In re Neagle
135 U.S. 1 (1890)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

In re Neagle, 135 U.S. 1 (1890)

In re Neagle*

No. 1472

Argued March 4, 5, 1890

Decided April 14, 1890

135 U.S. 1

Syllabus

An appeal from the decision of a Circuit Court of the United States in a habeas corpus case, under Rev.Stat. § 764, as amended by the act of March 3, 1885, 23 Stat. 437, c. 353, brings up the whole case, both law and facts, and imposes upon this court the duty of reexamining it, upon the full record as it was heard in the inferior court.

A person who is in custody for an act done or omitted in pursuance of a law of the United States, or of an order, process or decree of a court, or judge thereof, or is in custody in violation of the Constitution, or a law or treaty of the United States, may, under the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 753, be brought before any court of the United States, or justice or judge thereof, by writ of habeas corpus, for the purpose of an inquiry into the cause of his detention, and the court or justice or judge is required by § 761 to proceed in a summary way to determine the facts of the case, by hearing the testimony and arguments, and thereupon to dispose of the party as law and justice require.

By virtue of Rev.Stat. §§ 606, 610, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are allotted among the nine circuits, to each one of which a judge is assigned, and the latter section makes it the duty of each judge to attend the Circuit Court in each district of the circuit to which he is allotted, and thereby imposes upon him the necessity of

Page 135 U. S. 2

traveling from his residence to the Circuit Court which he is to attend, and from each place in that circuit where the court is held to the other places where it is held. Held, that, while a judge is thus traveling to or from those places, he is as much in discharge of his duty as when listening to and deciding cases in open court, and is as much entitled to protection in the one case as in the other.

While there is no express statute authorizing the appointment of a deputy marshal, or any other officer to attend a judge of the Supreme Court when traveling in his circuit, and to protect him against assaults or other injury, the general obligation imposed upon the President of the United States by the Constitution to see that the laws be faithfully executed, aud the means placed in his hands, both by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, to enable him to do this, impose upon the Executive department the duty of protecting a justice or judge of any of the courts of the United States, when there is just reason to believe that he will be in personal danger while executing the duties of his office.

An assault upon a judge of a court of the United States, while in discharge of his official duties, is a breach of the peace of the United States, a distinguished from the peace of the State in which the assault takes place.

Under the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 788, it is the duty of marshals and their deputies in each State to exercise, in keeping the peace of the United States, the powers given to the sheriffs of the State for keeping the peace of the State; aud a deputy marshal of the United States, specially charged with the duty of protecting and guarding a judge of a court of the United States, has imposed upon him the duty of doing whatever may be necessary for that purpose, even to the taking of human life.

United States officers and other persons, held in custody by state authorities for doing acts which they were authorized or required to do by the Constitution and laws of the United States, are entitled to be released from such imprisonment, and the writ of habeas corpus is the appropriate remedy for that purpose.

David Neagle, a deputy marshal of the United States for the District of California, was brought by writ of habeas corpus before the Circuit Court of that District, upon the allegation that he was held in imprisonment by the sheriff of San Joaquin County, California, on a charge of the murder of David S. Terry. He alleged that the killing of Terry by him was done in pursuance of his duty as such deputy marshal in defending the life of Mr. Justice Field, while in discharge of his duties as Circuit judge of the ninth circuit. On the trial of this writ in the Circuit Court, it entered an order discharging the prisoner, finding that he was in custody for an act done in pursuance of a law of the United States, and was imprisoned in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States. The case being brought up to the Supreme Court by appeal, this court, on examining the voluminous testimony, arrived at

Page 135 U. S. 3

the conviction that there was a settled purpose on the part of Terry and his wife, amounting to a conspiracy, to murder Mr. Justice Field, on his official visit to California in the summer of 1889; that this arose from animosity against him on account of judicial decisions made in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California in a suit or suits to which they were parties; that the purpose which they had of doing Mr. Justice Field an injury became so well and so publicly known that a correspondence ensued between the marshal and the District Attorney of that District and the Attorney General of the United States, the result of which was that Neagle was appointed a deputy marshal for the express purpose of guarding Mr. Justice Field against an attack by Terry and his wife which might result in his death; that such an attack did take place; that Neagle, being there for the said purpose of affording protection, had just reason to believe that the attack would result in the death of Mr. Justice Field unless he interfered, and that he did justifiably interfere by shooting Terry while in the act of assaulting Mr. Justice Field, whom he had already struck two or three times. Held,

(1) That eagle was justified in defending Mr. Justice Field in this manner;

(2) That, in so doing, he acted in discharge of his duty as an officer of the United States;

(3) That having so acted, in that capacity, he could not be guilty of murder under the laws of California, nor held to answer to its courts for an act for which he had the authority of the laws of the United States;

(4) That the judgment of the Circuit Court discharging him from the custody of the sheriff of San Joaquin County must therefore he affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER, on behalf of the court, stated the case as follows:

This was an appeal by Cunningham, sheriff of the county of San Joaquin, in the State of California, from a judgment of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California, discharging David Neagle from the custody of said sheriff, who held him a prisoner on a charge of murder.

