United States v. Dawson
Annotate this Case
56 U.S. 467 (1853)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Dawson, 56 U.S. 15 How. 467 467 (1853)
United States v. Dawson
56 U.S. (15 How.) 467
In June, 1844, Congress passed an act by virtue of which the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Arkansas was vested with power to try offenses committed within the Indian country.
In July, 1844, it was alleged that a murder was committed in that country.
In April, 1845, an indictment was found by a grand jury in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Arkansas against a person charged with committing the murder.
In March, 1851, Congress passed an act erecting nine of the Western counties and the Indian country into a new judicial district, directing the judge to hold two terms there, and giving him jurisdiction of all causes, civil or criminal, except appeals and writs of error, which are cognizable before a circuit court of the United States.
The residue of the state remained a judicial district to be styled the Eastern District of Arkansas.
This act of Congress did not take away the power and jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District to try the indictment pending.
The two following questions were certified, viz.:
1st. Did the act of Congress entitled "An act to divide the District of Arkansas into two judicial districts," approved the third day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one, whereby the Western District of Arkansas was created and defined, take away the power and jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Arkansas, so that it cannot proceed to hear, try, and determine a prosecution for murder, pending against the prisoner, James L. Dawson, a white man and not an Indian, upon an indictment found, presented, and returned into the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Arkansas by the grand jury empanelled for that district upon the 16th day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-five, against said James L. Dawson, a white man, for the felonious killing of Seaborn Hill, another white man and not an Indian, on the eighth day of July, A.D. 1844, in that country belonging to the Creek nation of Indians, west of Arkansas, and which formed a part of the Indian country annexed to the Judicial District of Arkansas by the Act of Congress approved the seventeenth day of June, A.D. 1844, entitled "An act supplementary to the act entitled An act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve peace on the frontiers, passed thirtieth June, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four,'" in which cause, so pending, no trial has as yet been had.
2d. Can the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas take jurisdiction of the case aforesaid upon the indictment aforesaid, so found in the year 1845, in said Circuit Court for the District of Arkansas?
Although the name of Dawson only was mentioned in the question certified, yet the record showed that Baylor was indicted at the same as aiding and abetting in the murder.
A motion was made in the circuit court to quash the indictment upon the ground that this Honorable Court has no jurisdiction or power to hear, try, or determine this case and prosecution, and that all its jurisdiction and power in that behalf ceased and was extinguished on the third day of March, 1851, when that part of the Indian country, in which the offense is charged to have been committed, was severed from this district and made part of a new district under the jurisdiction of the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas.
It was upon this motion that the judges differed in opinion and certified the two questions above stated to this Court.