United States v. Rindskopf/Opinion of the Court
The bill of exceptions in this case sets forth the charge of the court below in full, in disregard of our frequent condemnation of this practice. Only the parts to which the exceptions relate should have been given; all else is unnecessary, and produces only inconvenience. We repeat of this practice what we said of another practice not uncommon, and equally objectionable,-that of inserting the entire evidence in the record: 'If counsel will not heed our admonitions upon this subject, so frequently expressed by us, the judges of the courts below, to whom the bills are presented, should withhold their signatures until the bills are prepared in proper form, freed from all matter not essential to explain and point the exceptions.' Lincoln v. Laflin, 7 Wall. 132, 137.
The assessment of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was only prima facie evidence of the amount due as taxes upon the spirits distilled between the dates mentioned. It established a prima facie case of liability against the distiller, and nothing more. If not impeached, it was sufficient to justify a recovery; but every material fact upon which his liability was asserted was open to contestation. He and his sureties were at liberty to show that no spirits, or a less quantity than that stated by the commissioner, were distilled within the period mentioned, and thus entirely, or in part, overthrow the assessment. They were also at liberty to show a payment of the tax assessed, in whole or in part, and thus discharge or reduce the distiller's liability. To the extent, however, in which the assessment was not impaired, it was evidence of the amount due. The court, therefore, erred in instructing the jury that the assessment was to be taken and considered in its entirety, and that the government was entitled to recover the exact amount assessed, or not any sum. In other respects the charge, as given above, correctly presents the law.
There may undoubtedly be cases where an assessment must stand as an entirety, or not at all; as where an erroneous rate has been adopted by the officer; or where it is impossible to separate from the property assessed the part which is exempt from the tax; or where its validity depends upon the jurisdiction of the commissioner. The present case does not fall within either of these classes. Here the question is as to the quantity of spirits produced on which taxes were not paid.
The decree in the equity suit was properly held not to be a bar to the prosecution of this action in the absence of proof that the assessment which it adjudged invalid covered the spirits upon which the assessment here was made. The instruction to the jury deprived it of any weight as evidence with them.
Judgment reversed, and cause remanded for a new trial.