United States v. Wilson
32 U.S. 150 (1833)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wilson, 32 U.S. 7 Pet. 150 150 (1833)

United States v. Wilson

32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 150

Syllabus

The defendant was indicted for robbing the mail of the United States, and putting the life of the driver in jeopardy, and the conviction and judgment pronounced upon it extended to both offenses. After this judgment no prosecution could be maintained for the same offense, or for any part of it, provided the former conviction was pleaded.

The power of pardon in criminal cases had been exercised from time immemorial by the executive of that nation whose language is our language, and to whose judicial institutions ours bear a close resemblance. We adopt their principles respecting the operation and effect of a pardon, and look into their books for the rules prescribing the manner in which it is to be used by the person who would avail himself of it. A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed. It is the private though official act of the executive magistrate, delivered to the individual for whose benefit it is intended and not communicated officially to the court.

It is a constituent part of the judicial system that the judge sees only with judicial eyes, and knows nothing respecting any particular case of which he is not informed judicially. A private deed not communicated to him, whatever may be its character, whether a pardon or release, is totally unknown and cannot

be acted upon. The looseness which would be introduced into judicial proceedings would prove fatal to the great principles of justice if the judge might notice and act upon facts not brought regularly into the cause. Such a proceeding, in ordinary cases, would subvert the best established principles and would overturn those rules which have been settled by the wisdom of ages.

There is nothing peculiar in a pardon which ought to distinguish it in this respect from other facts; no legal principle known to the court will sustain such a distinction. A pardon is a deed to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.

It may be supposed that no being condemned to death would reject a pardon, but the rule must be the same in capital cases and in misdemeanors. A pardon may be conditional, and the condition may be more objectionable than the punishment inflicted by the judgment.

The pardon may possibly apply to a different person or a different crime. It may be absolute or conditional. It may be controverted by the prosecutor, and must be expounded by the court. These circumstances

Page 32 U. S. 151

combine to show that this, like any other deed, ought to be brought "judicially before the court, by plea, motion or otherwise."

The reason why a court must, ex officio, take notice of a pardon by act of Parliament is that it is considered as a public law, having the same effect on the case as if the general law punishing the offense had been repealed or annulled.

At the April sessions, 1830, of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, six indictments were presented to and found by the grand jury against James Porter and George Wilson, one for obstructing the mail of the United States from Philadelphia to Kimberton on 26 November, 1829; one for obstructing the mail from Philadelphia to Reading, on 6 December, 1829; one for the robbery of the Kimberton mail and putting the life of the carrier in jeopardy on the same day in November, 1829; one for robbery of the Reading mail and putting the life of the carrier in jeopardy on the same 6 December, 1829; one for robbery of the Kimberton mail, also on 26 November, 1829; and one for robbery of the Reading mail, also on 6 December, 1829. At the same sessions, two other indictments were presented to the grand jury against the same defendants in which they were severally charged with robbery of the Reading and Kimberton mail and wounding the carrier, which were returned to the court as "true bills, except as to wounding the carrier." Upon the indictment for robbery of the Kimberton mail and putting the life of the carrier in jeopardy, and also in the two last-mentioned indictments, a nolle prosequi was afterwards entered by the district attorney of the United States. On 26 April, 1830, the defendants, James Porter and George Wilson, pleaded not guilty to the several bills upon which they were arraigned, and on 1 May a verdict of guilty was rendered against them upon the indictment for robbery of the Reading mail and putting the life of the carrier in jeopardy. The circuit court, on 27 May, 1830, sentenced the defendants to suffer death, on 2 July following, and James Porter was executed in pursuance of this sentence.

Upon the 27th of May 1830, George Wilson withdrew the

Page 32 U. S. 152

pleas of not guilty to all the indictments against him except those on which a nolle prosequi was afterwards entered, and pleaded guilty to the same.

The indictment for robbery of the Reading mail and putting the life of the driver in jeopardy, upon which James Porter and George Wilson were tried and convicted, was in the following terms:

"Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to-wit:"

"The grand inquest of the United States of America, inquiring for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, upon their oaths and affirmations, respectively, do present that James Porter, otherwise called James May, late of the Eastern District aforesaid, yeoman, and George Wilson, late of the Eastern District aforesaid, yeoman on 6 December in the year of our Lord 1829, at the Eastern District aforesaid and within the jurisdiction of this Court, with force and arms, in and upon one Samuel McCrea, in the peace of God and of the United States of America then and there being, and then and there being a carrier of the mail of the United States, and then and there entrusted therewith, and then and there proceeding with the said mail, from the City of Philadelphia to the Borough of Reading, feloniously did make an assault, and him the said Samuel McCrea in bodily fear and danger, then and there, feloniously did put, and the said mail of the United States from him the said Samuel McCrea, then and there, feloniously, violently, and against his will, did steal, take, and carry away, contrary to the form of the act of Congress in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the United States of America."

