United States v. Rodgers
150 U.S. 249 (1893)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Rodgers, 150 U.S. 249 (1893)

United States v. Rodgers

No. 30

Submitted April 21, 1893

Decided November 20, 1893

150 U.S. 249

Syllabus

The term "high seas," as used in the provision in Rev.Stat., § 5346, that

"every person who, upon the high seas, or in any arm of the sea, or in any river, haven, creek, basin, or bay, within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, on board any vessel belonging in whole or part to the United States, or any citizen thereof, with a dangerous weapon, or with intent to perpetrate any felony, commits an assault upon another shall be punished,"

etc., is applicable to the open, unenclosed waters of the Great Lakes, between which the Detroit River is a connecting stream.

The courts of the United States have jurisdiction, under that section of the Revised Statutes, to try a person for an assault with a dangerous weapon, committed in a vessel belonging to a citizen of the United States, when such vessel is in the Detroit River, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, and within the territorial limits of the Dominion of Canada.

The limitation of jurisdiction by the qualification that the offenses punishable are committed on vessels in any arm of the sea, or in any river, haven, creek, basin, or bay "without the jurisdiction of any particular state," which means without the jurisdiction of any states of the union, does not apply to vessels on the "high seas" of the lakes, but only to vessels on the waters designated as connecting with them, and so far as vessels on those seas are concerned, there is no limitation named to the authority of the United States.

In February, 1888, the defendant, Robert S. Rodgers, and others, were indicted in the district court of the United States

Page 150 U. S. 250

for the Eastern District of Michigan for assaulting, in August, 1887, with a dangerous weapon, one James Downs, on board of the steamer Alaska, a vessel belonging to citizens of the United States, and then being within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, and not within the jurisdiction of any particular state of the United States, viz., within the territorial limits of the Dominion of Canada.

The indictment contained six counts, charging the offense to have been committed in different ways, or with different intent, and was remitted to the Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit of the Eastern District of Michigan. There, the defendant, Rodgers, filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court, alleging that it had no jurisdiction of the matters charged, as appeared on the face of the indictment, and to the plea a demurrer was filed. Upon this demurrer, the judges of the circuit court were divided in opinion, and they have transmitted to this Court the following certificate of division:

"Certificate of Division of Opinion"

"United States of America. The Circuit Court of the United States for the Sixth Circuit and Eastern District of Michigan."

"The United States"

"vs."

"Robert S. Rodgers"

"The defendant in this cause was indicted on the twenty-fourth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, together with John Gustave Beyers and others, charged, under section 5346 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, with having made an assault with dangerous weapons upon one James Downs, the assault having taken place on the steamer Alaska, a vessel owned by citizens of the United States, while such vessel was in the Detroit River, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state of the United States and within the territorial limits of the Dominion of Canada, and the said Robert S. Rodgers, and the others indicted with him, having first, after

Page 150 U. S. 251

the assault, come into the United States in the Eastern District of Michigan."

"On the 20th day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, the defendant, Rodgers, was arrested, and on the same day the indictment was on motion of the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, and by order of the district court for such district, remitted to the circuit court for such district and, with all proceedings theretofore taken, certified to such circuit court."

"On the twenty-third day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, the defendant, on being called upon to plead in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, by permission of the court, pleaded in abatement to the jurisdiction of the court, claiming that, under section 5346 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, the courts of the United States have no jurisdiction of offenses committed in the Detroit river on a vessel of the United States within the territorial limits of the Dominion of Canada."

"The United States, by C.P. Black, United States attorney, and Charles T. Wilkins, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, demurred to such plea, and the defendant joined on demurrer."

"The matter of the plea of the jurisdiction coming on to be heard in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan on the 3d day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, before the circuit and district judges, and the defendant being present in court, the said circuit and district judges were divided in opinion on the question:"

" Whether the courts of the United States have jurisdiction, under section 5346 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, to try a person for an assault with a dangerous weapon committed on a vessel belonging to a citizen of the United States, when such vessel is in the Detroit River, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state and within the territorial limits of the Dominion of Canada."

"And so, at the request of the defendant and of the United

Page 150 U. S. 252

states attorney for this district, the circuit and district judges do hereby at the same term, state this point upon which they disagree, and hereby direct the same to be certified, under the seal of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, to the Supreme Court of the United States at its next session, for its opinion thereon."

"Howell E. Jackson, Circuit Judge"

"Henry B. Brown, District judge"

Section 5346 of the Revised Statutes, upon which the indictment was found, is as follows:

"SEC. 5346. Every person who, upon the high seas, or in any arm of the sea, or in any river, haven, creek, basin, or bay, within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, on board any vessel belonging in whole or in part to the United States, or any citizen thereof, with a dangerous weapon, or with intent to perpetrate any felony, commits an assault on another shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars and by imprisonment at hard labor not more than three years."

The statute relating to the place of trial in this case is contained in section 730 of the Revised Statutes, which is as follows:

"SEC. 730. The trial of all offenses committed upon the high seas or elsewhere, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state or district, shall be in the district where the offender is found or into which he is first brought."

Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.