Reese v. United States

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 13

Reese  v.  United States

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of California; the case being thus:

In December, 1856, one Limantour was indicted at San Francisco by the grand jury of the Circuit Court of the United States for uttering and publishing as true, to the board of land commissioners created under the act of March 3d, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in the State of California, a false writing, purporting to be a grant of certain described lands in California from the Mexican government, with intent to defraud the United States, knowing the same to be false. To this indictment Limantour appeared and pleaded not guilty. He was then admitted to bail, on motion of his counsel, the amount being fixed, by order of the court, at $30,000.

Soon after the issue was thus joined, a motion was made on the part of the United States to set the case for trial early in January, 1857. This motion was resisted, and at the same time application was made on the part of Limantour for a continuance of the cause, and in support of the application his affidavit was read, in which he asserted the genuineness of the grant alleged by the United States to have been forged, and that it was made at the time and by the officers as averred by him. For alleged perjury in making this affidavit the grand jury soon afterwards found a second indictment against him. To this indictment he also appeared and pleaded not guilty, and, upon the motion of his counsel, was admitted to bail, its amount being fixed at $5000.

By order of the court the recognizance of bail was taken in one instrument, the obligation of the sureties being the amount required in both cases. The defendant, Reese, and one Castro, became the sureties of Limantour, binding thmselves jointly and severally in the sum designated. Upon this recognizance the United States brought suit; the present action. The recognizance recited the finding and presentment of the two indictments, the commitment of Limantour thereon, and the order of the court for his discharge on furnishing the required bail, and was conditioned that Limantour should personally appear at the next regular term of the Circuit Court to be held in the city of San Francisco, and at any subsequent term to be thereafter held in that city, to answer all such matters and things as should be objected against him, and to abide the order of the court and not depart therefrom without leave first obtained. This recognizance was dated the 5th of February, 1857.

At the subsequent term of the Circuit Court, in August of that year, Limantour appeared and was ready and pressing for trial in both cases, with witnesses in attendance from the city of Mexico. The district attorney thereupon moved for a postponement of the trials. At this time two cases of Limantour for land claimed under alleged Mexican grants were pending in the District Court of the United States on appeal from decrees of the land commissioners, by whom the claims had been confirmed. One of the cases was for a claim under the alleged forged grant. The witnesses in attendance were persons who had been brought from Mexico to testify in the land cases, and they were obliged to return without delay. It was therefore stipulated between the district attorney and the counsel of Limantour, on the one side that the postponement desired by the government should be assented to, and on the other side that neither of the criminal actions should be brought to trial until after final decrees had been rendered in the two land cases by the District Court; and if both or either of the decrees were in favor of the claimant that the criminal actions should be dismissed by the United States; but if the decrees were adverse to the claimant that reasonable time should be given him to prepare for the trial of the criminal actions, and to procure the attendance of such of his witnesses as resided without the State of California. The stipulation was entered upon the minutes of the court, and the postponement desired was granted, by order of the court, in accordance with its terms.

With this stipulation, the sureties on the recognizance had nothing to do in any way, and had, in fact, no knowledge of it.

It was proved at the trial, without objection, that it was fully understood by all parties at the time that if the stipulation should be made, Limantour and his witnesses would return to Mexico and remain there until the civil cases in the United States District Court were finally disposed of, and that Limantour should afterwards have time enough allowed him to give notice to his witnesses and get them and return with them to San Francisco.

The result was that the witnesses of Limantour returned at once to Mexico, and after two or three months' delay Limantour followed them, and never returned to California.

In November, 1858, the District Court by its decrees rejected the claims of Limantour in both of the land cases, and soon afterwards the district attorney moved that the criminal actions be set for trial. After repeated adjournments the motion was finally argued and decided in March, 1859, and on the 26th of that month were set for trial for the 25th of April following. On this latter day the two actions were called, and Limantour was called in both, but he did not appear in either of them, and thereupon an order was entered forfeiting the recognizance of bail.

By stipulation of the parties the case was tried in the Circuit Court without the intervention of a jury, and that court gave judgment for the United States. The surety, Reese, accordingly brought the case here by writ of error.

Mr. E. Casserly, in his behalf, citing, and relying particularly upon Rees v. Berrington, [1] and the English and American notes to it, as given in the Leading Cases in Equity, [2] in which case Lord Loughborough states that it was 'the clearest and most evident equity not to carry on any transaction without the privity of him who must necessarily have a concern with the principal debtor,' argued that though the recognizance here was, when taken, a valid obligation, yet that the sureties had been discharged by matter subsequently arising out of the written stipulation for a postponement of the criminal actions against their principal, Limantour, for a long and uncertain period, made, without their knowledge or privity in any way, between him and the United States, in August, 1857, and then entered as an order of court; and by the circumstances connected with the same.

The Attorney-General, Mr. Hoar, submitted the case on the record, which contained the opinion of the court below, in which the court observed on this particular point that the stipulation of August, 1857, though most unusual in all its features, might be justified. The court said:

'The grant alleged to be forged, and in swearing to the genuineness of which the forgery was charged, had been adjudged valid by the board of land commissioners, and the appeal from its decree was at the time pending undetermined. The postponement of the trial until this appeal was disposed of was a very proper exercise of the power of the court, provided the accused waived his right to a speedy trial and assented to the postponement. In this act we do not perceive any ground upon which the bail can claim exemption from liability on their recognizance. They were not bound to continue as sureties any longer from this circumstance than without it. They could at any time afterwards have surrendered the defendant and been exonerated. In the theory of the law he was in their custody, as jailers of his own choosing, subject to be surrendered at any moment. If they failed to exercise their power over him they must bear the responsibility attached to the position they voluntarily assumed.'

Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:


^1  2 Vesey, 540.

^2  Vol. 3, pp. 819, 822, 827, 559, 560.

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).