Ponzi v. Fessenden

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

258 U.S. 254

Ponzi  v.  Fessenden

 Argued: March 8 and 9, 1922. --- Decided: March 27, 1922

This case comes here for answer to the following question of law:

'May a prisoner, with the consent of the Attorney General, while serving a sentence imposed by a district court of the United States, be lawfully taken on a writ of habeas corpus, directed to the master of the House of Correction, who, as federal agent under a mittimus issued out of said District Court, has custody of such prisoner, into a state court, in the custody of said master and there put to trial upon indictments there pending against him?'

September 11, 1920, 22 indictments were returned against Charles Ponzi in the superior court for Suffolk county, Mass., charging him with certain larcenies.

October 1, 1920, two indictments charging violation of section 215 of the federal Penal Code (Comp. St. § 10385) were returned against him in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. November 30, 1920, he pleaded guilty to the first count of one of these, and was sentenced to imprisonment for five years in the House of Correction at Plymouth, Mass., and committed.

April 21, 1921, the superior court issued a writ of habeas corpus, directing the master of the House of Correction, who, as federal agent, had custody of Ponzi by virtue of the mittimus issued by the District Court, to bring him before the superior court and to have him there from day to day thereafter for trial upon the pending indictments, but to hold the prisoner at all times in his custody as an agent of the United States, subject to the sentence imposed by the federal District Court. Blake, the master of the House of Correction, made a return that he held Ponzi pursuant to process of the United States, and prayed that the writ be dismissed.

Thereafter the Assistant Attorney General of the United States, by direction of the United States Attorney General, stated in open court that the United States had no objection to the issuance of the writ, to the compliance with the writ by Blake, or to the production of Ponzi for trial in the superior court, and that the Attorney General had directed Blake to comply with the writ. Blake then produced the prisoner, who was arraigned on the state indictments and stood mute. A plea of not guilty was entered for him by the court.

May 23, 1921, Ponzi filed in the District Court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus directed against the justice of the superior court, and against Blake, alleging in substance that he was within the exclusive control of the United States, and that the state court had no jurisdiction to try him while thus in federal custody. His petition for writ of habeas corpus was denied. An appeal was taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges of which certify the question to this court on the foregoing facts. Section 239, Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1216).

Mr. William H. Lewis, of Boston, Mass., for Ponzi.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 256-259 intentionally omitted]

Mr. J. Weston Allen, of Boston, Mass., for Fessenden and others.

Mr. Chief Justice TAFT, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).