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PIERCE v. CREECY

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: June 1, 1908.

PIERCE
v.
CREECY, CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI.

Author: Moody

[ 210 U.S. Page 400]

 MR. JUSTICE MOODY, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The first inquiry must be whether there is jurisdiction of this appeal, which was taken from the Circuit Court directly to this court. Since the passage of the act establishing the Circuit Court of Appeals (26 Stat. 826), appeals in habeas corpus cases from the District and Circuit Courts can only be taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals, unless they are of the kind specified in § 5 of the act, wherein a direct appeal to this court is allowed. In re Lennon, 150 U.S. 393. Of the latter class is "any case that involves the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States." In the case at bar the position of the appellant is that his detention in custody is unlawful, because the indictment, which is its only excuse, is not a charge of crime within the meaning of the provision of the Constitution regulating interstate extradition. Art. IV, § 2, par. 2. The precise and only question to be determined is whether the indictment constituted such a charge. The decision of this question requires us to ascertain and declare the meaning of the extradition clause, and therefore "involves the construction of the Constitution of the United States." Craemer v. Washington, 168 U.S. 124; Boske v. Comingore, 177 U.S. 459. And see Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U.S. 58; Motes v. United States, 178 U.S. 458; Cummings v. Chicago, 188 U.S. 410. Against this view it is argued that the question whether this indictment is good under the laws of Texas brings under consideration only the laws of that State, and that, as there is no pretense that they violate the Constitution of the United States, there can be involved no construction or application of that Constitution. But the answer to this is that the laws of Texas are considered only as they are embraced in the ultimate inquiry whether the indictment constitutes a charge of crime in that State, and for no other purpose. It is further said by the appellee that the delivery up in this case was by virtue of state laws only, and we are invited to determine how far the State may make

[ 210 U.S. Page 401]

     laws for interstate extradition, independent of, though consistent with, the Federal Constitution. We decline to accept the invitation, because in the case at bar the demand of the Governor of Texas, which was compiled with, was expressed to be "in pursuance of the provisions of the Constitution and laws of the United States." There is jurisdiction of the appeal.

The Constitution provides that "A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime." No person may be lawfully removed from one State to another by virtue of this provision, unless: 1, He is charged in one State with treason, felony or other crime; 2, he has fled from justice; 3, a demand is made for his delivery to the State wherein he is charged with crime. If either of these conditions are absent the Constitution affords no warrant for a restraint of the liberty of any person. Here the only condition which it is insisted is absent is the charge of a crime. The only evidence of a charge of crime is the indictment, and the contention to be examined is that the indictment is insufficient proof that a charge has been made.

The counsel for the petitioner disclaim the purpose of attacking the indictment as a criminal pleading, appreciating correctly that the point here is not whether the indictment is good enough, over seasonable challenge, to bring the accused to the bar for trial. Counsel concede that they cannot successfully attack the indictment except by showing that it does not charge a crime. The distinction between these two kinds of attack, though narrow, is clear. But it will not do to disclaim the right to attack the indictment as a criminal pleading and then proceed to deny that it constitutes a charge of crime for reasons that are apt only to destroy its validity as a criminal pleading. There must be objections which reach deeper into the indictment than those which would be good against it in the court where it is pending. We are unable to adopt the test

[ 210 U.S. Page 402]

     suggested by counsel, that an objection, good if taken on arrest of judgment, would be sufficient to show that the indictment is not a charge of crime. Not to speak of the uncertainty of such a test, in view of the varying practice in the different States, there is nothing in principle or authority which supports it. Of course, such a test would be utterly inapplicable to cases of a charge of crime by affidavit, which was held to be within the Constitution. In the Matter of Strauss, 197 U.S. 324. The only safe rule is to abandon entirely the standard to which the indictment must conform, judged as a criminal pleading, and consider only whether it shows satisfactorily that the fugitive has been in fact, however inartificially, charged with crime in the State from which he has fled. Roberts v. Reilly, 116 U.S. 80, 95; Pearce v. Texas, 155 U.S. 311, 313; Hyatt v. Corkran, 188 U.S. 691, 709; Munsey v. Clough, 196 U.S. 364, 372; Davis's Case, 122 Massachusetts, 324; State v. O'Connor, 38 Minnesota, 243; State v. Goss, 66 Minnesota, 291; Matter of Voorhees, 32 N.J.L. 141; Ex parte Pearce, 32 Tex. Crim. 301; In re Van Sciever, 42 Nebraska, 772; State v. Clough, 71 N.H. 594.

