The United States v. Palmer

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation3 Wheat. 610,16 U.S. 610,4 L.Ed. 471
Decision Date14 March 1818
PartiesTHE UNITED STATES v. PALMER et al

16 U.S. 610
3 Wheat. 610
4 L.Ed. 471
THE UNITED STATES
v.
PALMER et al.
March 14, 1818

THIS case was certified from the circuit court for the Massachusetts district.

Page 611

At the circuit court of the United States, for the first circuit, begun and holden at Boston, within and for the Massachusetts district, on Wednesday, the fifteenth day of October, in the year of our lord one thousand eight hundred and seventeen:

Before the honourable Joseph Story, associate justice, and John davis, district judge.

The jurors of the United States of America within and for the district aforesaid, upon their oaths, do present, that John Palmer and Thomas Wilson, both late of Boston, in the district aforesaid, mariners, and Barney Colloghan, late of Newburyport, in the aforesaid district, mariner, with force and arms, upon the high seas, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, on the fourth day of July now last past, did piratically and feloniously set upon, board break, and enter a certain ship called the Industria Raffaelli, then and there being a ship of certain persons (to the jurors aforesaid unknown,) and then and there, piratically and feloniously, did make an assault in and upon certain persons, being mariners, subjects of the king of Spain, whose names to the jurors aforesaid are unknown, in the same ship, in the peace of God, and of the said United States of America, then and there being, and then there piratically and feloniously did put the aforesaid persons, mariners of the same ship, in the ship aforesaid then being, in corporal fear and danger of their lives, then and there, in the ship aforesaid, upon the high seas aforesaid, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, as aforesaid, and piratically and feloniously did, then and there, steal, take and carry away five

Page 612

hundred boxes of sugar, of the value of twenty thousand dollars of lawful money of the said United States; sixty pipes of rum, of the value of six thousand dollars; two hundred demijohns of honey, of the value of one thousand dollars; one thousand bides, of the value of three thousand dollars; ten hogsheads of coffee, of the value of two thousand dollars; and four bags of silver and gold, of the value of sixty thousand dollars, of the like lawful money of the said United States of America, the goods and chattels of certain persons, (to the jurors aforesaid, unknown,) then and there, upon the high seas aforesaid, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, being found in the aforesaid ship, in custody and possession of the said mariners in the said ship, from the said mariners of the same ship, and from their custody and possession, then and there, upon the high seas aforesaid, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, as aforesaid; against the peace and dignity of the said United States, and the form of the statutes of the United States, in such ease made and provided. And the jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do farther present, that the aforesaid district of Massachusetts is the district where the offenders aforesaid were first apprehended for the said offence.

To which indictment the prisoners pleaded not guilty, and upon the trial the following questions occurred, upon which the opinions of the said judges of the circuit court were opposed.

1st. Whether a robbery committed upon the high seas, although such robbery, if committed upon land, would not, by the laws of the United States, be punishable

Page 613

with death, is piracy under the eighth section of the act of congress, passed the thirtieth of April, A. D. 1790; and whether the circuit court of the United States hath authority to take cognizance of, try, and punish such offence?

2d. Whether the crime of robbery, mentioned in the said eighth section of the act of congress aforesaid, is the crime of robbery, as recognized and defined at common law, or is dispunishable until it is defined and expressly punished by some act of congress, other than the act of congress above mentioned?

3d. Whether the crime of robbery, committed by persons who are not citizens of the United States, on the high seas, on board of any ship or vessel, belonging exclusively to the subjects of any foreign state or sovereignty, or upon the person of any subject of any foreign state or sovereignty, not on board of any ship or vessel belonging to any citizen or citizens of the United Stated, be a robbery or piracy, within the true intent and meaning of the said eighth section of the act of congress aforesaid, and of which the circuit court of the United States hath cognizance, to hear, try, determine, and punish the same?

4th. Whether the crime of robbery committed on the high seas, by citizens of the united States, on board of any ship or vessel not belonging to the United States, or to any citizens of the United States, in whole or in part, but owned by, and exclusively belonging to, the subjects of a foreign state or sovereignty, or committed on the high seas, on the person of any subject of any foreign state or sovereignty, who is not, at the time, on board of any

Page 614

ship or vessel, belonging in whole or part to the United States, or to any citizen thereof, be a robbery or piracy within the said eighth section of the acts of congress aforesaid, and of which the circuit court of the United States hath cognizance to hear, try, and determine, and punish the same?

5th. Whether any revolted colony, district, or people, which have thrown off their allegiance to their mother country, but have never been acknowledged by the United States, as a sovereign or independent nation or power, have authority to issue commissions to make captures on the high seas of the persons, property and vessels of the subjects of the mother country, who retain their allegiance; and whether the captures made under such commissions are, as to the United States, to be deemed lawful; and whether the forcible seizure, with violence, and by putting in fear of the persons on board of the vessels, the property of the subjects of such mother country, who retain their allegiance, on the high seas, in virtue of such commissions, is not to be deemed a robbery or piracy within the said eighth section of the act of congress aforesaid?

