Swaim v. United States
165 U.S. 553 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Swaim v. United States, 165 U.S. 553 (1897)

Swaim v. United States

No. 33

Argued January 7, 1897

Decided March 1, 1897

165 U.S. 553

Syllabus

It is within the power of the President, as commander-in-chief, to convene a general court-martial, even when the commander of the accused officer to be tried is not the accuser.

A charge was made by letter against an officer in the army; the letter was referred to a court of inquiry to investigate; on the receipt of its report, charges and specifications against him were prepared by order of the Secretary of War, and the President thereupon appointed a court-martial to pass upon the charges. Held that such routine orders did not make the President his accuser or prosecutor.

In detailing officers to compose a court-martial, the presumption is that the President acts in pursuance of law, and its sentence cannot be collaterally

Page 165 U. S. 554

attacked by going into an inquiry whether the trial by officers inferior in rank to the accused was or was not avoidable.

When a court-martial has jurisdiction of the person accused and of the offence charged, and acts within the scope of its lawful powers, its proceedings and sentence cannot be set aside by the civil courts.

The action of the President in twice returning the proceedings of the court-martial urging a more severe sentence was authorized by law, and a sentence made after such action, and in consequence of it, was valid.

When an officer in the army is suspended from duty, he is not entitled to emoluments or allowances.

On February 23, 1891, David G. Swaim filed in the Court of Claims a petition against the United States alleging that he was, on the 30th day of June, 1884, and still was, Judge Advocate General of the Army of the United States, with the rank, pay, and allowance of a brigadier general therein. He complained that, by reason of the unlawful creation and action of a certain court-martial, he had been on February 24, 1885, suspended from rank and duty for twelve years, and that one-half of his pay had been forfeited for that period. For reasons set forth in the petition, the claimant asked that the proceedings, findings, and sentence of the said court-martial should be declared to be void, and that judgment should be rendered awarding him the amount of his pay and allowances retained in pursuance of the said sentence.

The Court of Claims made, upon the evidence, certain findings of fact, and on the 27th day or February, 1893, entered a final judgment dismissing the claimant's petition. From that judgment an appeal was taken to this Court.

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