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WOOD V. UNITED STATES, 41 U. S. 342 (1842)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wood v. United States, 41 U.S. 16 Pet. 342 342 (1842)

Wood v. United States

41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 342


The United States filed in the District Court of the United States for the Maryland District a libel of information in rem upon a seizure upon land in the district of twenty-two pieces of cloth imported into New York, and claiming them as forfeited. The libel contained many counts, but that on which the decision of the Supreme Court was given was founded on the sixty-sixth section of the revenue act of 1799, which declares that any goods which shall not be invoiced according to the actual cost thereof at the place of exportation, with design to evade the duties thereupon, all such goods &c., shall be forfeited. The count stated that the goods were not invoiced at the actual cost at the place of exportation. The duties had been paid at New York, on the invoice produced on their entry. They were afterwards transmitted to Baltimore, and were there seized in the stores of certain persons having the custody thereof for the importer, who was the claimant, under a search warrant, procured from a magistrate. To establish the fraud in the invoices, the United States offered in evidence sundry other invoices of cloth and cassimere, imported into New York by and consigned to the claimant, to show the fraudulent intention of the claimant in those importations as well as in the present. This evidence was objected to, and the objection was overruled. The district judge, after the whole evidence was gone through, gave the following instructions to the jury.

1. That the issues found, and which the jury are sworn to try, involve no question except upon the causes of forfeiture alleged in the information and traversed, and therefore no question relating to the mere seizure of the goods is in issue, or material under the pleadings.

2. If the jury shall find from the evidence in the cause that the invoices of the goods proceeded against, were made up with intent, by false valuations, to evade or defraud the revenue, the United States are entitled to recover, although the jury should also find from the evidence that the goods had been passed through the custom house at New York, by the collector, and the duties calculated by him on the invoices shall have been paid, or secured to be paid, and the goods delivered by the collector to the importer.

3. That under certain counts in the information, probable cause for the prosecution had been shown by the United States, and that the burden of proof, under the seventy-first section of the Act of 2 March, 1799, was upon the claimant, and that it is incumbent on him to prove to the jury, that the charges in the five counts, charging fraudulent importation, are untrue; that is, that he shall prove the truth of the invoices on which the goods were entered, and that the invoices and packages were not made up to evade or defraud the revenue.

4. That the burden of proof being on the claimant under the seventy-first section of the act of 1799, and the fifteenth section of the Act of 14 July, 1832, it is incumbent on him to prove the actual cost of the goods in the invoices and entries stated to have been purchased by him, and that the value of the goods at the time of the seizure, or at any subsequent time, is not material except so far as to assist or tend to enable the jury to ascertain the prices at the periods of purchase or shipment.

5. That the chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 41 U. S. 343

burden of proof being upon the claimant to prove that the invoices were not made up with intent to defraud the revenue, it is not sufficient for him to rely on the invoices themselves, merely, as proving their own truth and fairness.

The case was removed by writ of error to the circuit court, and there a judgment affirming the judgment of the district court having been entered, the claimant prosecuted a writ of error to the Supreme Court.


First: That the instructions of the district judge as to the original seizure, or the causes thereof, were correct. It is of no consequence whatsoever what were the original grounds of the seizure, whether founded or not, if the goods were in point of law subject to forfeiture. The United States is not bound down by the acts of the seizors to the causes which influenced them in making the seizure, nor by any irregularity on their part in conducting it, if the seizure can be maintained as founded on an actual forfeiture at the time of the seizure. It was rightly held in the district court that no question arose on the issues which the jury was to try except upon the causes of forfeiture alleged in the information.

Second: There was no error in the admission of the evidence of fraud deducible from the other invoices offered in the case. The question was one of fraudulent intent or not, and upon questions of that sort where the intent of the party is the matter in issue it has always been allowable, as well in criminal as in civil cases, to introduce evidence of other acts and doings of the party of a kindred character in order to illustrate his intent or motive in the particular act directly in judgment.

Third: If the invoices of the goods were fraudulently made by a false valuation to evade or defraud the revenue, the fact that they were entered and the duties having been paid or secured at the custom house at New York upon these invoices was no bar to the information for the forfeiture of the goods to the United States. It never can be permitted that a party who perpetrates a fraud upon the custom house and thereby enters his goods upon false invoices and false valuations, and gets a regular delivery thereof upon the payment of such duties as such false invoices and false valuations require, can avail himself of that very fraud to defeat the purposes of justice.

The sixty-sixth section of the Revenue Collection act of 1799, ch. 128, remains in full force.

There must be a positive repugnancy between the new and old laws for the collection of the revenue before the old law can be considered as repealed, and even then the old law is repealed by implication only, pro tanto, to the extent of the repugnancy. The addition of other powers to custom house officers to carry into effect the object of the former laws, and sedulously introduced to meet the case of a palpable fraud, should not be considered as repealing the former laws. There ought to be a manifest and total repugnancy in the provisions of the later laws to lead to the conclusion that they abrogated and were designed to abrogate the former laws.

The burden of proof in the absence of fraud in the entry of the goods was thrown upon the claimant. There was probable cause for seizure shown. Probable cause must, under the seventy-first section of the act of 1799, in connection with the circumstances of this case, mean reasonable ground of presumption that the charge is or may be well founded. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 41 U. S. 344

At the District Court of the United States for the District of Maryland on 27 December, 1839, the United States filed an information claiming a forfeiture of twenty-two pieces of cloth of the value of $2,500. The information contained nine counts. Afterwards, and before the trial of the cause before a jury, a discontinuance was entered by the district attorney of the United States of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth counts. The case was tried before a jury in July, 1840, on the remaining counts in thenited States of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth counts. The case was tried before a jury in July, 1840, on the remaining counts in the