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BURTON v. U S, 196 U.S. 283 (1905)

U.S. Supreme Court

BURTON v. U S, 196 U.S. 283 (1905)

196 U.S. 283

No. 343.

Argued November 30, December 1, 1904.
Decided January 16, 1905.

[196 U.S. 283, 284]   The plaintiff in error having been convicted in the district court of the United States for the eastern district of Missouri of a violation of the Revised Statutes of the United States, 1782 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1212), and set forth in the margin, has brought the case here directly from that court by writ of error.

U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1212

Sec. 1782. No senator, representative, or delegate, after his election, and during his continuance in office, and no head of a department, or other officer or clerk in the employ of the government, shall receive or agree to receive rectly, for any services rendered, or to be rendered, to any person, either by himself or another, in relation to any proceeding, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest, or other matter or thing in which the United States is a party, or directly or indirectly interested, before any department, court-martial, bureau, officer, or any civil, military, or naval commission whatever. Every person offending against this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be imprisoned not more than two years, and fined not more than ten thousand dollars, and shall, moreover, by conviction therefor, be rendered forever thereafter incapable of holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the government of the United States. [196 U.S. 283, 285]   The defendant was a member of the Senate of the United States, representing the state of Kansas. The indictment under which he was tried contained nine counts. The first count, after averring that the defendant was a senator from the state of Kansas, averred that on the 26th day of March, 1903, he received, at St. Louis, Missouri, from the Rialto Grain & Securities Company, $500 in money, as compensation for his services theretofore on November 22, 1902, and on divers other days between that day and the 26th day of March, 1903, rendered for the company before the Postoffice Department of the United States, in a certain matter then and there pending before that Department, in which the United States was directly interested, that is to say: Whether the company had violated the provisions of 5480 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3696), in that the company had, through its officers, devised a scheme and artifice to defraud, which was to be effected through correspondence by means of the postoffice establishment of the United States, and whether the correspondence of the company at St. Louis, Missouri, should not be returned with the word "fraudulent" plainly written or stamped upon the outside, as authorized by law. It is also averred that the services rendered by defendant to the company consisted in part of visits to the Postmaster General, the chief inspector, and other officers of the Postoffice Department, and of statements made to the Postmaster General, the chief inspector, and other officers, which visits and statements made by the defendant were made with a view and for the purpose of inducing the Postmaster General, the chief inspector, and other officers to decide the question then pending before [196 U.S. 283, 286]   the Post-office Department in a way favorable to the Rialto Company. The second count of the indictment was the same as the first, except that it averred the United States was "indirectly," instead of "directly," interested in the question as to whether or not a "fraud" order should be issued. Upon the third count the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty. Upon the fourth and fifth counts the government entered a nolle prosequi. The third, fourth, and fifth counts concededly charged but one offense, which was the same as that charged in the first and second counts, and all of these counts were based upon the payment of $500 in cash to defendant, at St. Louis, on the 26th of March, 1903. The sixth count averred the receipt by defendant, at the city of St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, of a check for the payment of $500, which was received by the defendant on the 22d of November, 1902, the check being drawn upon the Commonwealth Trust Company, of St. Louis, payable to the order of the defendant, and by him duly indorsed, and such check was paid by the trust company to defendant at St. Louis, as compensation for his services to the company between the 22d of November, 1902, and the 26th of March, 1903, before the Postoffice Department, in a matter in which the United States was directly interested. The count then contained the same averments of the character of the question pending before the Postoffice Department as are set forth in the first count. The seventh count is the same as the sixth, except that it averred the making of a check and the payment thereof to the defendant on the 15th day of December, 1902, at the city of St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, for the sum of $500; all other averments being the same as the sixth count. The eighth count averred the giving of a check for the sum of $500 on the 22d day of January, 1903, at the city of St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, in payment of services of the same nature as stated in the sixth and seventh counts. The ninth count is the same as the sixth, seventh, and eighth, except that it averred the receipt of a check by the defendant, dated the 16th day of February, 1903, at the city of St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, for the same [196 U.S. 283, 287]   class of services and upon the same matter them pending before the Postoffice Department. The defendant demurred to the indictment on the ground that it stated no crime, and that it showed that the United States had no interest, direct or indirect, in the matter before the Postoffice Department, inasmuch as the interest of the United States, under the statute, must be either a pecuniary or property interest, which may be favorably or unfavorably affected by action sought or taken in the given matter pending before the Department. The demurrer was overruled, and the defendant then pleaded not guilty.

