United States v. Dickinson
213 U.S. 92 (1909)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Dickinson, 213 U.S. 92 (1909)

United States v. Dickinson

No. 362

Argued January 4, 5, 1909

Decided April 5, 1909

213 U.S. 92

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF

APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The writ of certiorari cannot be granted under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826, in a criminal case at the instance of the United States whatever the supposed importance of the questions involved. United States v. Sanges,144 U. S. 310, distinguished.

The power of this Court to issue the writ of certiorari under § 14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, now § 716, Rev.Stat., is not a grant of appellate jurisdiction to review for correction of mere error.

The Act of March 2, 1907, c. 2564, 34 Stat. 1246, giving an appeal to the government in certain criminal cases cannot be extended beyond its terms, or construed so as to extend the power of certiorari under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826, to bring up a criminal case for the correction of mere error at the instance of the United States.

Certiorari to review 159 F. 801 dismissed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 213 U. S. 95

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Dickinson and one Foster were jointly indicted under § 5209 of the Revised Statute of the United States, which is a part

Page 213 U. S. 96

of the National Bank Act. Foster, the principal defendant, was cashier of the South Danvers National Bank, and was charged with willfully misapplying the funds of the bank, and Dickinson was charged with aiding and abetting. Both having been convicted, Dickinson sued out a writ of error from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and, after argument, that court held his conviction invalid by reason of the fact that the verdict against him was found by a jury of only ten men. 159 F. 801. On a writ of certiorari issued on petition of the United States, the case was brought to this Court.

It appeared in the course of the trial that one of the jurors, by reason of illness, was unable to sit further, whereupon the following agreement, signed by the parties, was filed of record:

"Whereas, one of the jurors impaneled to try the above entitled indictment is unable, by reason of illness, to further sit therein,"

"Now therefore we consent and agree that the said juror, to-wit, Charles F. Low, may be discharged from the further trial of this indictment, and that the trial now pending may proceed before the remaining eleven jurors with the same force and effect as if said juror had not been discharged."

The court then proceeded with the trial with the remaining eleven jurors. Subsequently, the trial being still unfinished, death occurred in the family of one of them, and another like agreement was filed of record as to him.

The trial proceeded with the remaining ten jurors, who returned a verdict of guilty, and thereupon a motion in arrest of judgment was filed as follows:

"And now, after verdict against the said John W. Dickinson, and before sentence, comes the said John W. Dickinson, by his attorneys, and moves the court here to arrest judgment herein and not pronounce the same, because of manifest errors in the record appearing, to-wit, because the said verdict against the said John W. Dickinson was found by a so-called jury consisting of ten (10) jurors only, and not by a jury of twelve (12)

Page 213 U. S. 97

jurors, as required by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and because no judgment against him, the said John W. Dickinson, can be lawfully rendered on said verdict."

This motion was overruled, and a bill of exceptions to the ruling was duly allowed on the same day, and defendant was sentenced by the court to nine years' imprisonment in the jail at Dedham.

The judgment of the circuit court of appeals was --

"The judgment of the district court and the verdict therein are set aside, and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings in accordance with law."

Application was then made to this Court for a writ of certiorari, which, because of the urgency of the government as to the importance of the particular decision, was granted notwithstanding the judgment of the court of appeals was not final.

Nevertheless, we are met at the threshold by the objection that the writ of certiorari cannot be granted under the act of 1891 in a criminal case, whatever the supposed importance of the question involved.

In our opinion, it is clear that the question of jurisdiction must be decided by the proper construction of the Act of March 3, 1891. That act (March 3, 1891, 26 Stat. 826, c. 517) was framed for the purpose of relieving the Supreme Court from the excessive burden imposed upon it by its increasingly crowded docket, and assigned to the circuit courts of appeals thereby established a considerable part of the appellate jurisdiction formerly exercised by the Supreme Court. American Construction Co. v. Jacksonville, T. & K. W. R. Co.,148 U. S. 372.

Section 6 reads as follows:

"The circuit court of appeals . . . shall exercise appellate jurisdiction to review by appeal or by writ of error final decision in the district court and the existing circuit courts in all cases other than those provided for in the preceding action of this act, . . . and the judgments or decrees of the circuit courts of appeals shall be final in all cases in which the

Page 213 U. S. 98

jurisdiction is dependent entirely upon the opposite parties to the suit or controversy being aliens and citizens of the United States or citizens of different states; also in all cases arising under the patent laws, under the revenue laws, and under the criminal laws, and in admiralty cases, excepting that, in every such subject within its appellate jurisdiction, the circuit court of appeals at any time may certify to the Supreme Court of the United States any questions or propositions of law concerning which it desires the instruction of that court for its proper decision."

