Wright v. United States (158 U.S. 232)
Sephus Wright and Thompson Wade were convicted of murder, and bring error.
On April 7, 1894, the grand jury of the Unite States circuit court of the Fifth circuit, Eastern district of Texas, presented an indictment against Sephus Wright and Thomas Wade, late of the Choctaw Nation, and of Atoka county, Indian Territory. The indictment charged that these parties, on January 9, 1894, 'in Atoka county, in the Choctaw Nation, in the Indian Territory, the same being annexed to and constituting a part of the said Fifth circuit, and annexed to and constituting part of the Eastern district of Texas, for judicial purposes, and being within the jurisdiction of this court, did unlawfully, fraudulently, and feloniously, and with their malice aforethought,' etc., 'murder one Mike Peters,' etc.; and, after charging the commission of this crime in two counts, it added: 'And he, the said Mike Peter, had theretofore, to wit, on or about the 23d day of December, in the year of our Lord 1893, acted in the legal capacity of a posse and guard for and in behalf of a certain deputy United States marshal, for the Eastern district of Texas, to wit, William Colbert, who was then and there lawfully empowered to employ and deputize him, the said Mike Peters, in said capacity of posse and guard. And the said Mike Peters had theretofore, at divers and sundry times, acted in said capacity of posse and guard appointed, and empowered to so act by certain deputy marshals in and for said district. And by virtue of his said employment in the said capacity of posse and guard by the officers aforesaid, and by virtue of the laws of the said United States, then and there valid and existing, he, the said Mike Peters, was then and there entitled to the protection of the laws of the said United States of America.'
On May 30, 1894, the case came on for trial, when the defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court and a motion to quash the indictment. The plea to the jurisdiction was as follows:
'Now come the defendants in the above-entitled and numbered cause, and for plea herein say that this court should no further prosecute this suit, for the reason that this court has no jurisdiction over the person, life, or liberty of these defendants, and no jurisdiction to try and determine this cause, for the reason that said defendants are all by blood Chocta' Indians, living and residing in said Chocta' Nation, Indian Territory, and that said offense is said to have been committed in said Chocta' Nation, Indian Territory, and that the deceased, Mike Peters, at the time of the alleged killing, was a Chocta' Indian by blood, living and residing in said Chocta' Nation, Indian Territory; that deceased, at the time of the alleged killing, is not alleged in the ind. to have been Indian agent or policeman appointed under the laws of the United States, or was ever such officer; nor was he a United States deputy marshal, or had he ever acted as such, nor a posse comitatus guard killed while lawfully engaged in the execution of any of the United States processes; nor was the said Mike Peter, at the time of the alleged killing, lawfully engaged in any duty imposed upon him as agent, polie man, deputy marshal, posse comitatus, or guard; or was he ever at any time a United States Officer, created by virtue of the laws of the United States, by reason of which this court could acquire jurisdiction over defendants.'
The motion to quash was based on the following grounds:
'First. Because said indictments fail to allege that Mike Peters, the deceased, was acting as posse or guard at the time of the alleged killing, or an officer of the United States government.
'Second. Because said indictments fail to allege that the offense for which these defendants stand charged was committed within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of this court.'
The court declined to act upon the plea to the jurisdiction, for the reason that 'it was dependent upon the facts of the case, and would be submitted to the jury as other facts to be proven and controlled by the charge of the court.' Exception was reserved to this ruling. The motion to quash was overruled, and exception was also reserved.