John F. Dillon, Fred. W. Lehmann, Harry Hubbard, John M. Dillon, and W. H. Rossington for plaintiff in error.

[196 U.S. 283, 291]   Solicitor General Hoyt for defendant in error.

[196 U.S. 283, 294]  

Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court:

Counsel for defendant base their right to obtain a direct review by this court of the judgment of conviction in the district court of Missouri upon the contention that the case involves the construction and application of the Constitution of the United States in several particulars. They insist that under article 3, 2, of the Constitution, and also under the 6th Amendment of the same, the defendant was entitled to be tried by a jury of the state or district in which the crime alleged against him in the indictment was committed. This question arises by reason of those counts of the indictment which charge the receipt by defendant of various checks therein set forth, as St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, while the evidence in the case shows, without contradiction, that the checks were received in the city of Washington, D. C., and payment thereof made to defendant by one of the banks of that city. Counsel contended that if any crime were committed by the receipt of these checks and the payment thereof to the defendant (which is denied), that crime was committed in Washington, and not in Missouri, and that it did not come within 731 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 585), pro- [196 U.S. 283, 295]   viding that when an offense against the United States is begun in one judicial circuit, and completed in another, it shall be deemed to have been committed in either, and may be dealt with, etc., in either district, in the same manner as if it had been actually and wholly committed therein. Counsel for defendant also contend that the case involves the construction and application of 6 of article 1 of the Constitution of the United States, providing that senators and representatives shall, in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same. These questions were raised in the court below. Whether the defendant waived his alleged privilege of freedom from arrest as senator would probably depend upon the question whether the offense charged was in substance a felony, and if so, was that privilege a personal one only, and not given for the purpose of always securing the representation of a state in the Senate of the United States. However that may be, the question is not frivolous, and in such case the statute grants to this court jurisdiction to issue the writ of error directly to the district court, and then to decide the case without being restricted to the constitutional question. Horner v. United States, 143 U.S. 570 , 36 L. ed. 266 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 522. It is not the habit of the court to decide questions of a constitutional nature unless absolutely necessary to a decision of the case. Having jurisdiction to decide all questions in the case on this writ of error, we deny the motion for a certiorari, and proceed to an examination of the record.

First. The question of the construction of the statute upon which this indictment was framed is the first to arise. Upon that question a majority of the court (Mr. Justice Harlan, Mr. Justice Brown, Mr. Justice McKenna, Mr. Justice Holmes, and Mr. Justice Day, concurring) are of opinion that the facts alleged in the indictment show a case that is covered by the provisions of the statute, while the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Brewer, Mr. Justice White, and the writer of this opinion [196 U.S. 283, 296]   dissent from that view, and are of opinion that the statute does not cover the case as alleged in the indictment.

Second. Assuming that the statute applies to the facts stated in the indictment, a further question arises upon the general merits of the case, whether there was sufficient evidence of guilt to be submitted to the jury, and a majority of the court (the same justices concurring) are of opinion that there was, or are not prepared to say there was not, and the same minority dissent from that view, and are of opinion that there was no evidence whatever upon which to found a verdict of conviction.

There are, however, other questions remaining, which we now proceed to discuss on the theory that the statute covers the case.