On the 16th day of August, 1889, there was presented to Judge Sawyer, the Circuit Judge of the United States for the Ninth Circuit, embracing the Northern District of California, a petition signed David Neagle, deputy United States marshal, by A. T. Farrish on his behalf. This petition represented that

Page 135 U. S. 4

the said Farrish was a deputy marshal duly appointed for the Northern District of California by J. C. Franks, who was the marshal of that district. It further alleged that David Neagle was, at the time of the occurrences recited in the petition and at the time of filing it, a duly appointed and acting deputy United States marshal for the same district. It then proceeded to state that said Neagle was imprisoned, confined and restrained of his liberty in the county jail in San Joaquin County, in the State of California, by Thomas Cunningham, sheriff of said county, upon a charge of murder, under a warrant of arrest, a copy of which was annexed to the petition. The warrant was as follows:

"

I

n the Justice's Court of Stockton Township"

"STATE OF CALIFORNIA "

"COUNTY OF SAN JOAQUIN "

"The People of the State of California to any sheriff, constable, marshal, or policeman of said State or of the county of San Joaquin:"

"Information on oath having been this day laid before me by Sarah A. Terry that the crime of murder, a felony, has been committed within said County of San Joaquin on the 14th day of August, A.D. 1889, in this, that one David S. Terry, a human being then and there being, was willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, and with malice aforethought shot, killed and murdered, and accusing Stephen J. Field and David Neagle thereof: You are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest the above-named Stephen J. Field** and David Neagle and bring them before me at my office in the city of Stockton, or, in

Page 135 U. S. 5

case of my absence or inability to act, before the nearest and most accessible magistrate in the county."

"Dated at Stockton this 14th day of August, A.D. 1889."

"H. V. J. SWAIN"

"Justice of the Peace"

"The defendant, David Neagle, having been brought before me on this warrant, is committed for examination to the sheriff of San Joaquin County, California."

"Dated August 1, 1889. H. W. J. SWAIN"

"Justice of the Peace"

The petition then recited the circumstances of a rencontre between said Neagle and David S. Terry, in which the latter was instantly killed by two shots from a revolver in the hands of the former. The circumstances of this encounter and of what led to it will be considered with more particularity hereafter. The main allegation of this petition was that Neagle, as United States deputy marshal, acting under the orders of Marshal Franks, and in pursuance of instructions from the Attorney General of the United States, had, in consequence of an anticipated attempt at violence on the part of Terry against the Honorable Stephen J. Field, a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, been in attendance upon said justice, and was sitting by his side at a breakfast table when a murderous assault was made by Terry on Judge Field, and in defence of the life of the judge, the homicide was committed for which eagle was held by Cunningham. The allegation was very distinct that Justice Field was engaged in the discharge of his duties as circuit justice of the United States for that circuit, having held court at Los Angeles, one of the places at which the Court is by law held, and, having left that court, was on his way to San Francisco for the purpose of holding the Circuit Court at that place. The allegation was also very full that Neagle was directed by Marshal Franks to accompany him for the purpose of protecting him, and that these orders of Franks were given in anticipation of the assault which actually occurred. It was also stated, in more general

Page 135 U. S. 6

terms, that Marshal Neagle, in killing Terry under the circumstances, was in the discharge of his duty as an officer of the United States, and was not, therefore, guilty of a murder, and that his imprisonment under the warrant held by Sheriff Cunningham was in violation of the laws and Constitution of the United States, and that he was in custody for an act done in pursuance of the laws of the United States. This petition being sworn to by Farrish, and presented to Judge Sawyer, he made the following order:

"Let a writ of habeas corpus issue in pursuance of the prayer of the within petition, returnable before the United States Circuit Court for the Northern District of California."

"SAWYER, Circuit Judge"

"The writ was accordingly issued and delivered to Cunningham, who made the following return:"

"COUNTY OF SAN JOAQUIN, State of California"

"SHERIFF'S OFFICE"

"To the honorable Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California:"

"I hereby certify and return that, before the coming to me of the annexed writ of habeas corpus the said David Neagle was committed to my custody, and is detained by me by virtue of a warrant issued out of the justice's court of Stockton township, State of California, county of San Joaquin, and by the endorsement made upon said warrant. Copy of said warrant and endorsement is annexed hereto and made a part of this return. Nevertheless, I have the body of the said David Neagle before the honorable court, as I am in the said writ commanded."

"August 17, 1889. THOS. CUNNINGHAM"

"Sheriff San Joaquin County, California"

Various pleadings and amended pleadings were made which do not tend much to the elucidation of the matter before us. Cunningham filed a demurrer to the petition for the writ of

Page 135 U. S. 7

habeas corpus and Neagle filed a traverse to the return of the sheriff, which was accompanied by exhibits, the substance of which will be hereafter considered when the case comes to be examined upon its facts.

The hearing in the Circuit Court was had before Circuit Judge Sawyer and District Judge Sabin. The sheriff, Cunningham, was represented by G. A. Johnson, Attorney General of the State of California, and other counsel. A large body of testimony, documentary and otherwise, was submitted to the court, on which, after a full consideration of the subject, the court made the following order:

"In the Matter of David Neagle, on habeas corpus."

"In the above-entitled matter, the court having heard the testimony introduced on behalf of the petitioner, none having been offered for the respondent, and also the arguments of the counsel for petitioner and respondent, and it appearing to the court that the allegations of the petitioner in his amended answer or traverse to the return of the sheriff of San Joaquin County, respondent herein, are true, and that the prisoner is in custody for an act done in pursuance of a law of the United States, and in custody in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States, it is therefore ordered that petitioner be, and he is hereby, discharged from custody."

From that order an appeal was allowed which brought the case to this court, accompanied by a voluminous record of all the matters which were before the court on the hearing.

Page 135 U. S. 40

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