Whitten v. Tomlinson

Decision Date16 December 1895
Docket NumberNo. 619,619
Citation40 L.Ed. 406,160 U.S. 231,16 S.Ct. 297
PartiesWHITTEN v. TOMLINSON, Sheriff
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This was a petition, filed March 26, 1895, in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Connecticut, and addressed to the Honorable William K. Townsend, the district judge, as a judge of the circuit court, for a writ of habeas corpus to the sheriff of the county of New Haven, in the state of Connecticut. The petition was signed by the petitioner, and verified by his oath, and was as follows:

'The petition of George E. Whitten respectfully shows to your honor that he is now a prisoner confined in the custody of Charles A. Tomlinson, sheriff of the county of New Haven, in the county jail in the city of New Haven, in said county, for a supposed criminal offense, to wit, a crime of murder in the second degree.

'Your petitioner also shows that such confinement is by virtue of a warrant, a copy whereof is in the possession of said sheriff; and your petitioner avers that, to the best of his knowledge, he is not committed or detained by virtue of any process of law known to the courts of the United States or the several states, but he is now detained in violation of the constitution of the United States, in violation of the laws of the United States, and in violation of the constitution and laws of the state of Connecticut; and that he is not held in confinement by virtue of any final judgment or decree of any competent court or tribunal of criminal jurisdiction, or by virtue of any process issued upon such judgment or decree, but is held without due process of law.

'And your petitioner further says that at the time of his arrest, and for a long time prior thereto, he was a citizen of Massachusetts, and was extradited from Massachusetts for said alleged crime in January, 1895; and he says that he is advised by his counsel, William H. Baker, residing at Boston, and so believes, that his said imprisonment is illegal, and that said illegality consisted in this, to wit:

'That in August and September, 1893, this petitioner was tried before the local court sitting within and for the county of New Haven, state of Connecticut, upon a charge of murder in the second degree, being the same alleged charge for which he was extradited, and was after a full hearing thereof discharged from said court.

'That thereafterwards this petitioner remained in the city of New Haven, state of Connecticut, for a long time,—during at least two sessions of the grand jury,—and then removed to Newton, in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, some time early in the year 1894.

'That he was in January, 1895, while such citizen of Massachusetts, arrested and extradited from the state of Massachusetts upon a warrant issued by the governor of Massachusetts on demand and application of the governor of Connecticut, alleging that an indictment had been found by the grand jury against him of murder within and for the county of New Haven, being the same charge on which he was tried as above. This petitioner was taken to the said city of New Haven by virtue thereof.

'This petitioner avers that no indictment was ever found against him by any grand jury sitting at any time within the state of Connecticut, nor no indictment as and for a true bill ever was presented by any grand jury in said state of Connecticut against him, which he is ready to verify and prove; and any pretended indictment was found by mistake or misconception and was not their true verdict or finding.

'Further, you petitioner says that he was not, at the time of this extradition as aforesaid, a fugitive from justice from said state of Connecticut.

'Wherefore you petitioner prays a writ of habeas corpus, to the end that he may be discharged from custody, and be allowed to depart safely from out the state of Connecticut to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, without interference in any way by the state authorities of the state of Connecticut, without reference to said charge made against him.'

On March 27th a writ of habeas corpus was issued accordingly by the district judge, returnable forthwith at a special term of the circuit court.

On March 28th the sheriff made his return to the writ, stating, as the cause of the petitioner's detention and imprisonment, that he was committed to the jail by virtue of the following mittimus:

'To the Sheriff of New Haven County, His Deputy, or Any Proper Officer or Indifferent Person, Greeting:

'Whereas Lucius B. Hinman, of New Haven, Conn., did on the 17th day of January, 1895, enter into a recognizance in the sum of five thousand dollars for the appearance of George E. Whitten, of the town of Newton, state of Massachusetts, before the superior court to be holden at New Haven, within and for the county of New Haven, on the first Tuesday of January, 1895, and the said Lucius B. Hinman now believes that said George E. Whitten intends to abscond, and having produced the evidence that he is surety as aforesaid for the said George E. Whitten, and hath applied to me for a mittimus, and hath made oath before me that the statements in his said application are true:

'These are, therefore, by authority of the state of Connecticut, to command you that you forthwith arrest the said George E. Whitten, and him commit to the jail of said New Haven county; and the keeper of said jail is hereby ordered to receive the said George E. Whitten, and him safely keep within said jail, until he be discharged by due order of law. Hereof fail not, but due service and return make.