Third. The sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth counts of the indictment aver the receipt by the defendant of the different checks described, at the city of St. Louis, in the state of Missouri, and the payment of the money thereon to the defendant at St. Louis, in that state, as compensation for services theretofore performed by the defendant for the Rialto Company. It may be assumed that, on the facts averred in these various counts in the indictment upon the checks, each of them was good. It turned out, however, on the trial that these averments of the place where the different checks were received and paid were not true; but, on the contrary, the evidence was wholly undisputed that each of them was received by the defendant in the city of Washington, D. C., and by him there indorsed and deposited with the Riggs National Bank, of Washington, D. C., and that they were afterwards duly paid by the Commonwealth Trust Company, at St. Louis, Missouri; that the amount of each was in each instance immediately credited by the Riggs National Bank to the account of the defendant with the bank, and the cashier testified that the defendant had the right, immediately after the credit was made, to draw out the whole, or any portion thereof, without waiting for the payment of the check at St. Louis. [196 U.S. 283, 297]   There was no oral or special agreement made between the defendant and the bank at the time when any one of the checks was deposited and credit given for the amount thereof. The defendant had an account with the bank, took each check when it arrived, went to the bank, indorsed the check, which was payable to his order, and the bank took the check, placed the amount thereof to the credit of the defendant's account, and nothing further was said in regard to the matter. In other words, it was the ordinary case of the transfer or sale of the check by the defendant, and the purchase of it by the bank, and upon its delivery to the bank, under the circumstances stated, the title to the check passed to the bank, and it became the owner thereof. It was in no sense the agent of the defendant for the purpose of collecting the amount of the check from the trust company upon which it was drawn. From the time of the delivery of the check by the defendant to the bank, it became the owner of the check; it could have torn it up or thrown it in the fire or made any other use or disposition of it which it chose, and no right of defendant would have been infringed. The testimony of Mr. Brice, the cashier of the Riggs National Bank, as to the custom of the bank when a check was not paid, of charging it up against the depositor's account, did not in the least vary the legal effect of the transaction; it was simply a method pursued by the bank of exacting payment from the indorser of the check, and nothing more. There was nothing whatever in the evidence showing any agreement or understanding as to the effect of the transaction between the parties,-the defendant and the bank,-making it other than such as the law would imply from the facts already stated. The forwarding of the check "for collection ," as stated by Mr. Brice, was not a collection for defendant by the bank as his agent. It was sent forward to be paid, and the Riggs bank was its owner when sent. With reference to the jurisdiction of the court over the offense described in the sixth and following counts in the indictment, the court held that if the checks were actually received by the defendant in Washington, and [196 U.S. 283, 298]   the money paid to him by the bank in that city, and the title and ownership of the checks passed to the bank at that time, the court in Missouri had no jurisdiction to try the offenses set forth in those counts of the indictment already referred to. There was no question that such was the fact, and it was error to submit the matter to the jury to find some other fact not supported by any evidence. The court said:

A careful scrutiny of the evidence with relation to this charge to the jury shows that there was no foundation for submitting to the jury the question of what was the understanding (other than such as arose from the transaction itself, as shown by uncontradicted evidence) between the defendant and the bank at the time when these various checks were deposited with the bank, and their proceeds placed to the credit of the defendant. There was no agreement or understanding of any kind other [196 U.S. 283, 301]   than such as the law makes from the transaction detailed, which was itself proved by uncontradicted evidence offered by the government itself. In the absence of any special agreement that the effect of the transaction shall be otherwise (and none can be asserted here), there is no doubt that its legal effect is a change of ownership of the paper, and that the subsequent action of the bank in taking steps to obtain payment for itself of the paper which it had purchased can in no sense be said to be the action of an agent for its principal, but the act of an owner in regard to its own property. The learned judge, in his charge to the jury, did not, indeed, deny the general truth of this proposition, but he left it to the jury to determine whether there was not an agreement or understanding made e or arrived at by the parties at the time the checks were taken by the defendant to the bank, which altered the legal effect of the transaction actually proved. This, as we have said, there was not the slightest evidence of, and it was error to submit that question to the jury.

The general transaction between the bank and a customer in the way o deposits to a customer's credit, and drawing against the account by the customer, constitute the relation of creditor and debtor. As is said by Mr. Justice Davis, in delivering the opinion of the court in National Bank of the Republic v. Millard, 10 Wall. 152, 19 L. ed. 897, in speaking of this relationship (page 155, L. ed. p. 899):

When a check is taken to a bank, and the bank receives it and places the amount to the credit of a customer, the relation of creditor and debtor between them subsists, and it is not that of principal and agent. This principle is held in Thompson v. Riggs, 5 Wall. 663, 18 L. ed. 704, and also in Marine Bank v. Fulton Bank, 2 Wall. 252, 17 L. ed. 785. See also Scammon v. Kimball, 92 U.S. 362, 369 , 23 S. L. ed. 483, 485; Davis v. Elmira Sav. Bank, 161 U.S. 275, 288 , 40 S. L. ed. 700, 702, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 502.

The case of Cragie v. Hedley, 99 N. Y. 131, 52 Am. Rep. 9, 1 N. E. 537, contains a statement of the rule as follows, per Andrews, Chief Judge:

In Metropolitan Nat. Bank v. Loyd, 90 N. Y. 530, one of the cases referred to by Judge Andrews, Judge Danforth, in speaking of the effect of placing a check to the credit of a depositor in his account with the bank, said that:

... * *

The same principle is set forth in Taft v. Quinsigamond Nat. Bank, 172 Mass. 363, 52 N. E. 387. In that case the court said: "So when, without more, a bank receives upon deposit a check indorsed without restriction, and gives credit for it to the depositor as cash in a drawing account, the form of the transaction is consistent with and indicates a sale, in which, as with money so deposited, the check becomes the absolute property of the banker."

