Wood v. United States
41 U.S. 342

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Wood v. United States, 41 U.S. 16 Pet. 342 342 (1842)

Wood v. United States

41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 342

Syllabus

The United States filed in the District Court of the United States for the Maryland District a libel of information in rem upon a seizure upon land in the district of twenty-two pieces of cloth imported into New York, and claiming them as forfeited. The libel contained many counts, but that on which the decision of the Supreme Court was given was founded on the sixty-sixth section of the revenue act of 1799, which declares that any goods which shall not be invoiced according to the actual cost thereof at the place of exportation, with design to evade the duties thereupon, all such goods &c., shall be forfeited. The count stated that the goods were not invoiced at the actual cost at the place of exportation. The duties had been paid at New York, on the invoice produced on their entry. They were afterwards transmitted to Baltimore, and were there seized in the stores of certain persons having the custody thereof for the importer, who was the claimant, under a search warrant, procured from a magistrate. To establish the fraud in the invoices, the United States offered in evidence sundry other invoices of cloth and cassimere, imported into New York by and consigned to the claimant, to show the fraudulent intention of the claimant in those importations as well as in the present. This evidence was objected to, and the objection was overruled. The district judge, after the whole evidence was gone through, gave the following instructions to the jury.

1. That the issues found, and which the jury are sworn to try, involve no question except upon the causes of forfeiture alleged in the information and traversed, and therefore no question relating to the mere seizure of the goods is in issue, or material under the pleadings.

2. If the jury shall find from the evidence in the cause that the invoices of the goods proceeded against, were made up with intent, by false valuations, to evade or defraud the revenue, the United States are entitled to recover, although the jury should also find from the evidence that the goods had been passed through the custom house at New York, by the collector, and the duties calculated by him on the invoices shall have been paid, or secured to be paid, and the goods delivered by the collector to the importer.

3. That under certain counts in the information, probable cause for the prosecution had been shown by the United States, and that the burden of proof, under the seventy-first section of the Act of 2 March, 1799, was upon the claimant, and that it is incumbent on him to prove to the jury, that the charges in the five counts, charging fraudulent importation, are untrue; that is, that he shall prove the truth of the invoices on which the goods were entered, and that the invoices and packages were not made up to evade or defraud the revenue.

4. That the burden of proof being on the claimant under the seventy-first section of the act of 1799, and the fifteenth section of the Act of 14 July, 1832, it is incumbent on him to prove the actual cost of the goods in the invoices and entries stated to have been purchased by him, and that the value of the goods at the time of the seizure, or at any subsequent time, is not material except so far as to assist or tend to enable the jury to ascertain the prices at the periods of purchase or shipment.

5. That the

Page 41 U. S. 343

burden of proof being upon the claimant to prove that the invoices were not made up with intent to defraud the revenue, it is not sufficient for him to rely on the invoices themselves, merely, as proving their own truth and fairness.

The case was removed by writ of error to the circuit court, and there a judgment affirming the judgment of the district court having been entered, the claimant prosecuted a writ of error to the Supreme Court.

Held:

First: That the instructions of the district judge as to the original seizure, or the causes thereof, were correct. It is of no consequence whatsoever what were the original grounds of the seizure, whether founded or not, if the goods were in point of law subject to forfeiture. The United States is not bound down by the acts of the seizors to the causes which influenced them in making the seizure, nor by any irregularity on their part in conducting it, if the seizure can be maintained as founded on an actual forfeiture at the time of the seizure. It was rightly held in the district court that no question arose on the issues which the jury was to try except upon the causes of forfeiture alleged in the information.

Second: There was no error in the admission of the evidence of fraud deducible from the other invoices offered in the case. The question was one of fraudulent intent or not, and upon questions of that sort where the intent of the party is the matter in issue it has always been allowable, as well in criminal as in civil cases, to introduce evidence of other acts and doings of the party of a kindred character in order to illustrate his intent or motive in the particular act directly in judgment.

Third: If the invoices of the goods were fraudulently made by a false valuation to evade or defraud the revenue, the fact that they were entered and the duties having been paid or secured at the custom house at New York upon these invoices was no bar to the information for the forfeiture of the goods to the United States. It never can be permitted that a party who perpetrates a fraud upon the custom house and thereby enters his goods upon false invoices and false valuations, and gets a regular delivery thereof upon the payment of such duties as such false invoices and false valuations require, can avail himself of that very fraud to defeat the purposes of justice.

The sixty-sixth section of the Revenue Collection act of 1799, ch. 128, remains in full force.

