United States v. Smith,
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18 U.S. 153 (1820)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Smith, 18 U.S. 5 Wheat. 153 153 (1820)
United States v. Smith
18 U.S. (5 Wheat.) 153
The Act of 3 March 1819, c. 76, s. 5, referring to the law of nations for a definition of the crime of piracy, is a constitutional exercise of the power of Congress to define and punish that crime.
The crime of piracy is defined by the law of nations with reasonable certainty. Robbery or forcible depredation upon the sea, anima furandi, is piracy by the law of nations and by the act of Congress.
This was an indictment for piracy against the prisoner Thomas Smith before the Circuit Court of
Virginia on the Act of Congress of 3 March, 1819, c. 76.
The jury found a special verdict as follows:
"We, of the jury, find that the prisoner Thomas Smith, in the month of March, 1819, and others, were part of the crew of a private armed vessel called the Creollo, commissioned by the government of Buenos Ayres, a colony then at war with Spain, and lying in the port of Margaritta; that in the month of March, 1819, the said prisoner and others of the crew mutinied, confined their officer, left the vessel, and in the said port of Margaritta seized by violence a vessel called the Irresistible, a private armed vessel lying in that port, commissioned by the government of Artigas, who was also at war with Spain; that the said prisoner and others, having so possessed themselves of the said vessel, the Irresistible, appointed their officers, proceeded to sea on a cruise without any documents or commission whatever, and while on that cruise, in the month of April, 1819, on the high seas, committed the offense charged in the indictment by the plunder and robbery of the Spanish vessel therein mentioned. If the plunder and robbery aforesaid be piracy under the act of the Congress of the United States entitled 'An act to protect the commerce of the
United States, and punish the crime of piracy,' then we find the said prisoner guilty; if the plunder and robbery above stated, be not piracy under the said act of Congress, then we find him not guilty."
The circuit court divided on the question whether this be piracy as defined by the law of nations, so as to be punishable under the Act of Congress of 3 March, 1819, and thereupon the question was certified to this Court for its decision.