In the case at bar the proof was not disputed. The checks were passed to the credit of defendant unconditionally, and without any special understanding. The custom of the bank [196 U.S. 283, 304]   to farward such checks for collection is a plain custom to forward for collection for itself. The only liability of defendant was on his indorsement. All this made a payment at Washington, and as a result there was a total lack of evidence to sustain the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth counts of the indictment. The court should have, therefore, directed a verdict of not guilty on those counts.

This is not a case of the commencement of a crime in one district and its completion in another, so that, under the statute, the court in either district has jurisdiction. Rev. Stat. 731, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 585. There was no beginning of the offense in Missouri. The payment of the money was in Washington, and there was no commencement of that offense when the officer of the Rialto Company sent the checks from St. Louis to defendant. The latter did not thereby begin an offense in Missouri.

Fourth. The judgment must also be reversed because of the error in the refusal of the court to charge as requested when the jury came into court and announced an inability to agree. Previous to the retirement of the jury the defendant's counsel submitted to the court certain requests to charge the jury,-twelve in all. Those numbered seven, ten, and eleven were refused. Numbers ten and eleven referred to the checks and the effect of the transaction of depositing them with the Riggs bank. The other instructions referred to many of the questions arising in the case, and material upon the subject of the trial then before the court. After the court had concluded his main charge to the jury, he added that he had been " asked by counsel for the defendant to give certain declarations here, and while I think they have, in the main, been covered by the charge, yet I will give them to you." (They were the instructions requested by defendant, and above described.) "These are abstract propositions of law, which I give in connection with the charge, as perhaps more fully amplifying it. I am willing to give them, inasmuch as they are asked, and they contain general propositions of law." The jury then retired, [196 U.S. 283, 305]   and after being out from Staturday evening at 8 o'clock until the following Monday morning at 10 o'clock, without agreeing, returned into court, and were charged by the court in relation to their duty as jurors. In the course of that charge the court said to the jury as follows:

The court then charged the jury in relation to its duty to agree if possible, and directed that the jury should, in the light of the comments of the court then made, retire and make a serious attempt to arrive at a verdict in the case. Counsel for the defendant then asked the court to indicate to the jury that the requests to charge theretofore asked by the defendant, and which were given by the court, constitute as much a part--

We think the court should have instructed the jury as requested by counsel for the defendant, and that its refusal to do so was error. Here was a case of very great doubt in the minds of some of the jury. It had deliberated for more than thirty-six hours, and been unable to agree upon a verdict. The requests to charge originally made by counsel for defendant had, at that time, been received as abstract propositions of law, which the court gave in connection with the charge, saying that he was willing to give them inasmuch as they were asked, and as they contained general propositions of law. It does not appear from the bill of exceptions that defendant's counsel then excepted to those remarks by the court, but when the jury subsequently returned into court, and announced their [196 U.S. 283, 307]   inability to agree, counsel for defendant immediately saw the extreme importance of having the requests to charge made to the court regarded by the jury, not as abstract or general propositions of law, but as requests which affected the case then on trial with reference to the facts proved in the case; and so, before the jury again retired, they commenced to propound their requests upon the subject to the court, but the court, before listening to them, instructed the jury to retire, and then followed the colloquy above set forth between court and counsel.

Balanced as the case was in the minds of some of the jurors, doubts existing as to the defendant's guilt in the mind of at least one, it was a case where the most extreme care and caution were necessary in order that the legal rights of the defendant should be preserved. Considering the attitude of the case as it existed when the jury returned into court for further instructions, we think the defendant was entitled, as matter of legal right, to the charge asked for in regard to the previous requests to charge, which had been granted by the court under the circumstances stated, and it was not a matter of discretion whether the jury should, or should not, be charged as to the character of those requests. A slight thing may have turned the balance against the accused under the circumstances shown by the record, and he ought not to have longer remained burdened with the characterization of his requests to charge, made by the court, and when he asked for the assertion by the court of the materiality and validity of those requests which had already been made, the court ought to have granted the request.

