While a court of competent jurisdiction may discharge a prisoner
held by another court which has exceeded its jurisdiction, even in
such a case the prisoner may be remitted to his remedy by writ of
No court may properly release a prisoner under conviction and
sentence of another court unless for want of jurisdiction of cause
or person or some matter rendering the proceeding void.
Where a court has jurisdiction, mere errors cannot be corrected
upon habeas corpus.
Disqualifications of grand jurors do not destroy jurisdiction if
it otherwise exists, and the indictment, though voidable, is not
void, and objections seasonably taken in the trial court if
erroneously overruled must be corrected by writ of error, and not
by proceedings in habeas corpus.
18 Haw. 28, 658 affirmed.
The facts are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE MOODY delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a writ of error directed to a judgment of the Supreme
Court of the Territory of Hawaii discharging a writ of habeas
corpus and remanding the petitioner to the custody of the sheriff.
The plaintiff in error was indicted for murder by a grand jury at a
term of a circuit court of the territory held in August, 1905. The
grand jury was composed of sixteen members. A plea in abatement was
seasonably filed alleging that
Page 211 U. S. 147
eight of the grand jurors were not citizens of the United States
or of the territory -- a qualification prescribed by the laws of
the territory. The territory joined issue on this plea. The parties
then agreed upon the facts upon which it was based -- namely that
the eight grand jurors questioned were citizens only by virtue of
judgments of naturalization in a circuit court of the territory.
The plea, with the agreed facts, raised the question of the
jurisdiction of the circuit courts of the territory to naturalize
aliens. Under a statute of the territory, that question was
certified to the supreme court, and that court held that the
circuit courts of the territory had jurisdiction to naturalize, and
that the grand jury possessed the necessary qualifications.
Thereupon the trial judge overruled the plea in abatement, and an
exception was taken. After due proceedings, plaintiff in error was
found guilty as charged, and, on March 22, 1906, sentenced to
death. Thereupon he prosecuted a writ of error to the supreme court
of the territory, assigning, among other errors, the overruling of
the plea in abatement. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed
by the supreme court on October 23, 1906, and a death warrant
thereupon was issued by the governor of the territory, commanding
the high sheriff to execute the sentence of death on January 22,
1907. No writ of error was sued out on the foregoing judgments of
the supreme court. The plaintiff in error, however, six days before
the date fixed for his execution, filed a petition for habeas
corpus in the supreme court of the territory, basing his claim for
discharge from custody upon the same facts set forth in the plea of
abatement and in the agreed statement of facts. The petition
alleged that, for the reason of the disqualification of eight
members of the grand jury, the indictment was void, and that the
trial court was without jurisdiction to proceed against him under
it. The writ of habeas corpus was discharged and the petitioner
remanded to the custody of the sheriff, and to this judgment the
present writ of error is directed.
The principal question argued before us by counsel is whether
the eight members of the grand jury whose qualifications were
Page 211 U. S. 148
questioned were naturalized by courts having the authority to
naturalize aliens. But we find no occasion to decide or consider
this question. If the plaintiff in error desired the judgment of
this Court upon it, he should have brought a writ of error to the
judgment of the supreme court of the territory which passed upon it
in affirming the judgment of conviction in the trial court. He may
not lie by, as he did in this case, until the time for the
execution of the judgment comes near, and then seek to raise
collaterally, by habeas corpus, questions not affecting the
jurisdiction of the court which convicted him, which were open to
him in the original case, and, if properly presented then, could
ultimately have come to this Court upon writ of error.
Unquestionably, if the trial court had exceeded its jurisdiction, a
prisoner held under its judgment might be discharged from custody
upon a writ of habeas corpus by another court having the authority
to entertain the writ, Ex Parte
18 Wall. 163; Ex Parte Siebold,
100 U. S. 371
Ex Parte Yarbrough, 110 U. S. 651
Ex Parte Wilson, 114 U. S. 417
though even in a case of this kind a court will sometimes refrain
from releasing a prisoner upon writ of habeas corpus, and will
remit him to his remedy by writ of error. Riggins v. United
States, 199 U. S. 547
Urquhart v. Brown, 204 U. S. 179
But no court may properly release a prisoner under conviction and
sentence of another court unless for want of jurisdiction of the
cause or person, or for some other matter rendering its proceedings
void. Where a court has jurisdiction, mere errors which have been
committed in the course of the proceedings cannot be corrected upon
a writ of habeas corpus, which may not in this manner usurp the
functions of a writ of error. Ex Parte Parks, 93 U. S.
; Ex Parte Siebold, supra, 100 U. S. 375
Ex Parte Yarbrough, supra, 110 U. S. 651
Ex Parte Wilson, supra, 114 U. S. 421
In re Delgado, 140 U. S. 586
United States v. Pridgeon, 153 U. S.
, 153 U. S. 59
153 U. S. 63
Andrews v. Swartz, 156 U. S. 272
156 U. S. 276
Riggins v. United States, supra; Felts v. Murphy,
201 U. S. 123
Valentina v. Mercer, 201 U. S. 131
Page 211 U. S. 149
These well settled principles are decisive of the case before
us. Disqualifications of grand jurors do not destroy the
jurisdiction of the court in which an indictment is returned if the
court has jurisdiction of the cause and of the person, as the trial
court had in this case. Ex Parte Harding, 120 U.
; In re Wood, 140 U.
; In re Wilson, 140 U.
. See In re Moran, 203 U. S.
, 203 U. S. 104
The indictment, though voidable, if the objection is seasonably
taken, as it was in this case, is not void. United States v.
Gale, 109 U. S. 65
objection may be waived, if it is not made at all or delayed too
long. This is but another form of saying that the indictment is a
sufficient foundation for the jurisdiction of the court in which it
is returned, if jurisdiction otherwise exists. That court has the
authority to decide all questions concerning the constitution,
organization, and qualification of the grand jury, and, if there
are errors in dealing with these questions, like all other errors
of law committed in the course of the proceedings, they can only be
corrected by writ of error.