrument purporting to be a bond of the United States Silver Mining Company of Denver city, Colorado, having printed at its head the words 'THE UNITED STATES,' in large and conspicuous capitals, followed on a lower line by the words 'SILVER MINING COMPANY OF DENVER CITY, COLORADO,' in much smaller and less distinct type, and bearing the signatures of 'R. H. HULISON, Pres't,' and 'J. H. MAYSON, Sec'y,' and otherwise numbered and lettered very much like a genuine bond of the United States.* The defendant filed a general demurrer to the information, which was overruled by the court; and he then pleaded not guilty, and was tried by a jury, who returned a general verdict of guilty; and he moved for a new trial, for insufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict.

The rest of the record (a certified copy of which was the only paper delivered to the keeper of the house of correction) stated that the defendant was brought to the bar in the custody of the marshal, and his motion for a new trial overruled, 'and the said defendant, being now inquired of by the court if he have aught to say why the judgment and sentence of the court should not now be pronounced against him upon the verdict and finding of the jury in this case, finding him guilty of passing a counterfeit United States bond, and saying nothing further than he hath already said; and the court being now well advised in the premises; it is therefore considered, ordered, adjudged, and sentenced that said defendant, James S. Wilson, do pay to the United States a fine of five thousand dollars for said offense and all the costs of this proceeding, and that the United States have execution therefor, and that he be imprisoned for and during the term of fifteen years at hard labor in the house of correction at Detroit, Michigan, and that the said marshal of this district convey the said prisoner to the house of correction aforesaid, and deliver him to the custody of the keeper thereof, and that the clerk of this court make out for said marshal two copies o this judgment and sentence, duly certified under the seal of this court, one of which the said marshal shall deliver to the keeper of said house of correction, and the other return and file in this court, with the receipt of said keeper thereon.'

The offense described in Rev. St. § 5430, is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by imprisonment at hard labor not more than 15 years, or by both; and the offense described in section 5431 is punishable by a like fine and imprisonment. The petitioner alleged in his petition, and contended in argument, that his imprisonment was illegal, upon the following grounds: First. That in excess of the power of the court, and in violation of the fifth amendment of the constitution, he had been held to answer for an infamous crime, and punished by a fine of five thousand dollars and imprisonment for the term of fifteen years at hard labor, without presentment or indictment by a grand jury. Second. That he was held under a judgment void, and in excess of the power of the court, upon an information for a crime which was not committed against the provisions of chapter 7 of the title 'Crimes' in the Revised Statutes, in which cases informations were expressly authorized, and to which they were impliedly restricted, by section 1022 of those statutes. Third. That the judgment was void and in excess of the power of the court, because the conviction and the sentence were for different offenses, the conviction being for having in possession a bond of a mining company in the similitude of a United States bond, and the sentence being for passing a counterfeit United States bond. Fourth. That he was held by the keeper of the Detroit house of correction without authority of law, because the order of the court for his imprisonment did not show that the court had determined two questions of fact which were made by Rev. St. §§ 5541, 5546, conditions precedent to the exercise of its power to sentence to a prison outside the state of Arkansas, namely, (1,) that there was no suitable prison in that state, and (2) that the attorney general had designated the Detroit house of correction as a suitable penitentiary in another state. Fifth. That the keeper had no warrant or mittimus authoring him to hold the prisoner, as required by Rev. St. § 1028.

Alfred Russell, for petitioner.

Asst. Atty. Gen. Maury, for respondent.

GRAY, J.

It is well settled by a series of decisions that this court, hav- ing no jurisdiction of criminal cases by writ of error or appeal, cannot discharge on habeas corpus a person imprisoned under the sentence of a circuit or district court in a criminal case, unless the sentence exceeds the jurisdiction of that court, or there is no authority to hold him under the sentence. Ex parte Watkins, 3 Pet. 193, and 7 Pet. 568; Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163; Ex parte Parks, 93 U. S. 18; Ex parte Siebold, 100 U. S. 371; Ex parte Curtis, 106 U. S. 371; S. C. 1 SUP. CT. REP. 381; Ex parte Carll, 106 U. S. 521; S. C. 1 SUP. CT. REP. 535; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U. S. 651; S. C. 4 SUP. CT. REP. 152; Ex parte Crouch, 112 U. S. 178; S. C. ante, 96; Ex parte Bigelow, 113 U. S. 328; S. C. ante, 542.

None of the grounds on which the petitioner relies, except the first, require extended discussion. The provision of Rev. St. § 1022. derived from the civil rights act of May 30, 1870, c. 114, § 8, authorizing certain offenses to be prosecuted either by indictment or by information, does not preclude the prosecution by information of other offenses of such a grade as may be so prosecuted consistently with the constitution and laws of the United States.

The objection of variance between the conviction and the sentence is not sustained by the record. The first count is for unlawfully having in possession, with intent to sell, an obligation engraved and printed after the similitude of securities issued under authority of the United State , and the copy annexed and referred to in that count is of such an obligation. Both the verdict and the sentence are general, and therefore valid if one count is good. Snyder v. U. S. 112 U. S. 216; S. C. ante, 118. The misrecital of the verdict, in the statement of the intermediate inquiry whether the prisoner had aught to say why sentence should not be pronounced against him, is no more than an irregularity, or error, not affecting the jurisdiction of the court.

The omission of the record to state, as in Ex parte Karstendick, 93 U. S. 396, that there was no suitable penitentiary within the state, and that the attorney general had designated the house of correction at Detroit as a suitable place of imprisonment outside the state, is even less material. The certified copy of the record of the sentence to imprisonment in the Detroit house of correction, if valid upon its face, is sufficient to authorize the keeper to hold the prisoner, without any warrant or mittimus. People v. Nevins, 1 Hill, (N. Y.) 154. But if the crime of which the petitioner was accused was an infamous crime, within the meaning of the fifth amendment of the constitution, no court of the United States had jurisdiction to try or punish him, except upon presentment or indictment by a grand jury. We are therefore necessarily brought to the determination of the question whether the crime of having in possession, with intent to sell, an obligation engraved and printed after the similitude of a public security of the United States, punishable by fine of not more than $5,000, or by imprisonment at hard labor not more than 15 years, or by both, is an infamous crime, within the meaning of this amendment of the constitution.

The first provision of this amendment, which is all that relates to this subject, is in these words: 'No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger.' The scope and effect of this, as of many other provisions of the constitution, are best ascertained by bearing in mind what the law was before. Mr. WILLIAM EDEN, (afterwards Lord AUCKLAND,) in his Principles of Penal Law, which passed through three editions in England and at least one in Ireland within six years before the declaration of independence, observed: 'There are two kinds of infamy: the one founded in the opinions of the people respecting the mode of punishment; the other in the construction of law respecting the future credibility of the delinquent.' Eden, Prin. P. L. c. 7, § 5. At that time it was already established law that the infamy which disqualified a convict to be a witness depended upon the...

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