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WILLIAMS v. UNITED STATES. WILLIAMS V. UNITED STATES.

decided: November 29, 1897.

WILLIAMS
v.
UNITED STATES.

WILLIAMS
v.
UNITED STATES.



ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA.

Author: Harlan

[ 168 U.S. Page 383]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

By an indictment returned in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California, it was charged that the plaintiff, an officer of the Department of the Treasury, duly appointed and acting under the authority of the laws of the United States, and designated as Chinese inspector at the port of San Francisco, and by virtue of his office being authorized, directed and required to aid and assist the collector of systems of that port in the enforcement of the various laws and regulations relating to the coming of Chinese persons and persons of Chinese descent from foreign ports to the United States, "did then and there, as such officer, wilfully, knowingly, corruptly and feloniously, for the sake of gain and contrary to the duty of his said office and by color thereof, ask, demand, receive, extort and take of one Wong Sam, a Chinese person, a certain sum of money, to wit, one hundred dollars, which said sum of money was not due to him, the said Richard S. Williams," and which he was not, "by virtue of his said office, entitled to ask, demand, receive or take" -- that is to say, that "on the thirty-first day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-five, there arrived at the port of San Francisco aforesaid from a foreign port or place, to wit, the port of Hong Kong, in the Empire of China, a male person of Chinese descent, to wit, one Wong Lin Choy, who claimed to the collector of customs that he was entitled to land, be and remain within the United States, on the ground that he was a native born of said United States; that thereafter such proceedings were had and taken before said collector of customs in accordance with law that the said Wong Lin Choy was by said collector of customs adjudged to be entitled to and permitted to land at said port as a native born of said United States of Chinese descent, and to be and remain in the said United States; that thereafter . . . on the eighteenth day of September, 1895, . . . the said Richard S. Williams corruptly and extorsively, for the sake of gain and contrary to the duty of his said office and under color thereof,

[ 168 U.S. Page 384]

     did extort, receive and take of said Wong Sam, who was then and there interested in the application or claim of said Wong Lin Choy as aforesaid, a sum of money, to wit, the sum of one hundred dollars as aforesaid, the said Richard S. Williams, under color of his said office, having previously, to wit, on the thirty-first day of August, 1895, at said city and county, State and district aforesaid, feloniously and corruptly obtained and exacted a promise from said Wong Sam for the payment thereof by him, to him the said Richard Williams, by then and there falsely and corruptly representing to the said Wong Sam that without the payment thereof to him, the said Richard S. Williams, the said Wong Lin Choy would not be permitted to land at said port, be or remain within the United States, but would be returned to said foreign port from whence he came, against the peace and dignity of the United States of America," etc.

A second count -- describing the official character and duties of Williams as in the first court -- charged that he wilfully and corruptly, and under color of his office did "take and receive of one Wong Sam, who was then and there interested in the claim of one Wong Lin Choy to be permitted to land at the port of San Francisco aforesaid, a sum of money, to wit, one hundred dollars, as and for a fee, compensation and reward to him, the said Richard S. Williams, for the services of him, the said Richard S. Williams, under color of his said office, in the matter of the application of said Wong Lin Choy, who then and there claimed to the collector of customs of said port to be entitled to land at said port of San Francisco from a foreign port, to wit, the port of Hong Kong, in the Empire of China, and to be and remain in the United States under the claim that he was a native, born in the said United States, which said application was then and there pending and under investigation before said collector of customs as aforesaid, whereas in truth and in fact no fee, compensation or reward was then or at any other time due or owing from the said Wong Sam or any other person to the said Richard S. Williams for such service or any services of him, the said Richard S. Williams, in connection with said matter or at all, nor was he, the said

[ 168 U.S. Page 385]

     Richard S. Williams, entitled to the same by law, against the peace and dignity of the United States of America," etc.

A second indictment containing two counts was returned in the same court against the plaintiff in error, describing his official character and duties, and charging him in one count with having wilfully, knowingly, corruptly and feloniously, and in the second, with having wilfully and corruptly, under color of his office, taken from one Chan Ying, a Chinese person, the sum of eighty-five dollars, in consideration of his being permitted to come into and remain within the United States.

The record states that on the margin of each indictment was an endorsement in these words: "Sec. 3169, Rev. Stat. sub. 1 & 2, and sec. 23, act of Feb'y 8, 1875, vol. 1, 2d ed. Supp. Rev. Stat." This endorsement, it is contended, indicates the statutes under which the prosecutions were intended to be instituted.

A demurrer to each indictment having been overruled, the accused was duly arraigned in each case, and pleaded not guilty. The two cases were then, on motion of the Government, consolidated and tried together. The result was a verdict of guilty in each case. Judgment on the verdicts having been asked, the accused interposed a motion in arrest of judgment on the second count of each indictment, and also a motion for a new trial in each case. The first motion was sustained, and the second one having been overruled, the defendant was sentenced in each case to pay a fine of $5000, to be imprisoned for three years to date from September 22, 1896, and to be further imprisoned until the fine imposed on him was paid or until he should be otherwise discharged by due process of law.

The first question to be examined is whether these prosecutions are authorized by any existing statute of the United States. It was assumed by the learned judge who presided at the trial that the indictments were founded upon section 3169 of the Revised Statutes and section 23 of the act of February 8, 1875, c. 36, entitled "An act to amend existing customs and internal revenue laws, and for other purposes." 18 Stat. 307, 312.

[ 168 U.S. Page 386]

     Section 3169 of the Revised Statutes is part of Chapter I of Title XXXV, "Internal Revenue," and was brought forward from the act of July 20, 1868, c. 186, ยง 98, entitled "An act imposing taxes on distilled spirits and tobacco, and for other purposes." 15 Stat. 125, 165. By that section, which is given in full in the margin,*fn1 it is declared that "every officer

[ 168 U.S. Page 387]

     or agent appointed and acting under the authority of any revenue law of the United States, first, who is guilty of any extortion or wilful oppression under color of law, or, second, who knowingly demands other or greater sums than are authorized by law, or receives any fee, compensation or reward, except as by law prescribed, for the performance of any duty, . . . shall be fined not less than one thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars, and be imprisoned not less than six months nor more than three years. The court shall also render judgment against said officer or agent for the amount of damages sustained in favor of the party injured, to be collected by execution. One half of the fine so imposed shall be for the use of the United States, and the other half for the use of the informer, who shall be ascertained by the judgment of the court."

Section 23 of the above act of February 8, 1875, provides: "All acts and parts of acts imposing fines, penalties or other punishment for offences committed by an internal revenue officer or other officer of the Department of the Treasury of the United States, or under any bureau thereof, shall be, and are hereby, applied to all persons whomsoever, employed, appointed or acting under the authority of any internal revenue or customs law, or any revenue provision of any law of the United States, when such persons are designated or acting as officers or deputies, or persons having the custody or disposition of any public money."

We are of opinion that these prosecutions cannot be sustained under the above statutes. The words "extortion or wilful oppression under color of law," and the knowingly demanding "other or greater sums than are authorized by law," or the receiving "any fee, compensation or reward, except as by law prescribed, for the performance of any duty" -- illegal acts described in subdivisions one and two of section 3169 of the Revised Statutes -- refer to offences committed by officers or agents "appointed and acting under the authority of any revenue law of the United States." ...


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