John Benson v. William Henkel

Decision Date17 April 1905
Docket NumberNo. 308,308
Citation198 U.S. 1,25 S.Ct. 569,49 L.Ed. 919
PartiesJOHN A. BENSON, Appt. , v. WILLIAM HENKEL, United States Marshal
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Frank H. Platt, J. C. Campbell, and James Russell Soley for appellant.

This was an appeal from an order dismissing a writ of habeas corpus, and remanding appellant to the custody of the marshal to await the action of the district judge.

On December 31, 1903, an indictment was found by the grand jury of the District of Columbia, charging appellant with a violation of Rev. Stat. § 5451 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3680), in bribing an officer of the United States to do an act in violation of his official duty. Appellant was arrested in the southern district of New York, upon a warrant issued by a United States commissioner, which warrant was issued upon the complaint of a special agent of the Interior Department, to which a copy of the indictment was annexed. Appellant demanded an examination before the commissioner, in the course of which witnesses were examined on behalf of the government, and a certified copy of the indictment was admitted as evidence. No material testimony was offered on behalf of the defendant. The commissioner found there was probable cause, and remanded defendant to the custody of the marshal to await a warrant for his removal. Immediately thereafter appellant applied for a writ of habeas corpus and certiorari. At the close of the hearing he was remanded to the custody of the marshal. 130 Fed. 486.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 2-7 intentionally omitted] Messrs.Francis J. Heney,Arthur B. Pugh, and Solicitor General Hoyt for appellee.

Mr. Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the court:

But three questions are raised by the arguments and briefs of counsel in this case:

1. That the indictment charges no crime against the United States.

2. That the District of Columbia is not a district of the United States within the meaning of Rev. Stat. § 1014 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 716), authorizing the removal of accused persons from one district to another.

3. That the crime was committed in California, and is only triable there.

The indictment is founded upon Rev. Stat. § 5451, which enacts that 'every person who promises, offers, or gives . . . any money or other thing of value . . . to any officer of the United States, or to any person acting for or on behalf of the United States in any official function, under or by authority of any department or office of the government thereof, . . . with intent to influence his decision or action on any question, matter, cause, or proceeding which may at any time be pending, or which may be law be brought before him in his official capacity, . . . or with intent .. . to induce him to do, or omit to do, any act in violation of his lawful duty, shall be punished as prescribed,' etc.

The first three counts of the indictment charge, in substance, that the defendant was engaged with one Hyde, at San Francisco, California, in the business of unlawfully obtaining the public lands of the United States; that an investigation by special agents of the Land Department of the unlawful transactions so charged was ordered by the Secretary of the Interior; and it became the duty of such agents to make reports to the Secretary, the contents of which should not be revealed to any unofficial person; that at this time a department clerk was acting as chief of the special service division of the General Land Office, whose duty it was to act upon all reports of such special agents, and to preserve and keep for the exclusive use of the Land Department all such reports; and that pending such investigation the defendant unlawfully gave to such officer, in the District of Columbia, certain sums of money, with the intent to induce him to do an act in violation of his lawful duty,—that is to say, to reveal to defendant the contents of the reports of such special agents relating to said investigation. These counts are representative of all the others, one of which is based upon the payment of money to another officer of the United States, with like intent.

(1) Objection is made to the indictment upon the ground that at the time of payments to these officers the special agents' report had not come into their possession or knowl- edge, and there is no allegation to prove that it ever would; that they had no duty concerning it; that it was not shown that they ever would have such duty; and that a charge of bribery cannot be based upon payment to an officer to induce him to perform an act, as to which he has no duty, and may never have any duty. (2) That neither of these officers was forbidden by any lawful duty to reveal to Benson the contents of any report, even if they ever should come into a position to do so. Upon these grounds it is insisted that the indictment charges no offense against the United States under § 5451.