6th. Whether an act, which would be deemed a robbery on the high seas, if done without a lawful commission, is protected from being considered as a robbery on the high seas, when the same act is done under a commission, or the colour of a commission from any foreign colony, district, or people, which have revolted from their native allegiance, and have declared themselves independent and sovereign, and

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have assumed to exercise the powers and authorities of an independent and sovereign government, but have never been acknowledged, or recognized, as an independent or sovereign government, or nation, by the United States, or by any other foreign state, prince, or sovereignty?

7th. Whether the existence of a commission to make captures, where it is set up as a defence to an indictment for piracy, must be proved by the production of the original commission, or of a certified copy thereof from the proper department of the foreign state or sovereignty by whom it is granted; or if not, whether the impossibility of producing either the original or such certified copy must not be proved before any inferior and secondary evidence of the existence of such commission is to be allowed, on the trial of such indictment before any court of the United States?

8th. Whether the seal, purporting to be the seal of a foreign state or sovereignty, and annexed to any such commission or a certified copy thereof, is to be admitted in a court of the United States as proving itself, without any other proof of its genuineness, so as to establish the legal existence of such commission from such foreign state or sovereignty?

9th. Whether a seal, annexed to any such commission, purporting to be the public seal used by the persons exercising the powers of government in any foreign colony, district, or people, which have revolted from their native allegiance, and have declared themselves independent and sovereign, and actually exercise the powers of an independent government

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or nation, but have never been acknowledged as such independent government or nation by the United States, is admissible in a court of the United States as proof of the legal existence of such commission, with or without farther proof of the genuineness of such seal?

10th. Whether any colony, district, or people, who have revolted from their native allegiance, and have assumed upon themselves the exercise of independent and sovereign power, can be deemed, in any court of the United States, an independent or sovereign nation, or government, until they have been acknowledged as such by the government of the United States; and whether such acknowledgement can be proved in a court of the United States, otherwise than by some act, or statute, or resolution, of the congress of the United States, or by some public proclamation, or other public act of the executive authority of the United States, directly containing or announcing such acknowledgement, or by publicly receiving and acknowledging an ambassador, or other public minister-from such colony, district, or people; and whether such acknowledgement can be proved by mere inference from the private acts or private instructions of the executive of the United States, when no public acknowledgement has ever been made; and whether the courts of the United States are bound judicially to take notice of the existing relations of the United States, as to foreign states and sovereignties, their colonies, and dependencies?

11th. Whether in case of a civil war between a mother country and its colony, the subjects of the different parties are to be deemed, in respect to neutral

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nations as enemies to each other,...

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165 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Hasan, Criminal No. 2:10cr56.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • October 29, 2010
    ...Sosa, 542 U.S. at 761–62, 124 S.Ct. 2739 (Breyer, J., concurring), see also United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 641–42, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818) (Johnson, J., dissenting) (“[C]ongress cannot make that piracy which is not piracy by the law of nations, in order to give jurisdiction to ......
  • U.S. v. Cardales–luna, No. 08–1028.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 20, 2011
    ...in two Supreme Court cases that considered these issues early in the 19th Century. In United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818), in which a Spanish vessel was robbed by a foreign defendant on the high seas, a classic case of UJ piracy, the Court held that while Con......
  • United States v. Dire, Nos. 11–4310
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • May 23, 2012
    ...not citizens of the United States, nor sailing under their flag, nor offending particularly against them.” 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 631, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818). The Palmer decision thus announced the Act of 1790's failure to define piracy as a universal jurisdiction crime. Within a year of Palme......
  • Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, TEL-OREN
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • February 3, 1984
    ...the definition in reaction to the very first Supreme Court case construing section 8, United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818). The new statute punished "the crime of piracy, as defined by the law of nations." Act of Mar. 3, 1819, ch. 77, Sec. 5, 3 Stat. 510, 513-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
165 cases
  • U.S. v. Hasan, Criminal No. 2:10cr56.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • October 29, 2010
    ...Sosa, 542 U.S. at 761–62, 124 S.Ct. 2739 (Breyer, J., concurring), see also United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 641–42, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818) (Johnson, J., dissenting) (“[C]ongress cannot make that piracy which is not piracy by the law of nations, in order to give jurisdiction to ......
  • U.S. v. Cardales–luna, No. 08–1028.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 20, 2011
    ...in two Supreme Court cases that considered these issues early in the 19th Century. In United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818), in which a Spanish vessel was robbed by a foreign defendant on the high seas, a classic case of UJ piracy, the Court held that while Con......
  • United States v. Dire, Nos. 11–4310
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • May 23, 2012
    ...not citizens of the United States, nor sailing under their flag, nor offending particularly against them.” 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 631, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818). The Palmer decision thus announced the Act of 1790's failure to define piracy as a universal jurisdiction crime. Within a year of Palme......
  • Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, TEL-OREN
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • February 3, 1984
    ...the definition in reaction to the very first Supreme Court case construing section 8, United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 610, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818). The new statute punished "the crime of piracy, as defined by the law of nations." Act of Mar. 3, 1819, ch. 77, Sec. 5, 3 Stat. 510, 513-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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