Adams v. Woods - 6 U.S. 336 (1804)
U.S. Supreme Court
Adams v. Woods, 6 U.S. 2 Cranch 336 336 (1804)
Adams v. Woods
6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 336
The provisions of the thirty-first section of the Act of Congress, passed 30 April, 1790, entitled "An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States," by which prosecutions on penal statutes are limited, is general in its provisions, so that they extend to penalties imposed after as before the act and also to actions of debt, as well as to informations and indictments.
An action of debt was instituted for the penalty of $2,000 imposed by the second section of the Act of Congress passed 22 March, 1794, "to prohibit the carrying on the slave trade from the United States to any foreign place or country." 1 Story's L.U.S. 319.
The second section provides
"That all and every person building, fitting out, or equipping, loading, or otherwise preparing or sending away any ship or vessel knowing or intending that the same shall be employed in the slave trade, contrary to the true intent and meaning of the act or any ways aiding or abetting therein shall severally forfeit and pay the sum of $2,000; one moiety thereof to the use of the United States and the other moiety thereof to the use of him or her who shall sue for and prosecute the same. "
To this suit the defendant pleaded that the cause of action set forth in the plaintiff's writ and declaration did not accrue within two years next before the date and issuing forth of the writ in this case against him in manner and form as the plaintiff hath declared, and this he is ready to verify. Wherefore, &c. To which plea there was a general demurrer and joinder.
This plea was founded upon the thirty-first section of the act of Congress, entitled "An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States," passed 30 April, 1790. 1 Story's L.U.S. 83.
The section is in these words:
"That no person or persons shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for treason or other capital offense aforesaid, willful murder or forgery excepted, unless the indictment for the same shall be found by a grand jury within three years next after the treason or capital offense aforesaid shall be done or committed, nor shall any person be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense not capital, nor for any fine or forfeiture under any penal statute, unless the indictment or information for the same shall be found or instituted within two years from the time of committing the offense or incurring the fine or forfeiture as aforesaid, provided that nothing, herein contained shall extend to any person or persons fleeing from justice."
Upon the defense under this plea, the judges of the circuit court were divided in opinion, and the same was certified to this Court.