Reese v. United States
76 U.S. 13

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U.S. Supreme Court

Reese v. United States, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 13 13 (1869)

Reese v. United States

76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 13

Syllabus

1. Where the condition of a recognizance of bail in a criminal action pending in a circuit court of the United States provided that the party held to bail should appear for trial at the next regular term of the court and at any subsequent term thereafter, the latter clause is construed to mean that the party shall appear at any subsequent term which may follow in regular succession in the course of business of the court, and not at any distant future term to which either party might be disposed to postpone the trial, without reference to any intervening term.

2. Where a stipulation was made between the parties to a criminal action (the government and the prisoner) and entered in the minutes of the court to postpone the trial of the action until the determination of cases pending in another court, held that the stipulation was inconsistent with the condition of a recognizance of bail that the principal should appear for trial at any subsequent term following the then next term in regular succession, and that it released the principal from the obligation to appear at any such subsequent term.

3. Although the rights and liabilities of sureties on a recognizance are in many respects different from those of sureties on ordinary bonds or commercial contracts, yet their positions are similar in respect to the limitations of their liability to the precise terms of their contract and the effect upon such liability of any change in those terms without their consent.

4. By a recognizance of bail in a criminal action, the principal is, in the theory of the law, committed to the custody of the sureties as to jailers of his own choosing, not that he is subjected or can be subjected by them to constant imprisonment, but that he is so far placed in their power that they may at any time arrest him upon the recognizance and surrender him to the court, and, to the extent necessary to accomplish this, may restrain him of his liberty.

5. This power of arrest can only be exercised within the territory of the United States, and there is an implied covenant on the part of the principal with his sureties when he is admitted to bail that he will not depart out of this territory without their assent. There is also an implied covenant on the part of the government, when the recognizance of bail is accepted, that it will not in any way interfere with this covenant between them or impair its obligation or take any proceedings with the principal which will increase the risks of the sureties or affect their remedy against him.

6. Accordingly, when in a criminal action a stipulation was made and entered in the minutes of the court between the government and the defendant, who had given bail for his appearance for trial, that he might depart without the territory of the United States to a foreign country and remain there until certain civil cases pending in another court were

Page 76 U. S. 14

finally disposed of, and such stipulation was made without the knowledge or assent of the sureties on the recognizance of bail, held that the sureties were released.

In December, 1856, one Limantour was indicted at San Francisco by the grand jury of the circuit court of the United States for uttering and publishing as true, to the board of land commissioners created under the Act of March 3, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in the State of California, a false writing purporting to be a grant of certain described lands in California from the Mexican government with intent to defraud the United States, knowing the same to be false. To this indictment Limantour appeared and pleaded not guilty. He was then admitted to bail on motion of his counsel, the amount being fixed by order of the court at $30,000.

Soon after the issue was thus joined, a motion was made on the part of the United States to set the case for trial early in January, 1857. This motion was resisted, and at the same time application was made on the part of Limantour for a continuance of the cause, and in support of the application his affidavit was read, in which he asserted the genuineness of the grant alleged by the United States to have been forged and that it was made at the time and by the officers as averred by him. For alleged perjury in making this affidavit the grand jury soon afterwards found a second indictment against him. To this indictment he also appeared and pleaded not guilty, and, upon the motion of his counsel, was admitted to bail, its amount being fixed at $5,000.

By order of the court, the recognizance of bail was taken in one instrument, the obligation of the sureties being the amount required in both cases. The defendant Reese and one Castro became the sureties of Limantour, binding themselves jointly and severally in the sum designated. Upon this recognizance the United States brought suit, the present action. The recognizance recited the finding and presentment of the two indictments, the commitment of Limantour

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thereon, and the order of the court for his discharge on furnishing the required bail, and was conditioned that Limantour should personally appear at the next regular term of the circuit court to be held in the City of San Francisco, and at any subsequent term to be thereafter held in that city, to answer all such matters and things as should be objected against him, and to abide the order of the court and not depart therefrom without leave first obtained. This recognizance was dated the 5th of February, 1857.

At the subsequent term of the circuit court, in August of that year, Limantour appeared and was ready and pressing for trial in both cases, with witnesses in attendance from the City of Mexico. The district attorney thereupon moved for a postponement of the trials. At this time, two cases of Limantour for land claimed under alleged Mexican grants were pending in the district court of the United States on appeal from decrees of the land commissioners, by whom the claims had been confirmed. One of the cases was for a claim under the alleged forged grant. The witnesses in attendance were persons who had been brought from Mexico to testify in the land cases, and they were obliged to return without delay. It was therefore stipulated between the district attorney and the counsel of Limantour, on the one side that the postponement desired by the government should be assented to and on the other side that neither of the criminal actions should be brought to trial until after final decrees had been rendered in the two land cases by the district court, and if both or either of the decrees were in favor of the claimant, that the criminal actions should be dismissed by the United States; but if the decrees were adverse to the claimant, that reasonable time should be given him to prepare for the trial of the criminal actions, and to procure the attendance of such of his witnesses as resided without the State of California. The stipulation was entered upon the minutes of the court, and the postponement desired was granted, by order of the court, in accordance with its terms.

With this stipulation, the sureties on the recognizance had nothing to do in any way, and had, in fact, no knowledge of it.

Page 76 U. S. 16

It was proved at the trial without objection that it was fully understood by all parties at the time that if the stipulation should be made, Limantour and his witnesses would return to Mexico and remain there until the civil cases in the United States district court were finally disposed of, and that Limantour should afterwards have time enough allowed him to give notice to his witnesses and get them and return with them to San Francisco.

The result was that the witnesses of Limantour returned at once to Mexico, and after two or three months' delay Limantour followed them, and never returned to California.

In November, 1858, the district court by its decrees rejected the claims of Limantour in both of the land cases, and soon afterwards the district attorney moved that the criminal actions be set for trial. After repeated adjournments, the motion was finally argued and decided in March, 1859, and on the 26th of that month were set for trial for the 25th of April following On this latter day, the two actions were called, and Limantour was called in both, but he did not appear in either of them, and thereupon an order was entered forfeiting the recognizance of bail.

By stipulation of the parties the case was tried in the circuit court without the intervention of a jury, and that court gave judgment for the United States. The surety, Reese, accordingly brought the case here by writ of error.

Page 76 U. S. 17

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