Thecases Ex parte Yarbrough and others, KU-KLUX

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMILLER
Citation28 L.Ed. 274,110 U.S. 651,4 S.Ct. 152
Parties'THECASES.' Ex parte YARBROUGH and others
Docket NumberKU-KLUX
Decision Date03 March 1884

110 U.S. 651
4 S.Ct. 152
28 L.Ed. 274
'THE KU-KLUX CASES.'
Ex parte YARBROUGH and others.
March 3, 1884.

[Syllabus from pages 651-652 intentionally omitted]

Page 652

Henry B. Tompkins, for petitioners.

Sol. Gen. Phillips, for respondent.

MILLER, J.

This case originates in this court by an application for a writ of habeas corpus on the part of Jasper Yarbrough and seven other persons, who allege that they are confined by the jailer of Fulton county in the custody of the United States marshal for the Northern district of Georgia, and that the trial, conviction, and sentence in the circuit court of the United States for that district, under which they are held, were illegal, null, and void. The court, on the filing of this petition, issued a rule on the

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marshal, or on any person in whose custody the prisoners might be found, to show cause why the writ of habeas corpus should not issue for their release. It appears, by the returns made to this rule, that the sentence of the court, which ordered their imprisonment in the Albany penitentiary, in the state of New York, at hard labor for the term of two years, has been so far executed that they are now in that prison. The rule having been served on John McEwan, superintendent of the penitentiary, he makes return that he holds the prisoners by virtue of the sentence of the circuit court for the Northern district of Georgia, and annexes to his return a transcript of the proceeding in that court. As this return is precisely the same that the superintendent would make if the writ of habeas corpus had been served on him, the court here can determine the right of the prisoners to be released on this rule to show cause as correctly and with more convenience in the administration of justice, than if the prisoners were present under the writ in the custody of the superintendent; and such is the practice of this court. That this court has no general authority to review on error or appeal the judgments of the circuit courts of the United States in cases within their criminal jurisdiction is beyond question; but it is equally well settled that when a prisoner is held under the sentence of any court of the United States in regard to a matter wholly beyond or without the jurisdiction of that court, it is not only within the authority of the supreme court, but it is its duty, to inquire into the cause of commitment when the matter is properly brought to its attention, and if found to be as charged, a matter of which such court had no jurisdiction, to discharge the prisoner from confinement. Ex parte Kearney, 7 Wheat. 38; Ex parte Wells, 18 How. 307; Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163; Ex parte Parks, 93 U. S. 18.

It is, however, to be carefully observed that this latter principle does not authorize the court to convert the writ of habeas corpus into a writ of error, by which the errors of law committed by the court that passed the sentence can be reviewed here; for if that court had jurisdiction of the party, and of the offense for which he was tried, and has not exceeded its

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powers in the sentence which it pronounced, this court can inquire no further. This principle disposes of the argument made before us on the insufficiency of the indictments under which the prisoners in this case were tried. Whether the indictment sets forth in comprehensive terms the offense which the statute describes and forbids, and for which it prescribes a punishment, is in every case a question of law which must necessarily be decided by the court in which the case originates, and is therefore clearly within its jurisdiction. Its decision on the conformity of the indictment to the provisions of the statute may be erroneous; but, if so, it is an error of law made by a court acting within its jurisdiction, which could be corrected on a writ of of error, if such writ was allowed, but which cannot be looked into on a writ of habeas corpus limited to an inquiry into the existence of jurisdiction on the part of that court. This principle is decided in Ex parte Watkins, 3 Pet. 203, and Ex parte Parks, 93 U. S. 21.

This, however, leaves for consideration the more important question—the one mainly relied on by counsel for petitioners whether the law of congress, as found in the Revised Statutes of the United States, under which the prisoners are held, is warranted by the constitution, or, being without such warrant, is null and void. If the law which defines the offense and prescribes its punishment is void, the court was without jurisdiction, and the prisoners must be discharged. Though several different sections of the Revised Statutes are brought into the discussion as the foundation of the indictments found in the record, we think only two of them demand our attention here, namely, sections 5508 and 5520. They are in the following language:

'Sec. 5508. If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same,

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or if two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured, they shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars and imprisoned not more than ten years; and shall, moreover, be thereafter ineligible to any office or place of honor, profit, or trust created by the constitution or laws of the United States.

'Sec. 5520. If two or more persons in any state or territory conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote from giving his support or advocacy, in a legal manner, towards or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for president or vice-president, or as a member of the congress of the United States, or to injure any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy, each of such persons shall be punished by a fine of not less than five hundred nor more than five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment, with or without hard labor, not less than six months nor more than six years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.'

The indictments, four in number, on which petitioners were tried, charge in each one all of the defendants with a conspiracy under these sections, directed against a different person in each indictment. On the trial the cases were consolidated, and as each indictment is in the identical language of all the others, except as to the name of the person assaulted and the date of the transaction, the copy which is here presented will answer for all of them:

'We, the grand jurors of the United States, chosen, selected, and sworn in and for the Northern district of Georgia, upon our oaths, present: That heretofore, to-wit, on the twenty-fifth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-three, Jasper Yarbrough, James Yarbrough, Dilmus Yarbrough, Neal Yarbrough, Lovel Streetman, Bold Emory, State Lemmons, Jake Hayes, and E. H. Green, all late of said Northern district of Georgia, did, within the said Northern district of Georgia, and within the jurisdiction of this court, commit the offense of conspiracy, for that the said Jasper Yarbrough, James Yarbrough, Dilmus Yarbrough, Neal Yar-