"And thereupon the Supreme Court may either give its instruction on the questions and propositions certified to it, which shall be binding upon the circuit courts of appeals in such case, or it may require that the whole record and cause may be sent up to it for its consideration, and thereupon shall decide the whole matter in controversy in the same manner as if it had been brought there for review by writ of error or appeal."

"And excepting also that, in any such case as is hereinbefore made final in the circuit court of appeals, it shall be competent for the Supreme Court to require, by certiorari or otherwise, any such case to be certified to the Supreme Court for its review and determination with the same power and authority in the case as if it had been carried by appeal or writ of error to the Supreme Court."

At the time when this act was passed, the only existing method by which a decision of the Supreme Court could be obtained on a question of law arising in a criminal case not capital was upon certificate of difference of opinion by the judges of the circuit court, under §§ 651 and 697 of the Revised Statutes. In capital cases, by the Act of February 6, 1889, 25 Stat. 656, c. 113, § 6, the defendant was given the right to obtain a review in this Court by writ of error. The act of 1891 superseded the existing statutory provisions as to a certificate of difference of opinion. United States v. Rider,163 U. S. 132; The Paquete Habana,175 U. S. 677.

By clause 5, appeals or writs of error from the district and

Page 213 U. S. 99

circuit courts direct to the Supreme Court might be taken in cases involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States, or where the constitutionality of any law of the United States or the validity or construction of any treaty made under its authority was drawn in question, and in cases in which the constitution or law of a state was claimed to be in contravention of the Constitution of the United States.

The clauses as to appeals or writs of error where constitutional questions were involved made no distinction in their language between civil and criminal cases, and no distinction as to the party who was aggrieved by the decision in the court below; but in United States v. Sanges,144 U. S. 310 (decided April 4, 1892), it was held, on great consideration, that the right of review given by that provision of § 5, so far as it related to criminal cases, must be limited to review at the instance of the defendant after a decision in favor of the government. The decision was reached after a thorough examination of the federal legislation as to appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases and of the authorities in England and in the United States relating to criminal appeals, in which the court finds no precedent without express statutory enactment for any review of any judgment in favor of the accused. And the case proceeded upon the grounds thus summed up in the concluding paragraph of the opinion:

"In none of the provisions of this act, defining the appellate jurisdiction either of this Court or of the circuit court of appeals is there any indication of an intention to confer upon the United States the right to bring up a criminal case of any grade after judgment below in favor of the defendant. It is impossible to presume an intention on the part of Congress to make so serious and far-reaching an innovation in the criminal jurisprudence of the United States."

As we have before observed, the certiorari in this case is the certiorari provided for by the act of 1891, being in the nature of an appeal or writ of error for the mere correction of error -- a new use of the writ.

Page 213 U. S. 100

Section 14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave to the Supreme Court and the circuit and district courts

"power to issue writs of scire facias, habeas corpus, and all other writs not specially provided for by statute, which may be necessary for the exercise of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the principles and usages of law,"

but that was not a grant to this Court of appellate jurisdiction to review by certiorari, for the mere correction of error, any or all decisions of the lower federal courts not otherwise reviewable.

In United States v. More, 3 Cranch 159, 7 U. S. 172, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall said:

"In support of the jurisdiction of the Court, the attorney general has adverted to the words of the Constitution, from which he seemed to argue that, as criminal jurisdiction was exercised by the courts of the United States under the description of 'all cases in law and equity arising under the laws of the United States,' and as the appellate jurisdiction of this Court was extended to all enumerated cases other than those which might be brought on originally, 'with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the Congress shall make,' that the Supreme Court possessed appellate jurisdiction in criminal as well as civil cases, over the judgments of every court whose decisions it would review, unless there should be some exception or regulation made by Congress which should circumscribe the jurisdiction conferred by the Constitution."

"This argument would be unanswerable if the Supreme Court had been created by law, without describing its jurisdiction. The Constitution would then have been the only standard by which its powers could be tested, since there would be clearly no Congressional regulation or exception on the subject."

"But, as the jurisdiction of the Court has been described, it has been regulated by Congress, and an affirmative description of its powers must be understood as a regulation, under the Constitution, prohibiting the exercise of other powers than those described."

