United States v. Press Publishing Company

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation55 L.Ed. 65,31 S.Ct. 212,219 U.S. 1
Docket NumberNo. 541,541
Decision Date03 January 1911

On March 4 1909, upon the assumed authority of the 2d section of an act of Congress approved July 7, 1898 (chap. 576, 30 Stat. at L. 717, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3652), a grand jury in the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York found a true bill against the Press Publishing Company, charging the commission of alleged criminal libels, set out in an indictment composed of fourteen counts. The asserted libels were contained in six issues of the World, a newspaper printed in the city of New York, of which newspaper the defendant in error, a New York corporation, was publisher. The first seven counts dealt with the publication of the libels by circulating copies of the newspaper containing the same within the reservation and military post in Orange county, New York, known as West Point. The remaining counts dealt with the publication of each of the libels by the delivery of a copy of the issue of the World containing the same to a postoffice inspector at his office in the Postoffice building in the city of New York. Both West Point and the Postoffice building were averred to be places within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. Those who were alleged in each count to have been criminally libeled were, at the time of the publications, the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, and certain private individuals. The alleged libelous articles related to the purchase by the United States of the Panama canal. We need not state the contents of the articles, since, in the view taken of the case, we shall be only called upon to determine whether, conceding the publications to have been libelous as charged in the indictment, they constituted offenses against the United States within the purview of the act of 1898.

The case went to trial upon a plea of not guilty. The circulation of the newspapers containing the alleged libels on the military reservation, and their delivery to the inspector at the postoffice, as charged in the indictment, was admitted by the defendant. The government, on the other hand, admitted that all of the issues of the World newspaper referred to in the indictment were printed in the defendant's printing establishment in the city of New York, and were circulated therefrom.

At the close of the evidence introduced by the government, the defendant moved to quash the indictment or to instruct a verdict of acquittal, upon the following grounds:

'First. That court has no jurisdiction in this case, because there is no statute of the United States authorizing the prosecution.

'Second. The act of 1898 does not apply to the case as disclosed by the evidence.

'Third. If construed so as to cover the acts shown by the evidence, the act is unconstitutional.

'Fourth. The offense, if any, was committed wholly within the jurisdiction of the state of New York, and was punishable there.

'Fifth. The defendant, being a corporation, is incapable of committing the offense charged in the indictment.'

The court announced, that it had concluded that the indictment was not authorized by the act of 1898, and therefore the motion to quash would be sustained. Before however, any formal entry to that effect was made, in order to obviate any question of double jeopardy, upon motion of the attorney for the United States a juror was withdrawn, and thereafter a judgment was duly entered quashing the indictment, it being expressly recited in the judgment that it was based upon a construction of the statute. To review the action of the trial court, this writ of error is prosecuted by the United States, under the authority of the act of March 2, 1907 (34 Stat. at L. 1246, chap. 2564, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1909, p. 220).

Messrs. J. C. McReynolds, Stuart McNamara, and Attorney General Wickersham for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 4-6 intentionally omitted] Messrs. De Lancey Nicoll, John D. Lindsay, and Raymond D. Thurber for defendant in error.

Statement by Mr. Chief Justice White:

[Argument of Counsel from pages 6-8 intentionally omitted] Mr. Chief Justice White, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:

As we have stated, the indictment was based on the act of July 7, 1898 (30 Stat. at L. 717, § 2, chap. 576, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3652). The effect of the act, as pointed out in Franklin v. United States, 216 U. S. 559, 568, 569, 54 L. ed. 615, 618, 30 Sup. Ct. Rep. 434, 435, was to incorporate the criminal laws of the several states, in force on July 1, 1898, into the statute, and to make such criminal laws, to the extent of such incorporation, laws of the United States. The text of the 2d section of the act of 1898 is this:

'That when any offense is committed in any place jurisdiction over which has been retained by the United States, or ceded to it by a state, or which has been purchased with the consent of a state for the erection of a fort, magazine, arsenal, dockyard, or other needful building or structure, the punishment for which offense is not provided for by any law of the United States, the person committing such offense shall, upon conviction in a circuit or district court of the United States for the district in which the offense was committed, be liable to and receive the same punishment as the laws of the state in which such place is situated now provide for the like offense when committed within the jurisdiction of such state and the said courts are hereby vested with jurisdiction for such purpose; and no subsequent repeal of any such state law shall affect any such prosecution.

As it is conceded that there is no statute of the United States expressly defining and punishing the crime of criminal libel when committed on a United States reservation, etc., it follows that in order to determine the correctness of the ruling of the court below we are called upon (a) to accurately fix the extent to which, by the effect of the act of 1898, the criminal laws of the states were incorporated therein so as to authorize the punishment of crimes defined by such laws as offenses against the United States, and (b) this being done, to make an analysis of the criminal laws of the state of New York to ascertain whether the particular offenses here charged were made punishable by those laws, and if so, whether, by virtue of the act of 1898, they constituted offenses against the laws of the United States, punishable in the courts of the United States.

It is certain, on the face of the quoted section, that it exclusively relates to offenses committed on United States reservations, etc., which are 'not provided for by any law of the United States,' and that as to such offenses the state law, when they are by that law defined and punished, is adopted and made applicable. That is to say, while the statute leaves no doubt where acts are done on reservations which are expressly prohibited and punished as crimes by a law of the United States, that law is dominant and controlling, yet, on the other hand, where no law of the United States has expressly provided for the punishment of offenses committed on reservations, all acts done on such reservations which are made criminal by the laws of the several states are left to be punished under the applicable state statutes. When these results of the statute are borne in mind, it becomes manifest that Congress, in adopting it, sedulously considered the twofold character of our constitutional government, and had in view the enlightened purpose, so far as the punishment of crime was concerned, to interfere as little as might be with the authority of the states on that subject over all territory situated within their exterior boundaries, and which hence would be subject to exclusive state jurisdiction but for the existence of a United States reservation. In accomplishing these purposes it is apparent that the statute, instead of fixing by its own terms the punishment for crimes committed on such reservations which were not previously provided for by a law of the United States, adopted and wrote in the state law, with the single difference that the offense, although punished as an offense against the United States, was nevertheless punishable only in the way and to the extent that it would have been punishable if the territory embraced by the reservation remained subject to the jurisdiction of the state. While this meaning, we think, stands out in bold relief from the text of the section, the correctness of such meaning will be nevertheless readily demonstrated, even if, for the sake of argument, it be conceded that the text is ambiguous. We say this because a consideration of the genesis and development of the legislation which the act of 1898 embodies will leave no doubt that the construction we have given to the act enforces the exclusive and only purpose intended to be accomplished by its adoption.

It is undoubted, as pointed out in Franklin v. United States, supra, that the forerunner of the act of 1898 was the act of March 3, 1825 (chap. 65, 4 Stat. at L. 115), since the act of 1898 is virtually a repetition of the act of 1825, except as to provisions plainly inserted merely for the purpose of bring under the sway of the act United States reservations which, on account of the restrictive terms of the act of 1825, were not embraced within the sphere of its operations. The act of 1825 was entitled 'An Act More Effectually to Provide for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States, and for Other Purposes.' Sections 1 and 2 of the act provided for the punishment of arson when committed within any fort, dockyard, and other enumerated places, 'the site whereof is ceded to, and under the jurisdiction of, the United States.' The 3d section was as follows:

'Section 3. And be it further enacted, that...

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