Francis v. United States
72 U.S. 338 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Francis v. United States, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 338 338 (1866)

Francis v. United States

72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 338

Syllabus

Although, under the Act of 6th August, 1861, "to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes," an informer may file an information along with the Attorney General, and so make the proceeding enure, under the act, to his own benefit equally as to the benefit of the United States, yet after the proceeding has been instituted by the Attorney General alone and wholly for the benefit of the United States, and after issue has been joined and proofs furnished by other parties, no person can come in asserting himself to have been the informer, and so share the benefit of the proceeding.

The record showed a libel of information against certain bales of cotton marked "C.S.A." as belonging to persons in insurrection against the United States, and the confiscation of which was demanded under the act of 6th August, 1861, entitled "An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes." [For the sake of distinction, this case was numbered 939.] The act just referred to provides (by its third section, which indicates the persons who may institute proceedings):

"That the Attorney General or any District Attorney of the United States in which said property may at the time be may institute the proceedings of condemnation, and in such case they shall be wholly for the benefit of the United States. Or any person may file an information with such attorney, in which case the proceeding shall be for the use of such informer and the United States, in equal parts."

The order for the detention of the cotton was dated 18th October, 1862, and recited that it appeared, on the return of a warrant of arrest issued in case No. 934, that the marshal

Page 72 U. S. 339

had previously arrested the said property. He was therefore ordered to detain it to answer the information now filed in No. 939. During the month of November and December, some three or four claimants came forward and were permitted to file their several claims, take exceptions, plead and take issue as to ownership of the cotton.

On the 22d of January, 1863, the plaintiff in error, Franois, for the first time appeared and filed a petition, not as owner or claimant of any portion of the cotton, but "that he may be admitted to appear in said case No. 939, as a party to the record as informer."

His petition set forth, as a foundation of his claim, that he gave information to the Board of Trade at Memphis on the 2d October, 1862, and also sent a written statement to R. S. Howard, collector of the port of St. Louis, containing information on which the said cotton was seized by the said collector in the case No. 934, and on the 10th October filed an information in writing with the District Attorney, upon which information the said cotton was subsequently libeled in case No. 939.

The District Attorney moved to strike this petition from the files of the court. The motion was overruled and the petitioner was allowed to make proof of his right to be admitted as informer. A hearing was then had by witnesses ore tenus before the court by request of the proctor of Francis.

Mr. Howard, collector of the port, resisted the claim of the petitioner. After hearing witnesses, the petition was dismissed and the petitioner ordered to pay costs.

A jury was afterwards ordered to try the issues of facts as to the ownership of the several claimants, and their verdict was "that the allegations in the libel are true, and that we find for the United States." After divers motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment, a decree was entered for the government. In this trial of the issue by the jury, and the judgment of the court thereon, Francis, the plaintiff in error, was of course no party on the record, his petition to become such having been refused and he having acquiesced in that decree of the court without appeal. However, the

Page 72 U. S. 340

next entry in the record was that on the 9th day of June, 1863, "The claimants herein and the petitioner Francis filed in the clerk's office their bill of exceptions in the case." Why exactly the court permitted Francis thus to place himself on the record was not clearly explained. However the record showed an exception to the charge sealed in his part of the case:

"Whereupon the court declared the law to be, that the taking of said written statement, by the said Francis, to the United States Attorney, at the request of said Howard, after the same had been addressed to the surveyor of the port, and delivered to said surveyor, did not constitute the said Francis an informer under the act of 6th August, 1861."

The question here was accordingly the correctness of this view of the court below, as stated in this exception.

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