The trial then proceeded, and William Colbert was put upon the stand, and questioned as to whether he was or was not a deputy marshal. Objection was made to this question, upon the ground that oral testimony was inadmissible to show whether a person was or was not a deputy marshal, and Colbert was temporarily withdrawn from the stand, and J. J. Dickerson was sworn. He testified, over objection, that he had been the marshal of the district for the preceding four years; that his commission was at Galveston, and he did not have it with him; that he had appointed Colbert as one of his deputies; that he had given him a commission as such; that he had exacted a bond from some of his deputies, but not from others. Being asked if he knew whether an oath of office had been administered to Colbert as a deputy marshal, he answered that he could not say, but that Colbert had acted as a deputy for a long time, and had been his deputy up to the time that his successor to the office of marshal had qualified. The clerk of the court testified that he had been such since the establishment of the court in 1889; that he kept no record of the oaths administered to deputy marshals, and that none had been ever kept; that the appointment by the marshal of his deputies was placed on file, and the commission issued by the marshal was given to the deputy, so that he might have evidence of his appointment; that he had looked into the proper place where Colbert's appointment should be, but could not find it. Colbert was then recalled, and was allowed, over objection, to testify to his official position. He said that he had been a deputy marshal under Dickerson during his whole term of office, and had been regularly appointed by him, and sworn by Capt. Brooks, the clerk of the district court; that he was unable to produce the commission given him as evidence of his appointment, because he had destroyed it at the expiration of Dickerson's term; that he was still a deputy marshal, having been reappointed by Dickerson's successor. He also testified that Mike Peters, the deceased, had acted for him as a posse man and guard at different times; that on one occasion, in December, 1893, Peters had gone with him from Atoka, in the Indian county, to Paris, Tex., a distance of 126 miles, as a guard over a person arrested for horse stealing; that although Peters had never served as a guard in bringing any one to Paris, except on this one occasion, he was 'working for him all the time in looking up offenders'; that he (the deceased) frequently helped him as a posse in making arrests, although at the particular time when the killing occurred he was not acting as a posse or guard. After the conclusion of the testimony, the defendant requested the court to charge as follows:
'(1) The court instructs the jury that as to whether or not Wm. Colbert, at the time he appointed deceased as a posse man (if you believe he ever appointed him), was, at the time of said appointment, a duly appointed and qualified deputy marshal, is a mt erial inquiry in this case; and unless you believe from the evidence that said Colbert was appointed by a United States marshal for the Eastern district of Texas, and duly commissioned and the oath of office administered to him by any judge or justice of any state court within the same district, or by any justice of the peace having authority therein, or before any notary public duly appointed in such state, then and in that event you will find the defendants not guilty.
'(2) If the jury should believe from the evidence that the oath of office was administered to Wm. Colbert by Captain Brooks, as clerk, then and in that event you are instructed that the oath of office was not administered by any officer authorized to administer oaths to United States deputy marshals, and you will find the defendants not guilty.
'(3) Unless the jury should find from the evidence that Wm. Colbert was a United States deputy marshal, duly appointed, and had executed bond as required by law, and that the same had been filed and recorded in the office of the clerk of the district or circuit court for the Eastern district of Texas, you will find the defendants not guilty.
'(4) The court charges the jury that, unless they find from the evidence that Mike Peters was at the time he was killed acting as guard or posse man for a legally qualified deputy marshal, they will find the defendants not guilty.
'(5) Unless the jury find from the evidence that Wm. Colbert was a duly qualified United States deputy marshal at the time deceased, Mike Peters, was acting as guard or posse man for him, they will find the defendants not guilty.
'(6) If a reasonable doubt arises out of the evidence as to whether Wm. Colbert was a legaily qualified United States deputy marshal at the time deceased acted for him as guard or posse man, they will find defendants not guilty.'
All these requests were refused, and exceptions were duly reserved.
It was admitted on the trial that both of the defendants and the deceased were Choctaw Indians, living in the Choctaw Nation at the time of the killing. After a verdict of guilty, the defendants moved for a new trial, which motion was overruled, and the case was then brought here by error. The assignments of error are eight in number, and complain of the court's refusal to sustain the plea to the jurisdiction, of its overruling the motion to quash, of error in permitting Dickerson and Colbert to testify to the appointment of the latter, and in allowing Colbert to testify to his acts as deputy marshal, when it did not appear by record evidence that he had been legally appointed or that any offical copy of his oath had been made; and they also aver that court erred in refusing the requests to charge, in leaving the question of jurisdiction to the jury, and in overruling the motion for a new trial.
Asst. Atty. Gen. Whitney, for the United States.
Mr. Justice WHITE, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.