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Ex parte Robinson.

mitted had no jurisdiction, and that its sentence was therefore a nullity. The Supreme Court held that, on general principles, they had no power to inquire into and reverse the judgment of a court of another jurisdiction, and refused to discharge the applicant. The case before me stands on wholly different grounds, and does not raise the question decided by the court in Pennsylvania. The interposition invoked in behalf of the marshal is, by virtue of a statute of the United States, intended for the express purpose of relieving the officials of the national government from imprisonment for the performance of duties enjoined on them by law. As before remarked, it is solely under this statutory provision that this court can take cognizance of this application and grant the discharge which is sought for.

In attempting to state briefly the conclusions to which I am brought in the consideration of this case, I have not deemed it necessary to notice all the views presented by the counsel resisting the motion for the discharge of the marshal. One of them has insisted, with much zeal and earnestness, that the fugitive slave law, on which proceedings in this case are based, is, in its most essential requirements, unconstitutional and void, and can not, therefore, form the basis of any valid action by any court or officer of the government. I can not take time to examine and refute this position, but will suggest, what will be most obvious to those who view the subject dispassionately, that a proper appreciation of my position and the obligations resting upon me will make its fallacy and unsoundness sufficiently apparent. The act referred to, whatever views may be entertained of its necessity and expediency, is a valid and constitutional law, and as such must be respected and enforced. No judge or other officer of the State or national government, or any citizen of either, so far as the rights of others are concerned, has a right to act on his private and individual views of the policy and validity of laws passed in conformity with the forms of the constitution. Until repealed or set aside by

United States v. Crow.

the adjudication of the proper judicial tribunal, they must have the force of laws and be obeyed as such. Any other principle must lead to anarchy in its worst form, and result inevitably in the speedy overthrow of our institutions.

The petitioner is discharged.



On the trial of an indictment for abstracting a letter or package from the

mail, the most satisfactory evidence that it had been in the mail is that of the person who deposited it in the post-office; and of its loss, that of the person to whom it was addressed, to the effect that it was never

received by him. In the absence of any direct testimony connecting the defendant with the

violation of the mail, collateral circumstances tending to his inculpa

tion are admissible in evidence to the jury. Evidence having been introduced showing that a letter had been mailed at

Carlisle, in the State of Pennsylvania, addressed to parties in Ohio, inclosing a draft or bill, the prosecution, for the purpose of proving that the draft or bill had been in the defendant's possession, and to raise the presumption that he had stolen it from the mail, offered in evidence a letter purporting to have been written and signed by Martin Smith, transmitting the draft or bill to a banker in Marietta, Ohio, to be cashed, and proposed to prove by a witness that said letter was in the handwriting of the defendant; and the witness stated that it was his impression and belief that the handwriting of the letter, including the signature of Martin Smith, was the proper handwriting of the defendant; but having sworn that he had never seen the defendant write but once, and had no other means of knowing his handwriting, the court instructed the jury that the proof of the handwriting was

not sufficient, and would not justify a verdict of guilty. Proof of the previous good character of the defendant, and that without

compulsion he sought an investigation of the charge is not only admis. sible, but should have weight with the jury if the evidence implicating him creates a reasonable doubt of his guilt.

H. J. Jewett, District Attorney, for plaintiff.

Johnson & Carroll, for defendant.

United States v. Crow.


The indictment against the defendant contains several distinct charges, one or more of which must be substantiated by the evidence to justify a verdict of guilty. The first,

, second, and third counts are for stealing letters and packages from the mail of the United States without any particular description or designation of them. The fourth count charges the stealing of a letter from the mail, which had been deposited in the post-office at Carlisle, in the State of Pennsylvania, written by R. M. Henderson, addressed to J. D. & J. Brown, Amesville, Ohio, which, it is averred, inclosed a draft in favor of said Browns, drawn by the cashier of a bank at Carlisle on one of the banks of Philadelphia. The fifth count charges the defendant with having fraudulently taken from the post-office, at Beverly, Ohio, a letter addressed to one Martin Smith.

