Open main menu

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

71 U.S. 2

Ex parte Milligan

United States Circuit Court for the Circuit of Indiana

 Argued: March 5, 1866 --- Decided: April 3, 1866

1. Circuit Courts, as well as the judges thereof, are authorized, by the fourteenth section of the Judiciary Act, to issue the writ of habeas corpus for the purpose of inquiring into the cause of commitment, and they have jurisdiction, except in cases where the privilege of the writ is suspended, to hear and determine the question whether the party is entitled to be discharged.

2. The usual course of proceeding is for the court, on the application of the prisoner for a writ of habeas corpus, to issue the writ, and, on its return, to hear and dispose of the case; but where the cause of imprisonment is fully shown by the petition, the court may, without issuing the writ, consider and determine whether, upon the facts presented in the petition, the prisoner, if brought before the court, would be discharged.

3. When the Circuit Court renders a final judgment refusing to discharge the prisoner, he may bring the case here by writ of error, and, if the judges of the Circuit Court, being opposed in opinion, can render no judgment, he may have the point upon which the disagreement happens certified to this tribunal.

4. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus, duly presented, is the institution of a cause on behalf of the petitioner, and the allowance or refusal of the process, as well as the subsequent disposition of the prisoner is matter of law, and not of discretion.

5. A person arrested after the passage of the act of March 3d, 1863, "relating to habeas corpus and regulating judicial proceedings in certain cases," and under the authority of said act, was entitled to his discharge if not indicted or presented by the grand jury convened at the first subsequent term of the Circuit or District Court of the United States for the District.

6. The omission to furnish a list of the persons arrested to the judges of the Circuit or District Court as provided in the said act did not impair the right of said person, if not indicted or presented, to his discharge.

7. Military commissions organized during the late civil war, in a State not invaded and not engaged in rebellion, in which the Federal courts were open, and in the proper and unobstructed exercise of their judicial functions, had no jurisdiction to try, convict, or sentence for any criminal offence, a citizen who was neither a resident of a rebellious State nor a prisoner of war, nor a person in the military or naval service. And Congress could not invest them with any such power.

8. The guaranty of trial by jury contained in the Constitution was intended for a state of war, as well as a state of peace, and is equally binding upon rulers and people at all times and under all circumstances.

9. The Federal authority having been unopposed in the State of Indiana, and the Federal courts open for the trial of offences and the redress of grievances, the usages of war could not, under the Constitution, afford any sanction for the trial there of a citizen in civil life not connected with the military or naval service, by a military tribunal, for any offence whatever.

10. Cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia in time of war or public danger, are excepted from the necessity of presentment or indictment by a grand jury, and the right of trial by jury in such cases is subject to the same exception.

11. Neither the President nor Congress nor the Judiciary can disturb any one of the safeguards of civil liberty incorporated into the Constitution except so far as the right is given to suspend in certain cases the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

12. A citizen not connected with the military service and a resident in a State where the courts are open and in the proper exercise or their jurisdiction cannot, even when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, be tried, convicted, or sentenced otherwise than by the ordinary courts of law.

13. Suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus does not suspend the writ itself. The writ issues as a matter of course, and, on its return, the court decides whether the applicant is denied the right of proceeding any further.

14. A person who is a resident of a loyal State, where he was arrested, who was never resident in any State engaged in rebellion, nor connected with the military or naval service, cannot be regarded as a prisoner of war.

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).