1. The extent to which a commissioner in extradition may inquire into the validity of an indictment put in evidence before him, as proof of probable cause of guilt, has never been definitely settled, although we have had frequent occasion to hold generally that technical objections should not be considered, and that the legal sufficiency of the indictment is only to be determined by the court in which it is found. Ex parte Reggel, 114 U. S. 642, 650, 29 L. ed. 250, 252, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1148; Roberts v. Reilly, 116 U. S. 80, 96, 29 L. ed. 544, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 291; Horner v. United States, 143 U. S. 570, 577, 36 L. ed. 266, 269, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 522; Greene v. Henkel, 183 U. S. 249, 260, 46 L. ed. 177, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 218; Beavers v. Henkel, 194 U. S. 73, 87, 48 L. ed. 882, 887, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 605.

Indeed, it is scarcely seemly for a committing magistrate to examine closely into the validity of an indictment found in a Federal court of another district, and subject to be passed upon by such court on demurrer or otherwise. Of course, this rule has its limitations. If the indictment were a mere information, or obviously, upon inspection, set forth no crime against the United States, or a wholly different crime from that alleged as the basis for proceedings; or if such crime be charged to have been committed in another district from that to which the extradition is sought,—the commissioner could not properly consider it as ground for removal. In such cases resort must be had to other evidence of probable cause.

While the principle laid down in some of the earlier cases in this court, that an indictment upon a statute is ordinarily sufficient if framed in the language of the statutes, has been somewhat qualified in later cases, the rule still holds good that where the statute contains every element of the offense, and an indictment is offered in evidence before the extradition commissioner as proof of probable cause, it is sufficient if framed in the language of the statute with the ordinary averments of time and place, and with such a description of the fraud, if that be the basis of the indictment, as will apprise an intelligent man of the nature of the accusation, notwithstanding that such indictment may be open to motion to quash or motion in arrest of judgment in the court in which it was originally found. An extradition commissioner is not presumed to be acquainted with the niceties of criminal pleading. His functions are practically the same as those of an examining magistrate in an ordinary criminal case, and, if the complaint upon which he acts, or the indictment offered in support thereof, contains the necessary elements of the offense, it is sufficient, although a more critical examination may show that the statute does not completely cover the case. Pearce v. Texas, 155 U. S. 311, 39 L. ed. 164, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 116; Davis's Case, 122 Mass. 324; State ex rel. O'Malley v. O'Connor, 38 Minn. 243, 36 N. W. 462; Re Voorhees, 32 N. J. L. 141; Re Greenough, 31 Vt. 279, 288.

Applying these considerations to the present case, it appears plainly from the indictment that the accused was charged with the crime of bribery in paying to two officers certain sums of money to reveal to the petitioner the contents of certain reports, pertaining to an investigation then pending with respect to certain frauds used in obtaining public lands. The commissioner was not required to determine for himself whether the statute applied to reports which had not yet been filed, and which might never be filed, or whether the words of the statute, 'which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before him in his official capacity,' apply to the pendency of the investigation, or to the pendency of an obligation not to reveal the contents of a paper then in his possession. This was peculiarly a subject for examination by the court in which the indictment was found.

Like comment may be made with respect to the second objection, that neither of these clerks was forbidden by any lawful authority to reveal the contents of such reports, upon the ground that there was no statute imposing such obligation. But it is clearly for the court to say whether every duty to be performed by an official must be designated by statute, or whether it may not be within the power of the head of a department to prescribe regulations for the conduct of the business of his office and the custody of its papers, a breach of which may be treated as an act in violation of the lawful duty of an official or clerk. United States v. Macdaniel, 7 Pet. 1, 14, 8 L. ed. 587, 592.

While we have no desire to minimize what we have already said with regard to the indictment setting out the substance of the offense in language sufficient to apprise the accused of the nature of the charge against him, still it must be borne in mind that the indictment is merely offered as proof of the charge originally contained in the complaint, and not as a complaint in itself or foundation of the charge, which may be supported by oral...

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