In re Graham, Petitioner
138 U.S. 461 (1891)

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U.S. Supreme Court

In re Graham, Petitioner, 138 U.S. 461 (1891)

In re Graham, Petitioner

No. 1332

Argued January 29, 1891

Decided March 2, 1891

138 U.S. 461

Syllabus

When the highest court of a state holds that a judgment of one of its inferior courts, imposing punishment in a criminal case in excess of that allowed by the statutes of the state, is valid and binding to the extent to which the law of the state authorized the punishment, and only void for the excess, there is no principle of federal law invaded in such ruling.

This was a writ of error to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin to review a judgment of that court refusing to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the discharge of the plaintiff in error, the petitioner for the writ.

A law of Wisconsin declared that

"Any person who shall assault another and shall feloniously rob, steal or take from his person any money or other property which may be the subject of larceny, such robber being armed with a dangerous weapon, with intent if resisted to kill or maim the person robbed, or, being so armed, who shall wound or strike the person robbed, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison not more than ten years nor less than three years."

The petitioner in the court below, John Graham, and one Samuel McDonald were charged with feloniously making an assault upon one Alf. McDonald, putting him in bodily fear and danger of life and feloniously robbing him of two hundred dollars in money, the parties being armed at the time with a loaded revolver and wounding and striking the said Alf. McDonald. In June, 1889, the parties were tried in the Circuit Court for Ashland County, Wisconsin, and were convicted as charged in the information, and were sentenced to confinement in the state prison at hard labor, one for the period of thirteen years and the other for the period of fourteen years. As the law only authorized punishment by imprisonment not exceeding ten years, and the parties were serving under a sentence much longer than that period, they applied to the court below for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the judgment was void as being in excess of the authority vested

Page 138 U. S. 462

in the court by which it was rendered. The court below held that the judgment was not void in the sense of being an absolute nullity, but only erroneous, and that the remedy of the parties was by a writ of error, and not by a writ of habeas corpus. In re Graham and In re McDonald, 74 Wis. 450. The writ was therefore refused. Subsequently one of the parties applied again to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin for the writ, and it was again refused. To review this last judgment, the case was brought to this Court.

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