There must be a positive repugnancy between the new and old laws for the collection of the revenue before the old law can be considered as repealed, and even then the old law is repealed by implication only, pro tanto, to the extent of the repugnancy. The addition of other powers to custom house officers to carry into effect the object of the former laws, and sedulously introduced to meet the case of a palpable fraud, should not be considered as repealing the former laws. There ought to be a manifest and total repugnancy in the provisions of the later laws to lead to the conclusion that they abrogated and were designed to abrogate the former laws.

The burden of proof in the absence of fraud in the entry of the goods was thrown upon the claimant. There was probable cause for seizure shown. Probable cause must, under the seventy-first section of the act of 1799, in connection with the circumstances of this case, mean reasonable ground of presumption that the charge is or may be well founded.

Page 41 U. S. 344

At the District Court of the United States for the District of Maryland on 27 December, 1839, the United States filed an information claiming a forfeiture of twenty-two pieces of cloth of the value of $2,500. The information contained nine counts. Afterwards, and before the trial of the cause before a jury, a discontinuance was entered by the district attorney of the United States of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth counts. The case was tried before a jury in July, 1840, on the remaining counts in the information, and a verdict and judgment were rendered in favor of the United States. The claimant took a bill of exceptions to the charge of the court and prosecuted a writ of error to the circuit court. In that court a judgment was entered pro forma in favor of the United States, and the case was brought by the claimant, Thomas Wood, by writ of error to the Supreme Court.

The information filed by the United States in the district court, in the third count, on the 66th section of the Collection Act of 1799 alleged that the goods were not invoiced according to their actual cost at the port of exportation, with design to evade the duties thereon. The sixth, seventh and eighth counts, on the 4th section of the supplementary act of 1830, and the ninth count, on the 14th section of the act of 1832, alleged, under different forms of statement, that the invoices on which the goods had been entered, and the packages containing them, had been made up with intent to evade or defraud the revenue.

The defendant's first plea was a denial that the goods had been seized for the same causes of forfeiture alleged in the information. The second plea set forth certain warrants issued under the 68th section of the act of 1799, authorizing the search for and seizure of goods entered without permits, and concealed in certain stores in Baltimore, and alleged that the seizure was made under these warrants, and not under any other authority or for any other cause than that which was contained in them. The third plea alleged that the goods in question were imported into New York and duly entered and unladen under regular permits; that in order to the ascertainment of the duties, the collector caused them to be appraised according to their actual value at the time and place of exportation, and also caused one package out of every invoice, and one package out of every twenty packages

Page 41 U. S. 345

of each invoice, to be opened and examined, and that the packages so opened and examined were found and reported to the collector to be correctly and fairly invoiced and put up; that after said examination and appraisement, the duties on the goods were duly ascertained and estimated by the collector, and paid by the claimant; that they were then delivered to the claimant, and were shipped by him to his agents in Baltimore; and that, whilst in possession of said agents, they were seized by the collector of the port of Baltimore, as alleged in the information.

To each of these first three pleas, the United States demurred generally, and the court below being of opinion, that they contained no matter of defense to the information, gave judgment in favor of the United States on the demurrers.

The remaining pleas were, in succession, applicable respectively one to each of the counts of the information, and were simple traverses of the respective causes of forfeiture alleged in them. Issue was joined on each of these pleas. These, which were the only issues of fact tried, resulted in a general verdict for the United States; on which a judgment of condemnation was afterwards entered, as above stated.

It appeared by the bill of exceptions, that at the trial, the United States, to maintain the issues on their part, read in evidence to the jury, four entries and invoices which, it was admitted, were original entries and invoices, and had contained the twenty-two pieces of cloth against which the information was filed, and it was admitted that the numbers then on said pieces were the same that they were when imported, and had not been changed or altered; that the said four invoices were severally passed through the custom house of the port of New York, according to the forms prescribed by the acts of Congress, and that, with one exception, the said twenty-two pieces were included in the packages designated by the collector of New York to be opened and examined. And it was further admitted and agreed that the duties on the amount of each of said four invoices had been paid, according to the prices therein stated, and that the goods therein mentioned had been delivered, under regular permits, to the claimant, who afterwards shipped the twenty-two pieces taken from several of the original packages included in said four invoices, to the consignment of Beadell & Company, at Baltimore, for sale.

