Annotate this Case
25 U.S. 1 (1827)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Palmyra, 25 U.S. 12 Wheat. 1 1 (1827)
25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 1
A question of probable cause of seizure under the Piracy Acts of 3 March, 1819, c. 75, and 15 May, 1820, c. 112.
General rule as to libels in rem.
How far the strict rules of the common law as to pleading in criminal cases are applicable to informations in rem.
How far a previous prosecution in personam is necessary to found the proceeding in rem.
In such a case, although the crew may be protected by a commission bona fide received and acted under from the consequences attaching to the offense of piracy by the general law of nations, although such commission was irregularly issued, yet if the defects in the commission be such as, connected with the insubordination and predatory spirit of the crew, to excite a justly founded suspicion, it is sufficient under the act of Congress to justify the captors for bringing in the vessel for adjudication and to exempt them from costs and damages.
Probable cause of seizure a bar to the claim for damages.
Although probable cause of seizure will not exempt from costs and damages, in seizures under mere municipal statutes, unless expressly made a ground of justification by the law itself, this principle does not extend to captures jure belli, nor to marine torts generally, nor to acts of Congress authorizing the exercise of belligerent rights to a limited extent, such as the Piracy Acts of 3 March, 1819, c. 75, and 15 May, 1820, c. 112.
An objection to the competency of a witness on the ground of interest cannot betaken in the Supreme Court on a hearing on the appeal where the witness had been admitted without objection in the district and circuit court.
This was a libel of information under the Act of Congress of 3 March, 1819, c. 75, entitled, "An act to protect the commerce of the United States and punish the crime of piracy," continued in force by the Act of 15 May, 1820, c. 112. The libel was filed by the district attorney, as well in behalf of the United States as of the captors, and alleged that the brig Palmyra, alias the Panchita, was a vessel from which a piratical aggression, search, depredation, restraint, and seizure had been attempted and made upon the high seas in and upon the schooner Coquette, a vessel of the United States, and of the citizens thereof, and in and upon the master, officers, and crew of the said schooner Coquette, citizens of the United States, and in and upon the Jeune Eugenie, a vessel of the United States and of the citizens thereof and in and upon Edward L. Coffin, the master, and the officers and crew of the said vessel, being citizens of the United States, and also in and upon other vessels of the United States, their officers and crews, citizens of the United States, and in and upon other vessels of various nations, states, and kingdoms, their officers and crews, citizens and subjects of the said states and kingdoms. The vessel in question was an armed vessel, ostensibly cruising as a privateer under a commission from the King of Spain, and was captured on the high seas on 15 August, 1822, by the United States vessel of war the Grampus, commanded by Lieutenant Gregory, after a short resistance, and receiving a fire from the Grampus by which one man was killed and six men were wounded. The captured vessel was sent into the port of Charleston, South Carolina, for adjudication. A libel was filed and a claim interposed, and upon the proceedings in the district court a decree was pronounced restoring the brig to the claimants without damages for the capture, injury, or detention. From this sentence an appeal was interposed by both parties to the circuit court, and upon the hearing in that court a decree was pronounced affirming so much of the decree as acquitted the brig and reversing so much of
it as denied damages; and the circuit court proceeded finally to award damages to the amount of $10,288.58. From this decree an appeal was interposed in behalf of the United States and the captors to the Supreme Court. The cause coming on to be heard in this Court at February term, 1825, it not appearing that there had been any final decree in the circuit court ascertaining the amount of damages, the cause was dismissed. * But at the last term, it being discovered that in point of fact there had been a final award of damages, which was omitted by mistake in the transcript of the record certified by the Clerk of the court below, this Court, on motion of the appellants, ordered the cause to be reinstated.
At the hearing in the court below, it appeared that the commission of the Palmyra was numbered 38, and entitled in the margin, "Real Passaporte de Corso para los Mares de Indias;" that is, "A royal cruising passport for the Indian seas." The great seal of Spain was affixed to it, and it was signed with the royal sign manual with the usual formula: "Yo el Reg." It was afterwards countersigned by the Secretary of State and Marine Affairs, and dated at Madrid, the 10th of February, 1816. The blanks in the passport or commission, were filled up to Don Pablo Llanger, an inhabitant of Cadiz, to arm for war his Spanish schooner (Goleta) called the Palmyra, of ninety-three tons, one twelve pound cannon, and eight carronades, ten pounders, with a crew of one hundred men. A printed note on the back of the commission, signed by Juan Dios Robiou, lieutenant in the national navy, and captain of the port of Porto Rico, dated on the 5th of February, 1822, renewed the commission in favor of Llanger, as captain of the Palmyra, for a new cruise of three months, it having been originally granted for the term of three months, which had expired. The vessel, on board of which the commission was found, was in fact a brig of one hundred and sixty tons, commanded by Captain Escura. Various testimony was taken as to the
acts of piracy committed by the Palmyra upon the Coquette and the Jeune Eugenie, as to the insubordination and predatory spirit of the crew of the Palmyra, and as to the nature and circumstances attending the encounter between the Palmyra and the Grampus, which gave rise to a question of fact in respect to the justifiableness of the cause of capture. But it has not been thought necessary to analyze the testimony, as the most material facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.
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