Before proceeding further, it is well to set forth all the objections to the indictment made by counsel, in order to see whether, if any one of them is well founded, it shows that there was no charge of crime against the petitioner. For if all criticisms of the indictment should be approved, and they leave untouched in the pleading enough to show that the petitioner was charged with crime in the broad and practical sense in which those words ought to be understood, the condition prescribed by the Constitution has been performed.

The objections to the indictment which were advanced in the argument are six in number:

1. The statements in respect to which false swearing is alleged are not statements of facts but of opinion, and therefore, however falsely made, cannot amount to the crime of false swearing.

2. The assignments of falsity are insufficient, for no facts are

[ 210 U.S. Page 403]

     alleged which are necessarily inconsistent with the alleged false affidavit.

3. The charge is not alleged with the certainty required in an indictment.

4. Upon the face of the indictment the prosecution is barred by the statute of limitations.

5. The indictment discloses the fact that it was not found in good faith.

6. The affidavit was required by law, and therefore, if false, under the Texas law, lays the foundation for a prosecution for perjury, but not for false swearing.

The fifth and sixth objections require separate discussion. We are not informed of any principle by which we may inquire whether an indictment, duly found, was returned in good faith, but, whether that power exists or not, it is enough to say here that this objection does not seem to be true in fact.

Under the Texas law the crime of false swearing, as distinguished from perjury, can only be committed by a false oath to a voluntary declaration or affidavit, "not required by law or made in the course of a judicial proceeding." The sixth objection asserts that the affidavit set forth in this indictment was one required by law. But this assertion is in the teeth of the allegation of the indictment, that the affidavit "was not then and there required by law nor made in the course of judicial proceedings." We cannot inquire into the truth of this allegation, which may present a mixed question of law and fact.

All the other objections are appropriate to a demurrer or a motion to quash or in arrest of judgment. They are attacks upon the indictment as a criminal pleading, the right to make which counsel expressly renounce. If well founded, they show that the indictment is bad. But the Constitution does not require, as an indispensable prerequisite to interstate extradition, that there should be a good indictment, or even an indictment of any kind. It requires nothing more than a charge of crime. Congress, in aid of the execution of the constitutional

[ 210 U.S. Page 404]

     provision, has enacted a law (§ 5278, Rev. Stat.), directing that the charge shall be made either by "an indictment found" or "an affidavit made before a magistrate;" and, as we have seen, this court has held that such an affidavit is sufficient, saying (197 U.S. 331), "doubtless the word 'charged' was used in its broad signification to cover any proceeding which a State might see fit to adopt, by which a formal accusation was made against an alleged criminal." But it is obvious that an objection which, if well founded, would destroy the sufficiency of the indictment, as a criminal pleading, might conceivably go far enough to destroy also its sufficiency as a charge of crime. Are then the objections made to the indictment of that nature? Let it be assumed that these are all well taken. Let it be assumed, without decision, that the false statements contained in the affidavit were statements of opinion; that the assignments of falsity were bad, because no facts necessarily inconsistent with them were alleged; that the certainty required in criminal pleading was not observed; and that the time alleged antedates the indictment by more than the period of the statute of limitations. Nevertheless, the indictment alleges that on a day named the petitioner deliberately and willfully made, under the sanction of an oath, legally administered, a voluntary false statement and declaration in writing, to wit, the affidavit, and that the affidavit was not required by law or made in the course of a judicial proceeding. The indictment, whether good or bad, as a pleading, unmistakably describes every element of the crime of false swearing, as it is defined in the Texas Penal Code, in art. 209, which follows.

"If any person shall deliberately and willfully, under oath or affirmation legally administered, make a false statement by a voluntary declaration or affidavit, which is not required by law or made in the course of a judicial proceeding, he is guilty of false swearing, and shall be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary not less than two nor more than five years."

This court, in the cases already cited, has said, somewhat vaguely but with as much precision as the subject admits, that

[ 210 U.S. Page 405]

     the indictment, in order to constitute a sufficient charge of crime to warrant interstate extradition, need show no more than that the accused was substantially charged with crime. This indictment meets and surpasses that standard, and is enough. If more were required it would impose upon courts, in the trial of writs of habeas corpus, the duty of a critical examination of the laws of States with whose jurisprudence and criminal procedure they can have only a general acquaintance. Such a duty would be an intolerable burden, certain to lead to errors in decision, irritable to the just pride of the States and fruitful of miscarriages of justice. The duty ought not to be assumed unless it is plainly required by the Constitution, and, in our opinion, there is nothing in the letter or the spirit of that instrument which requires or permits its performance.

Judgment affirmed.

19080601

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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