We must say in addition, that a practice ought not to grow up of inquiring of a jury, when brought into court because unable to agree, how the jury is divided; not meaning by such question, how many stand for conviction or how many stand for acquittal, but meaning the proportion of the division, not which way the division may be. Such a practice is not to be commended, because we cannot see how it may be material [196 U.S. 283, 308]   for the court to understand the proportion of division of opinion among the jury. All that the judge said in regard to the propriety and duty of the jury to fairly and honestly endeavor to agree could have been said without asking for the fact as to the proportion of their division; and we do not think that the proper administration of the law requices such knowledge or permits such a question on the part of the presiding judge. Cases may easily be imagined where a practice of this kind might lead to improper influences, and for this reason it ought not to obtain.

Our conclusion is, that the judgment must be reversed and the cause remanded to the District Court of Missouri, with directions to grant a new trial.

So ordered.

Mr. Justice Harlan, dissenting:

I dissent from so much of the opinion and judgment as holds that the offenses charged against the defendant, based on the checks made at St. Louis, and mentioned in the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth counts, were committed in this district, where the checks were received by him, and not at St. Louis, where they were paid by the bank on which they were drawn for his benefit. I am of opinion that the Riggs National Bank, upon receiving the checks from the accused, became, in every substantial sense, his agent and representative to present the checks and receive the proceeds thereof; in which case, the offense of receiving, by means of those checks, compensation for services rendered in violation of the statute, was committed at St. Louis, not at Washington. In a strict sense, no title or ownership of the checks passed to the Riggs National Bank, as in the case of an unconditional sale, consummated by actual delivery, of tangible, personal property, for the recovery of the possession of which the owner could, of right, maintain an action in his own name; for, if the St. Louis bank on which the checks were drawn had refused to accept or honor them, no [196 U.S. 283, 309]   action on the checks, or at all, could have been maintained against it by the Riggs National Bank. National Bank of the Republic v. Millard, 10 Wall. 152, 156, 19 L. ed. 897, 899; First Nat. Bank v. Whitman, 94 U.S. 343, 344 , 24 S. L. ed. 229, 230; St. Louis & S. F. R. Co. v. Johnston, 133 U.S. 566, 574 , 33 S. L. ed. 683, 685, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 390; Fourth Street Nat. Bank v. Yardley, 165 U.S. 634, 643 , 41 S. L. ed. 855, 861, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 439. The checks were made at St. Louis, and sent by mail from that city to the accused, in discharge of an obligation assumed by his client at that city, and, as between him and his client, in the absence of any special agreement on the subject, compensation for services rendered by him before the Department could only be deemed to have been really made when the checks were paid by the bank on which they were directly drawn. It is true that when the Riggs National Bank received the checks, and credited the account of the accused on its books with the amount thereof, there arose, as between that bank and him, only the relation of debtor and creditor. But when his account at that bank was so credited, he became liable, by implied contract,-if the St. Louis bank failed to accept or pay the check when presented,-to pay back to the bank an amount equal to the credit he received on the books of the Riggs National Bank. If the St. Louis bank had refused to accept or pay the checks when presented, and it the accused had then sued his client on its original contract with him, the latter could not have resisted recovery upon the ground that he received compensation by having his account at the Washington bank credited with the amount of the checks. Suppose the accused had been indicted in Washington on the day after the checks were indorsed to the Riggs National Bank, and the checks were not honored or paid when presented at the St. Louis bank-could he, in that case, have been convicted under the statute by proof that he received such credit at the former bank for the amount of the checks? Clearly not. Yet he could have been, if it be true that he was compensated, within the meaning of the statute, when his account with the Riggs National Bank was credited with the amount of the checks. As between the accused and his client, he was not, in any true [196 U.S. 283, 310]   sense, compensated for the services alleged to have been rendered in violation of the statute, until, by payment of the checks by the St. Louis bank, he was relieved of all liability to the Riggs National Bank, arising from his indorsing the checks to it. The accused is to be regarded as having received, at St. Louis, compensation for his services, because the check made in his behalf was paid there to his representative. The offense was, therefore, consummated at that city, and the Federal court at St. Louis had jurisdiction.

Nor, in my opinion, does the record show any error, in respect of instructions, that was to the substantial prejudice of the accused; no error for which the judgment should be reversed.

It seems to me that in reversing the judgment upon the grounds stated in the opinion the court has sacrificed substance to mere form. The result, I submit, we illustrates the familiar maxim: Qui hoeret in litera hoeret in cortice.

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