United States v. The Brig Burdett
Annotate this Case
34 U.S. 682 (1835)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. The Brig Burdett, 34 U.S. 9 Pet. 682 682 (1835)
United States v. The Brig Burdett
34 U.S. (9 Pet.) 682
Maryland. An information was filed in the district court of the United States on 1 October, 1832, against the brig Burdett, alleging her to have been forfeited to the United States for a violation of the registry acts, she being owned in whole or in part by a foreigner, a subject of the King of Spain. The vessel was purchased by an agent of George S. Steever, a native citizen of the United States, and was sent to the Havana. From the time of her arrival at Havana, she was placed under the direction of J. J. Carrera, a merchant of that place, and all her voyages directed by him, professing to act as
the agent of Mr. Steever. Part of the cost of the brig was paid in cash by Mr. Steever to his agent on his return to the United States, and the balance charged by the agent and settled for in account with Mr. Carrera. The counsel for the United States offered in evidence certain letters written by Mr. Carrera to Captain Nabb, the commander of the Burdett, during her several voyages, which had been directed by him, and which letters related to the business and employment of the Burdett. The letters were objected to as evidence, and were admitted in the district and circuit court, to which latter court the case was taken on an appeal by the claimant of the vessel. Held that the letters were not legal evidence.
The confessions of an agent are not evidence to bind his principal, nor is his subsequent account of a transaction to his principal, evidence. But his acts within the scope of his powers are obligatory upon his principal, and those acts may be proved in the same manner as if done by the principal. The, agent acting within his authority, is substituted for the principal in every respect, and his statements, which form apart of the res gestae, may be proved.
The object of this prosecution was to enforce a forfeiture of the vessel and all that pertains to her for a violation of a revenue law. The prosecution was a highly penal one, and the penalty should not be inflicted unless the infractions of the law shall be established beyond reasonable doubt.
That frauds are often practiced under the revenue laws cannot be doubted, and that individuals who practice these frauds are exceedingly ingenious in resorting to various subterfuges to avoid detection, is equally notorious. But such acts cannot alter the established rules of evidence which have been adopted as well with reference to the protection of the innocent as the punishment of the guilty.
If a fair construction of the acts and declarations of an individual do not convict him of an offense, if the facts may be admitted as proved and the accused be innocent, should he be held guilty of an act which subjects him to the forfeiture of his property, on a mere presumption! He may be guilty, but he may be innocent. If the scale of evidence does not preponderate against him -- if it hang upon a balance, the penalty cannot be enforced. No individual should be punished for a violation of law, which inflicts a forfeiture of property, unless the offense shall be established beyond reasonable doubt. This is
a rule which governs a jury in all criminal
prosecutions, and the rule is no less proper for the government of the court, when exercising a maritime jurisdiction.
The case is fully stated in the opinion of the Court.