Ex Parte Yarbrough,110 U. S. 651, 110 U. S. 653;

Page 213 U. S. 101

Cross v. United States,145 U. S. 571, 145 U. S. 574. In the latter case, we said:

"We have, of course, no general authority to review, on error or appeal, the judgments of the circuit courts of the United States in cases within their criminal jurisdiction, or those of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia or of the territories, and when such jurisdiction is intended to be conferred, it should be done in clear and explicit language."

The decisions to that effect are very numerous, and it is quite inadmissible to hold that criminal cases cannot be reviewed here by writ of error or appeal without express statutory authority, but may be by certiorari under Revised Statutes, § 716, for the correction of any error that may have been committed by the lower courts, and our decisions are to the contrary.

In Ex Parte Gordon, 1 Black 503, it was ruled that neither a writ of error, a writ of prohibition, nor certiorari would lie from the Supreme Court to a circuit court of the United States in a criminal case, and that the only case in which the court was authorized even to express an opinion on the proceedings in a circuit court in a criminal case was where the judges of the circuit court were opposed in opinion upon a question arising at the trial, and certified it to this Court for its decision.

It is true that in In re Chetwood,165 U. S. 443, 165 U. S. 462, we allowed the writ to bring up for review certain final orders of the circuit court, which interfered with causes pending in this Court, and the question of the issue of the writ by this Court in the exercise of an inherent general power under the Constitution did not arise. In re Tampa Suburban R. Co.,168 U. S. 583.

And in Whitney v. Dick,202 U. S. 132, it was said that the power of the court to issue original and independent writs of certiorari might be upheld under the authority given by § 716, citing Ex Parte Vallandingham, 1 Wall. 243, and cases; Ewing v. St. Louis, 5 Wall. 413; Ex Parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163, and quoting from the opinion of Mr. Justice Gray in American Construction Co. v. Jacksonville Railway,148 U. S. 372, where an

Page 213 U. S. 102

application was made for mandamus and certiorari, as follows:

"Under this provision, the court might doubtless issue writs of certiorari in proper cases. But the writ of certiorari has not been issued as freely by this Court as by the Court of Queen's Bench in England. Ex Parte Vallandingham, 1 Wall. 243, 68 U. S. 249. It was never issued to bring up from an inferior court of the United States for trial a case within the exclusive jurisdiction of a higher court. Fowler v. Lindsey, 3 Dall. 411, 3 U. S. 413; Patterson v. United States, 2 Wheat. 221, 15 U. S. 225-226; Ex Parte Hitz,111 U. S. 766. It was used by this Court as an auxiliary process only, to supply imperfections in the record of a case already before it, and not, like a writ of error, to review the judgment of an inferior court. Barton v. Petit, 7 Cranch 288; Ex Parte Gordon, supra; 76 U. S. Adams, 9 Wall. 661; United States v. Young,94 U. S. 258; Luxton v. North River Bridge Co.,147 U. S. 337, 147 U. S. 341."

But the distinction between preventing excesses of jurisdiction and the mere correction of error is a fundamental one, and the rule remains that appeal and writ of error, being the proper forms of procedure provided for the mere correction of error, the appellate jurisdiction of this Court for that purpose is limited to the cases in which express provision is made for appeals or writs of error, and that certiorari cannot be independently used to supply the place of a writ of error for the mere correction of error.

The construction of the act of 1891 must be arrived at without reference to such recent legislation as the Act of Congress of March 2, 1907, 34 Stat. 1246, c. 2564, providing for writs of error in certain instances in criminal cases, in respect of which this Court held in United States v. Keitel,211 U. S. 398,

"that the purpose of the statute was to give the United States the right to seek a review of decisions of the lower court concerning the subjects embraced within the clauses of the statute, and not to open here the whole case. We think this conclusion arises not only because the giving of the exceptional right to review in favor

Page 213 U. S. 103

of the United States is limited by the very terms of the statute to authority to reexamine the particular decisions which the statute embraces, but also because of the whole context, which clearly indicates that the purpose was to confine the right given to a review of the decisions enumerated in the statute, leaving all other questions to be controlled by the general mode of procedure governing the same."

So far as that statute is an innovation in criminal jurisdiction in certain classes of prosecutions, it cannot be extended beyond its terms.

Writ of certiorari dismissed.

MR. JUSTICE MOODY took no part in the consideration and disposition of this case.

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