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brough, Lovel Streetman, Bold Emory, State Lemmons, Jake Hayes, and E. H. Green did then and there, at the time and place aforesaid, combine, conspire, and confederate together, by force, to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimitate Berry Saunders, a person of color, and a citizen of the United States of America of African descent, on account of his race, color, and previous condition of servitude, in the full exercise and enjoyment of the right and privilege of suffrage in the election of a lawfully qualified person as a member of the congress of the United States of America, and because the said Berry Saunders had so exercised the same, and on account of such exercise, which said right and privilege of suffrage was secured to the said BerrySaunders by the constitution and laws of the United States of America, the said Berry Saunders being then and there lawfully entitled to vote in said election; and, having so then and there conspired, the said Jasper Yarbrough, James Yarbrough, Dilmus Yarbrough, Neal Yarbrough, Lovel Streetman, Bold Emory, State Lemmons, Jake Hayes, and E. H. Green did unlawfully, feloniously, and willfully beat, bruise, wound, and maltreat the said Berry Saunders, contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States of America.

'Second Count. And the jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do further present: That heretofore, to-wit, on the twenty-fifth day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-three, Jasper Yarbrough, James Yarbrough, Dilmus Yarbrough, Neal Yarbrough, Lovel Streetman, Bold Emory, State Lemmons, Jake Hayes, and E. H. Green, all late of said Northern district of Georgia, within the said Northern district of Georgia, and within the jurisdiction of this court, did commit the offense of conspiracy, for that the said Jasper Yarbrough, James Yarbrough, Dilmus Yarbrough, Neal Yarbrough, Lovel Streetman, Bold Emory, State Lemmons, Jake Hayes, and E. H. Green, having then and there conspired together, by force, to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate Berry Saunders, a person of color, and a citizen of the United States of America of African descent, on account of his race, color, and previous condition of servitude, did then and there unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously go in disguise on the highway, and on the premises of Berry...

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429 practice notes
  • Brewer v. Hoxie School District No. 46, No. 15510.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 25 Octubre 1956
    ...F.2d 147, 151, certiorari denied, 309 U.S. 679, 60 S.Ct. 717, 84 L.Ed. 1023); the right to vote in federal elections, Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274; the right of a voter in a federal election to have his ballot counted fairly, United States v. Mosley, 238 U.S. ......
  • U.S. v. Caron, Criminal No. 94-10040-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 12 Septiembre 1996
    ...arises from the United States Constitution. United States v. Mosley, 238 U.S. 383, 35 S.Ct. 904, 59 L.Ed. 1355 (1915); Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274 (1884). Second, the Constitution is the sole source of eligibility for President of the United States and it doe......
  • Byrd v. Sexton, No. 16056.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 28 Marzo 1960
    ...with jurisdiction retained until the state courts were given a reasonable opportunity to construe the statutes). 21 Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274 (conspiracy to intimidate a negro in the exercise of his right to vote); United States v. Waddell, 112 U.S. 76, 5 S......
  • Griffin v. Breckenridge, No. 25799.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 29 Abril 1969
    ...been applied to individual deprivations of the right to vote for federal offices, Ex parte Yarborough, 1884, 110 U.S. 410 F.2d 823 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274; the right to enjoy the privileges granted by the homestead laws, United States v. Waddell, 1884, 112 U.S. 76, 5 S.Ct. 35, 28 L.E......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
426 cases
  • Brewer v. Hoxie School District No. 46, No. 15510.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 25 Octubre 1956
    ...F.2d 147, 151, certiorari denied, 309 U.S. 679, 60 S.Ct. 717, 84 L.Ed. 1023); the right to vote in federal elections, Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274; the right of a voter in a federal election to have his ballot counted fairly, United States v. Mosley, 238 U.S. ......
  • U.S. v. Caron, Criminal No. 94-10040-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 12 Septiembre 1996
    ...arises from the United States Constitution. United States v. Mosley, 238 U.S. 383, 35 S.Ct. 904, 59 L.Ed. 1355 (1915); Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274 (1884). Second, the Constitution is the sole source of eligibility for President of the United States and it doe......
  • Byrd v. Sexton, No. 16056.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 28 Marzo 1960
    ...with jurisdiction retained until the state courts were given a reasonable opportunity to construe the statutes). 21 Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274 (conspiracy to intimidate a negro in the exercise of his right to vote); United States v. Waddell, 112 U.S. 76, 5 S......
  • Griffin v. Breckenridge, No. 25799.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 29 Abril 1969
    ...been applied to individual deprivations of the right to vote for federal offices, Ex parte Yarborough, 1884, 110 U.S. 410 F.2d 823 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274; the right to enjoy the privileges granted by the homestead laws, United States v. Waddell, 1884, 112 U.S. 76, 5 S.Ct. 35, 28 L.E......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • National Security and Election Law: Investigation and Prosecution of Election Fraud.
    • United States
    • Prosecutor, Journal of the National District Attorneys Association Vol. 55 Nbr. 4, October 2021
    • 1 Octubre 2021
    ...election violations and offenses until most of them were repealed in the 1890s. (See In re Coy, 127 U.S. 731 (1888); Ex parte Yarborough, 110 U.S. 651 (1884); Ex parte Siebold, 100 U.S. 371 Many of the Enforcement Acts had broad jurisdictional predicates that allowed them to be applied to a......
  • The County Unit System of Georgia: Facts and Prospects
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 14-4, December 1961
    • 1 Diciembre 1961
    ...The third judge had seen a violationof the Fourteenth Amendment and probably the Seventeenth, and had cited the Yarbrough case (110 U.S. 651: 1884) in insisting that the right to vote for members of Congress was aconstitutional one. Other futile legal challenges had included Turman v. Duckw......

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