"And the inquest aforesaid, upon their oaths and affirmations aforesaid, do further present that the said James Porter, otherwise called James May, and the said George Wilson, afterwards, to-wit, on the same day and year aforesaid, at the Eastern District aforesaid and within the jurisdiction of this Court, with force and arms in and upon the said Samuel McCrea, then and there being a carrier of the mail of the United States and then and there entrusted therewith, feloniously did make an assault, and him, the said carrier of the said mail, then and there, feloniously, violently, and against his will, did rob, contrary to the form of the act of Congress in such case

Page 32 U. S. 153

made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States of America."

On 14 June, 1830, the President of the United States granted the following pardon to George Wilson:

"Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, to all who shall see these presents, greeting:"

"Whereas a certain George Wilson has been convicted before the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania of the crime of robbing the mail of the United States, and has been sentenced by the said court to suffer the penalty of death on 2 July next, and whereas the said George Wilson has been recommended as a fit subject for the exercise of executive clemency by a numerous and respectable body of petitioners, praying for him a remission of the sentence of death, inasmuch as, in such a case, sentence of imprisonment for twenty years may yet be pronounced against him on the indictments to which he has pleaded guilty in the circuit court of the United States for the said district, and a still more severe imprisonment may be awarded him for the same acts in the criminal courts of Pennsylvania, now therefore, I, Andrew Jackson, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, divers other good and sufficient reasons me thereunto moving, have pardoned and do hereby pardon the said George Wilson the crime for which he has been sentenced to suffer death, remitting the penalty aforesaid, with this express stipulation, that this pardon shall not extend to any judgment which may be had or obtained against him in any other case or cases now pending before said court for other offenses wherewith he may stand charged."

"In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed to these presents. Given at the City of Washington this 14 June, A.D. 1830, and of the independence of the United States the fifty-fourth."

"[L.S.] ANDREW JACKSON"

"By the President: M. VAN BUREN, Secretary of State "

Page 32 U. S. 154

The record, as certified from the circuit court, proceeded to state:

"And now, to-wit, this 20 October, A.D. 1830, the district attorney of the United States moves the court for sentence upon the defendant, George Wilson; but the court suggesting the propriety of inquiring as to the effect of a certain pardon, understood to have been granted by the President of the United States to the defendant since the conviction on this indictment, although alleged to relate to a conviction on another indictment, the case postponed till 21 October, 1830. And now, to-wit, this 21 October, 1830, the counsel for the defendant, George Wilson, appear before the court and on behalf of the said defendant, waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon referred to, and thereupon the following questions or points were argued by the district attorney of the United States upon which the opinions of the judges of the said circuit court were opposed:"

"1. That the pardon referred to (prout the same) is expressly restricted to the sentence of death passed upon the defendant, under another conviction, and as expressly reserves from its operation the conviction now before the court."

"2. That the prisoner can, under this conviction, derive no advantage from the pardon without bringing the same judicially before the court by plea, motion, or otherwise."

"And now, to-wit, this 21 October, 1830, the defendant, George Wilson, being in person before the court, was asked by the court whether he had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced for the crime whereof he stands convicted in this particular case, and whether he wished in any manner to avail himself of the pardon referred to, and the said defendant answered in person that he had nothing to say and that he did not wish in any manner to avail himself, in order to avoid sentence in this particular case, of the pardon referred to. And the said judges being so opposed in opinion upon the points or questions above stated, the same were then and there, at the request of the district attorney of the United States,

Page 32 U. S. 155

stated, under the direction of the judges, and ordered by the court to be certified, under the seal of the court, to the Supreme Court at its next session thereafter, to be finally decided by the said Supreme Court. And the court being further of opinion that other proceedings could not be had in the said case without prejudice to its merits, did order the same to be continued over to the next sessions of the court."

"HENRY BALDWIN"

"JOS. HOPKINSON"

Page 32 U. S. 158

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