Page 41 U. S. 346

It also appeared by the evidence on the part of the United States that the claimant had entered at the port of New York, in the years 1839 and 1840, twenty-nine importations, of which those in question were a part. Twenty-eight of these importations, including the four in question, were entered by him, and upon his oath, as goods of which he was the actual owner, by having purchased them for exportation, from the party by whom they were invoiced to him. Of these importations, the four which included the twenty-two pieces in question, were entered in 1839. Fifteen importations had been previously made, and ten were made after these four importations. All of the twenty-nine entries were accompanied by invoices. From the aggregate gross apparent cost of the goods in these invoices, some of which contained cloths alone, and others both cloths and cassimeres, there was a deduction in every invoice of five percent, in some cases described to be a discount for cash, in others for measurement, and in two, with out stating for what. It was in proof by persons conversant with the British market, that by the course of business in the places where the goods purported by the invoices to have been bought, no such discount or deduction was ever allowed on cassimeres, whether invoiced separately, or included in the same invoice with cloths. It was also proved, by persons well acquainted with the same markets at the time of the alleged purchases, that the goods could not at that time have been fairly bought for less than prices which exceeded by a large percentage the prices mentioned in the invoices, and with a view to show further that the invoices were fictitious as to the prices, and that the discount was fictitious, it was proved that in every one of his importations made after the seizure of the goods in question, the claimant acquiesced, without appeal or objection, in the acts of the assistant appraisers of the customs and their assistants in disallowing a similar discount or deduction of five percent and in raising the amount of their appraisements considerably beyond the prices mentioned in the invoices.

Before the evidence was given on the part of the United States, the counsel for the claimant objected to the admissibility in evidence of the invoices of the other goods imported by the claimants as above, before and after the importation of the goods in question, and of the oral testimony offered as above, in connection

Page 41 U. S. 347

with them.

"But the court overruled the objection, being of opinion that the question in the cause was a question of fraudulent intention, the inquiry being whether the invoices of the goods in controversy were made up with intent to evade the act of Congress and defraud the revenue, and that the acts of the claimant in passing other goods through the custom house are evidence."

This opinion formed the subject of the first exception of the claimant, on which he now insisted in this Court.

The second exception was to the refusal of the court below to give to the jury the instructions requested by the counsel of the claimant and also to the instructions given by the court to the jury. To understand the character and extent of this exception, it is necessary to introduce the prayers of both parties for instructions to the jury, with the answers of the court. The United States, by its counsel, prayed the court for its opinion and direction to the jury:

"1. That the issues which the jury are sworn to try, involve no questions except upon the causes of forfeiture alleged and traversed; therefore, no question relating to the seizure of the goods is in issue, or in any respect material, upon the pleadings in this case."

"2. That if the jury find, from the evidence in this cause, that the invoices which contain the goods now in controversy, were made up with an intent to evade or defraud the revenue of the United States, the United States are entitled to condemnation of the said goods, although the jury should also find from the evidence that the said goods have been passed through the custom house, at New York, by the collector thereof, or by the appraisers, or other officers of the customs, and the duties calculated thereon been paid, or secured to be paid, and the said goods delivered by the said collector to the importer."

"3. That there has been shown, on the part of the United States, probable cause for the prosecution, under the third, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth counts of the information, and therefore, under the 71st section of the Act of 2 March, 1799, the burden of proof lies upon Thomas Wood, Jr., the claimant, and it is incumbent on him to prove to the jury that the charges in the said five counts of the information are untrue -- that is, to prove that

Page 41 U. S. 348

the goods in question were invoiced according to their actual cost at the place of exportation, and that the invoices and packages were not made up with intent to evade or defraud the revenue."

"4. The burden of proof being upon the claimant to prove that the invoices were not made up with intent to defraud the revenue, that it is not sufficient for him to rely upon the invoices merely, as proving their truth and fairness."

"5. The burden of proof being upon the claimant, it is incumbent on him to prove to the jury the actual cost of the goods in question, and that he does not relieve himself of this burden of proof, by evidence of the mere value of said goods, except so far as such value may tend to show actual cost."

And the claimant, by his counsel, prayed the court to give the following constructions to the jury:

"1. That under a true construction of the 71st section of the Act of Congress of 2 March 1799, it is incumbent on the United States to show by evidence, a seizure, in pursuance of said act, or of other acts, if any, regulating seizures, and that in the absence of such evidence, the onus probandi cannot be thrown upon the claimant, by proof of probable cause; proof of probable cause of such seizure being made by said section a prerequisite which must be complied with."

"2. That upon the evidence offered by the United States in this cause, the onus probandi does not lie upon the plaintiff, under the provisions of the 71st section of the act of 1799, because no probable cause has been shown to the court for the prosecution in this case."

"3. If the jury find from the evidence, that the goods mentioned in the third count of the information were entered in the office of the collector of the collection district of New York, in the Southern District of New York, and were unladen and delivered from the vessels in which they were imported, under permits granted by said collector, who caused the said goods, wares and merchandize to be examined, and that after such examination, the duties on the same were ascertained and estimated by said collector, and paid by the said claimant, and the said goods were, by the authority of the collector, delivered to the said claimant, and if the jury further believe that the claimant caused the original packages in which said goods were imported to be broken up, and shipped

Page 41 U. S. 349

said goods, forming a part of said packages, to his agents in Baltimore, for sale, and that said goods were seized, after their actual arrival in Baltimore, and not before; that the United States are not entitled to recover under the third count of the information."