'Dated at New Haven, this 26th day of March, A. D. 1895.

'John S. Fowler,

'Justice of the Peace.'

The petitioner moved to quash the return, as insufficient to justity his detention.

The circuit court, upon a hearing, denied the motion, and discharged the writ of habeas corpus, without prejudice to the right of the petitioner to renew the motion; and filed an opinion by the district judge (67 Fed. 230), in which the grounds of decision were stated as follows:

'The writ was issued; and the sheriff brought the petitioner into this court, and made return as to the cause of his detention and imprisonment, that he was committed to jail by virtue of a mittimus in the form provided for by statute, duly issued by a justice of the peace on the application of the bondsman, upon oath that the petitioner intended to abscond. A hearing was had upon a motion to quash the return.'

'The petitioner was arrested in Massachusetts, and brought into this state, under a warrant issued by the governor of Massachusetts upon the requisition of the governor of Connecticut, accompanied by a certified copy of the indictment charging the crime, and an affidavit that the petitioner was a fugitive from justice.

'It is claimed, in support of the petition, that the indictment was procured by mistake, and that the prisoner was not in fact a fugitive from justice. These claims are denied by the attorney for the state. In view of the conclusions reached, it is not necessary to pass upon these questions of fact. It may be assumed, in the disposition of this motion, that all the allegations in the petition are true.

'Counsel for the petitioner claims that he can prove, in the first place, that the indictment is invalid or void, by reason of some mistake on the part of the grand jury. But the effect of an inquiry into this question, assuming such evidence to be admissible and true, would be to call upon the federal court to examine into the proceedings under which said indictment was obtained, and to determine collaterally its sufficiency under the laws of this state.'

'It is further claimed that the petitioner was not a fugitive from justice, and that, inasmuch as extradition proceedings are based upon the statutes of the United States, the question whether he was in fact such fugitive is a federal question, which it is the duty of this court to decide. But it is not denied that the demand made upon the executive authority of the asylum state, and his action thereon, were proper in form; and it will not be assumed in advance that he has surrendered the petitioner upon insufficient evidence.'

'I do not mean to be understood as denying the right to this prisoner, at an appropriate time, to introduce evidence that he was not a fugitive from justice, or that the evidence before the governor of Massachusetts was insufficient to authorize his action; nor do I intend at this time to pass upon the merits of this or any other questions presented, nor to intimate what disposition might be made of these claims in case they were brought before this court after final action in the state court. All that is now decided is that it must be assumed in advance that the petitioner may obtain all the protection to which he may be entitled in the courts of this state.'

'In view of the principle of right and law underlying the forbearance which the federal and state courts exercise towards each other in order to avoid conflict, I should not be justified in passing upon such questions in advance of the proceedings in the state courts.'

On April 25th the petitioner filed in the circuit court an appeal, reciting the petition, the return, and the motion to quash the return, and concluding as follows:

'The said circuit court of the United States for the district of Connecticut, on the 28th day of March, 1895, made final ruling, and decreed that upon the face of the petition, without hearing any evidence to sustain the petition [and denying the petitioner the right to introduce any evidence to sustain said petition or tending to sustain it, which the plaintiff duly offered], the writ should be discharged, and that the motion to quash said return be denied, and it was afterwards so decreed and ordered.

'Wherefore this petitioner appeals from the whole of said decree of said circuit court, and the petition, return, motion to quash, decree, writ, and all other papers forming a record of said cause may be sent to the supreme court of the...

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