Tennessee v. Davis
100 U.S. 257 (1879)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257 (1879)

Tennessee v. Davis

100 U.S. 257

Syllabus

1. Sec. 643 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, which declares that

"When any civil suit or criminal prosecution is commenced in any court of a state against any officer appointed under or acting by authority of any revenue law of the United States now or hereafter enacted, or against any person acting under or by authority of any such officer, on account of any act done under color of his office or of any such law or on account of any right, title, or authority claimed by such officer or other person under any such law, . . . the said suit or prosecution may, at any time before the trial or final hearing thereof, be removed for trial into the circuit court next to be holden in the district where the same is pending, upon the petition of such defendant to said circuit court,"

&c., is not in conflict with the Constitution of the United States.

2. A. was, in a state court of Tennessee, indicted for murder. In his petition, duly verified, for removal of the prosecution to the circuit court of the United States, he stated that although indicted for murder, no murder was committed; that the killing was done in necessary self-defense, to save his own life; that at the time the alleged act for which he was indicted was committed he was and still is an officer of the United States, to-wit, a deputy collector of internal revenue; that the act for which he was indicted was performed in his own necessary self-defense while engaged in the discharge of his duties as deputy collector and while acting by and under the authority of the internal revenue laws of the United States; that what he did was done under and by right of his said office; that it was his duty to seize illicit distilleries and the apparatus used for the illicit and unlawful distillation of spirits; and that while so attempting to enforce said laws as deputy collector as aforesaid, he was assaulted and fired upon by a number of armed men, and that in defense of his life he returned the fire, which is the killing mentioned in the indictment. Held that the petition was in conformity with the statute, and, upon being filed, the prosecution was removed to the circuit court of the United States for that district.

3. The United States is a government with authority extending over the whole territory of the Union, acting upon the states and the people of the states. While limited in the number of its powers, it is, so far as its sovereignty

Page 100 U. S. 258

extends, supreme. No state can exclude it from exercising them, obstruct its authorized officers against its will, or withhold from it for a moment the cognizance of any subject which the Constitution has committed to it.

4. The general government must cease to exist whenever it cannot enforce the exercise of its constitutional powers within the states by the instrumentality of its officers and agents. If, when thus acting, within the scope of their authority, they can be arrested and brought to trial in a state court for an alleged offense against the law of the state, yet warranted by the federal authority they possess, and if the general government is powerless to interfere at once for their protection -- if their protection must be left to the action of the state court -- the operations of the general government may at any time be arrested at the will of one of the states. No such element of weakness is to be found in the Constitution.

5. The provision of the Constitution declaring that the judicial power of the United States extends "to all cases in law and equity arising under the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made under their authority," embraces alike civil and criminal uses. Both are equally within that power.

6. A case arises under that Constitution not merely where a party comes into court to demand something conferred upon him by the Constitution, a law of the United States, or a treaty, but wherever its correct decision as to the right, privilege, claim, protection, or defense of a party in whole or in part depends upon the construction of either. It is in the power of Congress to give the circuit courts of the United States jurisdiction of such a case, although it may involve other questions of fact or of law.

7. If the case, whether civil or criminal, be one to which the judicial power of the United States extends, its removal to the federal court does not invade state jurisdiction. On the contrary, a denial of the right of the general government to remove, take charge of, and try any case arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States is a denial of its conceded sovereignty over a subject expressly committed to it. It is a denial of a doctrine necessary for the preservation of the acknowledged powers of the government. The exercise of the power to remove criminal prosecutions is seen in the Act of Feb. 4, 1815, 3 Stat. 198, again in the third section of the Act of March 2, 1833, 4 id. 633, and more recently in the Act of July 13, 1866. 14 id. 171.

James M. Davis, was, in the Circuit Court for Grundy County, in the State of Tennessee, indicted for murder. On the twenty-ninth day of August, 1878, before the trial of the indictment, he presented to the circuit court of the United States for the proper district the following petition, praying for a removal of the case into that court, and for a certiorari:

Page 100 U. S. 259

"Your petitioner, James M. Davis, would most respectfully show to the court that on the twenty-first day of May, 1878, at the May Term of the Circuit Court of Grundy County, Tennessee, the grand jurors for the State of Tennessee, at the instance of E. M. Haynes, as prosecutor, indicted your petitioner for willfully, premeditatedly, deliberately, and of his malice aforethought killing one J. B. Haynes, which indictment and criminal prosecution so instituted is still pending against your petitioner in the Circuit Court of Grundy County, within the Middle District of Tennessee."

"And he further shows that no murder was committed; but, on the other hand, the killing was committed in his own necessary self-defense, to save his own life; that at the time the alleged act for which he was indicted was committed, he was and still is an officer of the United States, to-wit, a deputy collector of internal revenue, and the act for which he was indicted was performed in his own necessary self-defense, while engaged in the discharge of the duties of his office as deputy collector of internal revenue; and he was acting by and under the authority of the internal revenue laws of the United States, and was done under and by right of his office, to-wit, as deputy collector of internal revenue. It is his duty to seize illicit distilleries and the apparatus that is being used for the illicit and unlawful distillation of spirits, and while so attempting to enforce the revenue laws of the United States, as deputy collector aforesaid, he was assaulted and fired upon by a number of armed men, and in defense of his life returned the fire."

"In view of these facts, your petitioner prays that said cause may be removed from the Circuit Court of Grundy County to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Middle District of Tennessee for trial, and that a certiorari issue. And as in duty bound he will ever pray."

"JAMES A. WARDER, Attorney"

"DISTRICT OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE,"

"County of Davidson:"

"James M. Davis, being duly sworn, deposes and says that he is the petitioner named in said petition; that he has heard the same read, and knows the contents thereof, and that the same is true of his own knowledge."

"JAMES M. DAVIS"

"Subscribed and sworn to before me this Aug. 13, 1878."

"J. W. CAMPBELL"

"U. S. Com'r for Middle Tenn."

Page 100 U. S. 260

The record having been returned, in compliance with the writ, a motion was made to remand the case to the state court, and, on the hearing of the motion, the judges were divided in opinion upon the following questions, which are certified here:

First, whether an indictment of a revenue officer (of the United States) for murder, found in a state court, under the facts alleged in the petition for removal in this case, is removable to the circuit court of the United States under sec. 643 of the Revised Statutes.

Second, whether, if removable from the state court, there is any mode and manner of procedure in the trial prescribed by the act of Congress.

Third, whether, if not, a trial of the guilt or innocence of the defendant can be had in the United States circuit court.

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