United States v. Briggs (50 U.S. 351)/Opinion of the Court
The defendant below was indicted for cutting, with intent to appropriate to his own use, twenty white-oak trees and twenty hickory trees of the United States standing on the public lands. The jury found him guilty, and he moved in arrest of judgment, because the offence charged was not punishable by indictment; on which motion, the Circuit Court certify to this court as follows:
'The motion of defendant in arrest of judgment, and for a new trial in the case, coming on to be heard, and the same having been argued by counsel on either side, the opinions of the court were opposed as to the point, 'whether the offence charged and set forth in the indictment, of cutting, removing, or using for any other than naval purposes, any trees or timber standing, growing, or being on any lands belonging to the united States, whether reserved for naval purposes or not, is, under the statutes of the United States, an indictable offence, and punishable by fine and imprisonment."
The case presented for our exemination involves a true construction of the act of 2d March, 1831. By that act, any person, who shall cut and appropriate live-oak or red-cedar trees reserved for naval purposes, is clearly indictable, and, on conviction, may be fined and imprisoned. We do not understand this to be controvered. But the question here is, whether the term 'or other timber' imposes the same penalty on those who cut other timbers, such as oak or hickory trees. It is insisted by the reasons in arrest, that the only object of the act was to protect, by stringent penalties, timbers suited to ship-building and naval purposes, and which had been reserved for such public use; and that it is apparent from the act none other, were contemplated by Congress, as subject to protection and within the description, but live-oak and red-cedar.
To which it is answered, on the part of the United States:--
'1. That the said acts consitute an offence within the meaning of the act of 2d March, 1831, because it does embrace the cutting, &c., of timber from other lands belonging to the United States than those reserved for naval purposes.
'2. That it is an offence for which an indictment is the proper remedy, and the party punishable by fine and imprisonment.'
The caption of the act would indicate that timber reserved for naval purposes was meant to be protected by this mode, and none other. But the enacting clause is general, and not restricted to live-oak or red-cedar, nor to timber specially reserved for naval purposes; and therefore cutting and using oak and hickory trees is indictable; and so the cutting and using of any other description of timber trees from the public lands would be equally indictable; and being so, the punishment by fine and imprisonment must follow in all cases,-and thus we answer to the Circuit Court.
This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Michigan, and on the point or question on which the judges of the said Circuit Court were opposed in opinion, and which was certified to this court for its opinion, agreeably to the act of Congress in such case made and provided, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is the opinion of this court, that the offence charged and set forth in the indictment in this cause, of cutting, removing, or using, for any other than naval purposes, any trees or timber standing, growing, or being on any lands belonging to the United States, whether reserved for naval purposes or not, is, under the statutes of the United States, an indictable offence, and punishable by fine and imprisonment; whereupon, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that it be so certified to the said Circuit Court.