"4. That the United States are not entitled to recover under the said third count of the information, because the 66th section of the act of Congress, passed on 2 March, 1799, entitled 'an act to regulate the collection of duties on imports and tonnage,' was not in force when the goods mentioned in said third count were imported."

"5. That if the jury believe from the evidence that the collector of the port or New York caused at least one package out of every invoice and one package at least out of every twenty packages of each invoice containing the goods mentioned in the sixth and seventh counts of the information to be opened and examined, and that said packages were, before such examination, designated on the several invoices in which they were respectively included, and that said collector did not deem it necessary that a greater number of packages than those so designated should be opened and examined. And if the jury further finds that upon such opening and examination, the goods were, in the judgment of the examining officer, found to correspond with said invoices, and not to be falsely charged in said invoices, and that after the said examination, the duties on said goods were ascertained and estimated by said collector, and paid by the claimant, and said goods were delivered to the claimant, who afterwards sent them to his agents in Baltimore, for sale, and that the seizure on which said information is founded, was made after said goods had arrived in Baltimore; that then the United States are not entitled to recover under the said sixth count, so far as the same charges the invoices to have been found to be made up, with intent, by a false valuation or extension, to evade or defraud the revenue of the United States, nor under the said seventh count."

"6. That there is no evidence in the cause from which the jury can find that the packages in which the goods mentioned in the sixth and eighth counts of the information were imported into New York, were found, upon examination, at the District of Maryland, to be made up with intent to evade and defraud the revenue of the United States, and that therefore the United States is not

Page 41 U. S. 350

entitled to recover under said eighth count, nor under said seventh count, so far as the same charges the packages to be made up with such fraudulent intent."

"7. That the United States are not entitled to recover upon either of the said sixth, seventh and eighth counts of said information, because the fourth section of the Act of Congress passed on 28 May, 1830, entitled 'an act for the more effectual collection of the import duties,' was not in force when the goods mentioned in said sixth, seventh and eighth counts were imported."

"8. That there is no evidence in the cause, from which the jury can find, that the packages, or either of them, in which the goods mentioned in the ninth count of the information were imported, were opened and examined at the District of Maryland, on the day mentioned in said count, or at any other time, and were found to be made up, with intent to evade or defraud the revenue; and that therefore the United States are not entitled to recover upon said ninth count."

But the court refused to give the instructions prayed for both by the United States and the claimant and rejected the same, and each and every of them, but gave the following instructions and directions to the jury.

"1. That the issues formed, and which the jury are sworn to try, involve no question except upon the causes of forfeiture alleged in the information, and traversed, and therefore no question relating to the mere seizure of the goods is in issue, or material, under the pleadings in this cause."

"2. If the jury shall find from the evidence in the cause, that the invoices of the goods in question were made up, with intent, by a false valuation, to evade or defraud the revenue, the plaintiffs are entitled to recover, although the jury should also find from the evidence, that the said goods have been passed through the custom house at New York by the collector thereof, and the duties calculated by him on said invoices, shall have been paid or secured to be paid, and the said goods delivered by said collector to the importer."

"3. That there has been shown, on the part of the United States, probable cause for the present prosecution, under the third count, and the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth counts in the information,

Page 41 U. S. 351

and that the burden of proof lies, under the 71st section of the act of 2 March, 1799, upon Thomas Wood, Jr., the claimant, and that it is incumbent upon him to prove to the jury that the charges in the said five counts are untrue -- that is, to prove that the goods in question were invoiced according to their actual cost at the port of exportation, and that the invoices and packages were not made up, with intent to evade or defraud the revenue."

"4. That the burden of proof being upon the said Thomas Wood, Jr., under the 71st section of the act of 1799 and the 15th section of the Act of 14 July, 1832, it is incumbent upon him to prove to the jury the actual cost of the twenty-two pieces of cloth in the invoices and entries stated to have been purchased by him, and that the value of the goods at the times or dates of the seizure, or of any other subsequent times, are not material except so far as they may assist or tend to enable the jury to ascertain the prices at the respective periods of purchase or shipment."

"5. That the burden of proof being upon the claimant, to prove that the invoices were not made up with intent to defraud the revenue, it is not sufficient for him to rely upon the invoices themselves merely, as proving their own truth and fairness. "

Page 41 U. S. 357

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