The United States v. Wiltberger

Decision Date18 February 1820
Citation5 Wheat. 76,5 L.Ed. 37,18 U.S. 76
PartiesTHE UNITED STATES v. WILTBERGER
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

THIS was an indictment for manslaughter, in the Circuit Court of Pennsylvania. The jury found the defendant guilty of the offence with which he stood indicted, subject to the opinion of the Court, whether this Court has jurisdiction of the case, which was as follows:

The manslaughter charged in the indictment, was committed by the defendant, on board of the American ship the Benjamin Rush, on a seaman belonging to the said ship, whereof the defendant was master, in the river Tigris, in the empire of China, off Wampoa, and about 100 yards from the shore, in four and a half fathoms water, and below the low water mark, thirty-five miles above the mouth of the river. The water at the said place where the offence was committed, is fresh, except in very dry seasons, and the tide ebbs and flows at, and above the said place. At the mouth of the Tigris, the government of China has forts on each side of the river, where customhouse officers are taken in by foreign vessels to prevent smuggling. The river at the mouth, and at Wampoa, is about half a mile in breadth.

And thereupon, the opinions of the Judges of the Circuit Court, being opposed as to the jurisdiction of the Court, the question was by them stated, and directed to be certified to this Court.

Feb. 14th.

Mr. C. J. Ingersoll, for the United States, argued, that by the Constitution the judicial power extends to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and Congress is invested with authority to define and punish piracies and other felonies committed on the high seas. The judiciary act of 1789, c. 20. s. 11. gives jurisdiction over these offences to the Circuit Court. The act of April 30th. 1790. c. 36. for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States, s. 12 provides for the punishment of manslaughter committed on the high seas.a But it is understood

a The sections of this act commented on in the argument, are as follows:

SEC. I. That if any person or persons, owing allegiance to the United States of America, shall levy war against them, or shall adhere to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States, or elsewhere, and shall be thereof convicted, on confession in open Court, or on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act of the treason whereof he or they shall stand indicted, such person or persons shall be adjudged guilty of treason against the United States, and shall suffer death.

SEC. II. And be it enacted, That if any person or persons, having knowledge of the commission of any of the treasons aforesaid, shall conceal, and not as soon as may be disclose and make known the same to the President of the United States, or some of the Judges thereof, or to the President or Governor of a particular State, or some one of the Judges or Justices thereof, such person or persons, on conviction, shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of treason, and shall be imprisoned not exceeding seven years, and fined not exceeding one thousand dollars.

SEC. III. And be it enacted, That if any person or persons shall, within any fort, arsenal, dockyard, magazine, or in any other place or district of country, under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, commit the crime of wilful murder, such person or persons, on being thereof convicted, shall suffer death.

SEC. VI. And be it enacted, That if any person or persons, having knowledge of the actual commission of the crime of wilful murder, or other felony, upon the high seas, or within any fort, arsenal, dockyard, magazine, or other place or district of country, under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, shall conceal, and not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to some one of the Judges, or other persons in civil or military authority under the United States, on conviction thereof, such person or persons shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of felony, and shall be imprisoned not exceeding three years, and fined not exceeding five hundred dollars to be objected, 1. That the civil, or Roman law, which is the admiralty code, does not recognise

SEC. VII. And be it enacted, That if any person or persons shall, within any fort, arsenal, dockyard, magazine, or other place or district of country, under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, commit the crime of manslaughter, and shall be thereof convicted, such person or persons shall be imprisoned not exceeding three years, and fined not exceeding one thousand dollars.

SEC. VIII. And be it enacted, That if any person or persons shall commit, upon the high seas, or in any river, haven, basin, or bay, out of the jurisdiction of any particular State, murder or robbery, or any other offence, which, if committed within the body of a county, would, by the laws of the United States, be punishable with death; or, if any captain or mariner of any ship or other vessel, shall piratically and feloniously run away with such ship or vessel, or any goods or merchandize, to the value of fifty dollars, or yield up such ship or vessel voluntarily to any pirate; or if any seaman shall lay violent hands upon his commander, thereby to hinder and prevent his fighting in defence of his ship, or goods committed to his trust, or shall make a revolt in the ship; every such offender shall be deemed, taken, and adjudged to be, a pirate and felon, and being thereof convicted, shall suffer death: and the trial of crimes committed on the high seas, or in any place out of the jurisdiction of any particular State, shall be in the district where the offender is apprehended, or into which he may first be brought.

