United States v. Knight,
39 U.S. 301 (1840)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Knight, 39 U.S. 14 Pet. 301 301 (1840)

United States v. Knight

39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 301


Action on a bond given to the United States for the liberty of the jail yard in Portland, in the State of Maine. The condition of the bond was that J.K. and B.K. "should continue true prisoners in the custody of the jailer, within the limits of the jail yard." It was agreed by the counsel for the plaintiff and defendants that J.K. and B.K. had remained within "the limits of the jail yard," as established under the laws of 1787, of Massachusetts, then prevailing in Maine, the limits of the jail yard having in October, 1798, been extended over the whole county, but had not remained within the limits established on 29 May, 1787, and existing when the act of Congress was passed, 4 January, 1800, authorizing persons under process from the United States to have "the jail limits" as established by the laws of the state. Held that the Act of Congress of 19 May, 1828, gives the debtors imprisoned under executions from the courts of the United States, at the suit of the United States, the privilege of jail limits in the several states, as they were fixed by the laws of the several states at the date of that act.

Whatever might be the liability of the officer who took the bond from the defendants if the jail limits continued to be such as were established under the law of Massachusetts of 1787, the bond not having been taken under that law, and the condition being different from the requirements of those regulations, the parties to the bond, the suit being upon the bond, are bound for nothing whatsoever but what is contained in the condition, whether it be or be not conformable with the law.

The statute of May 19, 1828, entitled, "An act further to regulate Processes in the courts of the United States," which proposes only to regulate the mode of proceeding in civil suits, does not divest the public of any right, does not violate any principle of public policy, but on the contrary makes provision, in accordance with the policy which the government has indicated, by many acts of previous legislation, to conform to state laws, in giving to persons imprisoned under their execution the privilege of jail limits, embracing executions at the suit of the United States.

The cases Wayman v. Southard, 1 Wheat. 10, and Beers v. Houghton, 9 Pet. 332, cited and affirmed.

The United States, in 1838, instituted an action of debt against the defendants in error on a bond executed by them on 30 January, 1838, for the sum of seventeen thousand four hundred and ninety-four dollars and four cents, the condition of which was as follows:

"The condition of the above written obligation is such that whereas the said Jacob and Benjamin Knight have been and now are imprisoned in the prison at Portland in the said Maine District by virtue of an execution issued against them on a judgment obtained against them by the said United States at the District Court of the United States for Maine District, which was begun and holden at Portland, within and for the District of Maine on the first Tuesday of December, A.D. 1837, for the sum of eight thousand four hundred and sixty-two dollars and thirty-six cents, principal, and one hundred and sixty-one dollars and seventy-nine cents for interest thereon, to

Page 39 U. S. 302

19 December aforesaid, and costs of suit taxed at twenty-four dollars and forty-seven cents, and also for all legal interest that may accrue on said sum of eight thousand four hundred and sixty-two dollars and thirty-six cents from 19 December until said judgment shall be fully discharged and satisfied, with one hundred cents more for one writ of execution and the officer's fees and charges for commitment, taxed at ninety-seven dollars and forty cents."

"Now if the said Jacob Knight and Benjamin Knight, from the time of executing this bond, shall continue true prisoners, in the custody of the jailer within the limits of the jail yard until they shall be lawfully discharged, and shall not depart without the exterior bounds of said jail yard until lawfully discharged from said imprisonment according to the laws of the United States in such cases made and provided, and commit no manner of escape, then the said obligation to be void, otherwise to remain in full force."

In this case the parties in the circuit court agreed to the following statement of facts:

"On 30 January, last past, Jacob and Benjamin Knight were committed to the jail in the City of Portland on an execution issued on a judgment in favor of the said United States against said Jacob and Benjamin, whereupon the said Jacob and Benjamin, as principals, and Isaac and Edward Knight as sureties, gave the bond declared on in this suit; that said Jacob and Benjamin continued to remain within the limits of the Town of Portland, exclusive of the islands, and did not depart therefrom up to the time of the commencement of this suit, nor have they since departed therefrom, but neither the said Jacob nor Benjamin, from the time of the execution of said bond nor afterwards at any time lodged in the night time within the walls of said jail, but remained at large within the limits of said Town of Portland, exclusive of the islands belonging to the same, both day and night."

"If, upon the foregoing facts, the court is of opinion that the condition of said bond has been broken by the said Jacob and Benjamin, and that they have made an escape, then the court are to render judgment, to be entered as of said October term and as on verdict rendered for the said United States, and if the court shall be of opinion that the obligation of the bond has not been broken, then judgment to be rendered in manner aforesaid for the said defendants."

And each party reserves to themselves the right to a writ of error, to reverse any such judgment as may as aforesaid be rendered by said court in the case.

The justices of the peace of the County of Cumberland, on 29 May, 1787, established the

"proper boundaries of the jail yard in the county, to be: beginning at the bottom of Love lane, at low water mark; thence up said lane, including the houses on each side thereof to the northerly side of Back Street; thence down said Back Street, including the houses on both sides thereof, to King Street; from thence down said King Street, including the houses on both sides

Page 39 U. S. 303

thereof, to low water mark; thence by low water mark to the first bounds, including all the ground and buildings within the aforesaid limits."

Afterwards, on 16 October, 1798, the limits of the jail yard were extended to "the Town of Portland, exclusive of the islands," and on 10 September, the judges of the court of sessions ordered

"that the bounds of the jail yard be extended over the whole county, and to the exterior limits thereof, which are hereby fixed and established as the bounds of the jail yard for the said County of Cumberland."

At the October sessions of the circuit court, judgment on the facts agreed was given that "the obligation of the bond was not broken," and the United States prosecuted this writ of error.

Page 39 U. S. 312

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