United States v. Mayer
235 U.S. 55 (1914)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Mayer, 235 U.S. 55 (1914)

United States v. Mayer

No. 462

Argued October 22, 23, 1914

Decided November 16, 1914

235 U.S. 55

Syllabus

While their jurisdiction is exclusively appellate, circuit courts of appeals may issue writs which are properly auxiliary to their appellate power.

While this Court may not be required through a certificate under § 239, Judicial Code, to pass upon questions of fact or mixed questions of law and fact, or to accept a transfer of the whole case, or to answer questions of objectionable generality, a definite question of law may be submitted even if decisive of the controversy.

The general principle obtains, in the absence of statute providing otherwise, that a court cannot set aside or alter its final judgment after the expiration of the term at which it was entered unless the proceeding for that purpose was begun during that term, and this case does not fall within the exceptions to that rule.

Page 235 U. S. 56

Whether a federal court can grant a new trial after the end of the term is a question of power, and not of procedure, and state statutes are not applicable.

When a writ of error has been issued to review a judgment of conviction of the district court in a criminal cause, the circuit court of appeals has jurisdiction to issue a writ of prohibition against the district court entering an order for new trial after expiration of the term on newly discovered evidence.

When a writ of error has been issued to review its judgment of conviction in a criminal cause, the district court has not jurisdiction, upon motion made after the term at which it was entered, to set the judgment aside and order a new trial on facts discovered after the end of the term and not appearing in the record.

When a district court has itself raised the question of its jurisdiction to entertain a motion made after expiration of the term to vacate a judgment of conviction, the consent of the United States attorney to consider the case on the merits does not confer jurisdiction, nor debar the United States from raising the question of jurisdiction, to vacate the judgment.

The facts stated in the certificate may be summarized as follows:

On March 14th, 1913, one Albert Freeman, with two other individuals, was convicted in the District Court, Southern District of New York, on five indictments for violation of the statutes relating to the use of the mails and for a conspiracy. On that day, judgments of conviction were entered and sentences were imposed as to certain of these indictments, or counts therein, sentence being suspended as to others, and on March 24, 1913, the defendant Freeman sued out a writ of error from the circuit court of appeals to review the judgments of conviction. Assignments of error were filed, and on May 13, 1913, the plaintiff in error was admitted to bail by the appellate court. No bill of exceptions has been settled or filed or argument had.

On January 12, 1914, the plaintiff in error gave notice of application in the district court to set aside the judgments of conviction and for the quashing of the indictments or for a new trial. The grounds were, among

Page 235 U. S. 57

others, (1) that the defendant had been deprived of a fair trial by the misconduct of an assistant United States attorney, and (2) that one juror, when examined on his voir dire, concealed a bias against the defendant. It is found as a fact by the district judge that neither the defendant nor his counsel had knowledge of the facts on which the motion was based until after the conclusion of the trial and the expiration of the term as to those counts upon which sentence had been imposed, and that these facts could not have been discovered earlier by reasonable diligence.

Upon the hearing of the application, District Judge Mayer raised the question of the jurisdiction of the district court to entertain it in view of the fact that the term had expired. Thereupon the United States attorney submitted a memorandum tendering his consent that the application be heard upon the merits. The application was heard, and District Judge Mayer handed down his decision granting a new trial

"on the ground that defendant had not had a trial by an impartial jury for the reason that one of the jurors at the time of his selection entertained a bias against the defendant, resulting from the juror's observations of the conduct of the defendant and other corporate officers in relation to the production of certain corporate records before a grand jury of which he had been a member, the juror having concealed his bias on his examination on the voir dire for the purpose of securing the jury fees, and the events of the trial having been such as to strengthen and confirm this bias."

The order vacating the judgments of conviction and granting a new trial has not yet been entered, the district judge having filed a memorandum stating in substance that the question of jurisdiction was an important one, and that the order would be withheld until the United States attorney had an opportunity to raise the question in a higher court.

Page 235 U. S. 58

Thereafter, and on April 6th, 1914, the United States attorney procured an order in the circuit court of appeals directing District Judge Mayer to show cause why a writ of prohibition should not be issued from that court forbidding the entry of an order vacating the judgments of conviction and granting a new trial upon the ground that the district court was without jurisdiction to enter it. Certain of the facts upon which the motion for a new trial was granted do not appear in the record of the previous trial.

The questions certified are:

"QUESTION I"

"A. When a writ of error has been issued to review a judgment of conviction in a criminal cause entered in a district court, and thereafter, upon a motion made in the district court after the expiration of the term at which the judgment was entered, said district court has indicated its intention to enter an order vacating the judgment and ordering a new trial on facts discovered after the expiration of said term, and not appearing in the record of the previous trial, has the circuit court of appeals jurisdiction to issue a writ of prohibition against the entry of such order by the district court, when, in the opinion of the circuit court of appeals, the district court is without jurisdiction to enter such order?"

"B. Or has the Supreme Court of the United States sole jurisdiction to issue such writ of prohibition under the circumstances above stated?"

"In case question I. A be answered in the affirmative, then --"

"QUESTION II"

"When a writ of error has been issued to review a judgment of conviction in a criminal cause entered in a district court, has the district court, upon a motion made after

Page 235 U. S. 59

the term at which judgment was entered, jurisdiction to set aside the judgment and order a new trial on facts discovered after the expiration of said term, and not appearing in the record of the previous trial?"

"QUESTION III"

"Whether, when a district court has itself raised the question of its jurisdiction to entertain a motion made after the expiration of the term, to vacate a judgment of conviction, and the United States Attorney thereupon tendered its consent to the hearing of the motion on the merits, if the jurisdictional question raised by the court were dependent on that consent, the United States is debarred by such tender from raising the question of jurisdiction of the district court to vacate said judgment? "

Page 235 U. S. 65

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