SEC. IX. And be it enacted, That if any citizen shall commit any piracy or robbery, aforesaid, or any act of hostility against the United States, or any citizen thereof, upon the high seas, under colour of any commission from any foreign prince or State, or on pretence of authority from any person, such offender shall, notwithstanding the pretence of authority, be deemed, adjudged, and taken to be, a pirate, felon, and robber, and on being thereof convicted, shall suffer death. (continued on p. 80) or define the offence of manslaughter.b To which it is answered, that Congress, having declared that

SEC. X. And be it enacted, That every person who shall either upon the land or seas, knowingly and wittingly aid and assist, procure, command, counsel or advise, any person or persons to do or commit any murder or robbery, or other piracy aforesaid, upon the high seas, which shall affect the life of such person, and such person or persons shall thereupon do or commit any such piracy or robbery, then all and every such person, so as aforesaid aiding, assisting, procuring, commanding, counselling, or advising the same, either upon the land or the sea, shall be, and they are hereby declared, deemed, and adjudged to be, accessary to such piracies before the fact, and every such person, being thereof convicted, shall suffer death.

SEC. XI. And be it enacted, That after any murder, felony, robbery, or other piracy whatsoever, aforesaid, is or shall be committed by any pirate or robber, every person who, knowing that such pirate or robber has done or committed any such piracy or robbery, shall, on the land or at sea, receive, entertain, or conceal, any such pirate or robber, or receive or take into his custody any ship, vessel, goods, or chattels, which have been, by any such pirate or robber, piratically and feloniously taken, shall be, and are hereby declared, deemed and adjudged, to be accessary to such piracy or robbery, after the fact; and on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned, not exceeding three years, and fined, not exceeding five hundred dollars.

SEC. XII. And be it enacted, That if any seaman or other person shall commit manslaughter upon the high seas, or confederate, or attempt or endeavour to corrupt any commander, master,

any goods, wares, or merchandize, or to turn pirate, or to go over to or confederate with pirates, or in any wise trade with any pirate, knowing him to be such, or shall furnish such pirate with any ammunition, stores, or provisions, of any kind; or shall fit out any vessel, knowingly, and with a design, to trade with or supply or correspond with any pirate or robber upon the seas; or if any persons shall any ways consult, combine, confederate, or correspond, with any pirate or robber on the seas, knowing him to be guilty of any such piracy or robbery; or if any seaman shall confine the master of any ship or other vessel, or endeavour to make revelt in such ship; such person or persons, so offending, and being thereof convicted, shall be imprisoned, not exceeding three years, and fined, not exceeding one thousand dollars.

b 1 Bro. Civ. & Adm. Law, 422; Ibid. 460.

any person convicted of manslaughter, shall be punished in the manuer provided by the act, the common law may be referred to for a definition of the offence.c Neither robbery, murder, mayhem, nor many other offences, made punishable by the statute laws of the United States, are defined by those laws. The distinctions of homicide, as marked out by the common law, are unknown to the civil or Roman law. But when jurisdiction is given of murder committed on the high seas, &c. to a Court of Admiralty, the law defining the crime is to be derived from the common, and not from the civil law.d It is also objected, 2. That the local jurisdiction of the Chinese empire over the offence charged by the indictment, if found by the jury to have been committed within its territorial limits, necessarily excludes the jurisdiction of the Courts of this country over the offence.

c The United States v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 626.

d The United States v. M'Gill, 4 Dall. 426. 429.

To this objection, it is answered, that by the principles of universal law, a qualified national jurisdiction and immunity extends to the ships...

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