These several charges are based on different provisions of the laws of the United States, designed for the protection of the mails and the punishment of persons guilty of violating them. The case for the prosecution rests wholly on circumstantial evidence, which, it is insisted by the counsel for the government, must lead the jury to the conclusion that the defendant is guilty. It is proper here to remark, that to justify the conviction of the defendant the jury must be satisfied, not only that the mail has been violated, but that the letters or packages, with the stealing of which the defendant is charged, had been in, and were taken from, the mail of the United States. The usual, and certainly the most satisfactory, evidence that a letter or package was put into the mail for transmission, is that of the person who deposited it in the post-office; and the best evidence of its loss is that of the person to whom the letter or package was addressed. In this case neither the person mailing the letter or package, nor the person to whom it was directed, have been called as witnesses; and the jury are therefore to consider whether other circumstances in proof connect the defendant with the criminal acts charged.


United States v. Crow.

It will not be necessary to recite at length the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution, which it is claimed proves the guilt of the defendant. I will refer only to the more material facts relied upon for this purpose. The witness, Harvey Smith, says that about the 4th of May last he was informed that some letters and fragments of letters and envelopes had been found under a school-house, in the village of Plymouth, Washington county, Ohio. Upon examination he found some mutilated letters, with envelopes and postmarks upon them. And he identifies some of these now presented to the jury as being the same that were found under the school-house. This evidence proves that there was a violation of the mail of the United States at the place mentioned, but there seems to be no proof directly implicating the defendant with such violation.

It is insisted, however, that the evidence establishes the fact that the defendant was in possession of the draft or bill described in the fourth count of the indictment, and that until he shows that he came honestly into the possession he must be presumed to have stolen it from the mail. It will be for the jury to inquire and determine, first, whether the evidence sufficiently proves the fact of the possession of the draft by the defendant; and, secondly, whether, if in possession, he abstracted it from the mail. On the last point, I may as well remark here that, though the jury may have sufficient grounds for finding the fact of possession in the defendant, they must also be satisfied that it was feloniously stolen from the mail to constitute his guilt under this indictment. If he came, even feloniously, into the possession of the draft by other means than stealing it from the mail, the offense would be one cognizable in a State court, but of which this court has no jurisdiction.

It is an important inquiry for the jury, whether there is sufficient proof that the draft was in the possession of the defendant. For, it will be obvious, if the draft be proved to have been in his possession, in connection with the fact that it was inclosed in the letter from Carlisle, addressed to


United States v. Crow.


the Browns at Amesville and sent by mail, a prima facie case of guilt against the defendant would seem to be made out. And it would be necessary for him to repel the presumption of guilt by proof that he obtained possession of the draft by other means than those charged in the indictment.

The evidence mainly relied on by the prosecution to show that the draft had been in defendant's possession, is that of George Benedict, who swears that on April 17, 1855, he took from the post-office at Marietta a letter addressed to him, purporting to be written by Martin Smith, dated the 14th of April, which contained the draft in question, with a request that Benedict would cash the draft and remit the proceeds to the writer. The envelope of this letter is produced to this witness, and he identifies it as being the same that covered the letter received from Smith. The postmark shows that it was mailed at Amesville. The witness, Benedict, swears that he remitted the proceeds of the draft in bank-notes, inclosed in a letter addressed to Martin Smith. He thinks there were two $50 notes on Wheeling banks, and that the rest was in Ohio notes.

It is insisted by the prosecution that the letter purporting to be written and signed by Martin Smith was written by the defendant, and is, therefore, conclusive evidence that the draft had been in his hands, and that he resorted to the trick of transmitting it to Benedict for the purpose of getting it cashed, under the feigned name of Martin Smith, that he might reap the proceeds of his crime without danger of detection. It is, thereforc, a most important inquiry for the jury whether the defendant wrote the letter to Benedict under the name of Martin Smith.

The only witness for the prosecution to show that this letter was in the handwriting of the defendant is Harvey Smith, who swears that it is his impression and belief that the letter is in the handwriting of the defendant. He does not swear positively on this subject; and on cross-examination the wituess says be never saw the defendant write but

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