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COLEMAN V. TENNESSEE, 97 U. S. 509 (1878)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Coleman v. Tennessee, 97 U.S. 509 (1878)

Coleman v. Tennessee

97 U.S. 509


1. The thirtieth section of the Act of March 3, 1863, 12 Stat. 731, entitled "An Act for enrolling and calling out the national forces and for other purposes," did not make the jurisdiction of the military tribunals over the offenses therein designated, when committed by persons in the military service of the United States and subject to the Articles of War, exclusive of that of such courts of the loyal states as were open and in the undisturbed exercise of their jurisdiction.

2. When the territory of the states which were banded together in hostility to the national government and making war against it was in the military occupation of the United States, the tribunals mentioned in said section had, under the authority conferred thereby and under the laws of war, exclusive jurisdiction to try and punish offenses of every grade committed there by persons in the military service.

3. Officers and soldiers of the Army of the United States were not subject to the laws of the enemy nor amenable to his tribunals for offenses committed chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 97 U. S. 510

by them during the war. They were answerable only to their own government, and only by its laws, as enforced by its armies, could they be punished.

4. Unless suspended or superseded by the commander of the forces of the United States which occupied Tennessee, the laws of that state, so far as they affected its inhabitants among themselves, remained in force during the war, and over them its tribunals, unless superseded by him, continued to exercise their ordinary jurisdiction.

5. A., charged with having committed murder in Tennessee whilst he was there in the military service of the United States during the rebellion, was, by a court-martial, then and there convicted and sentenced to suffer death. The sentence, for some cause unknown, was not carried into effect. After the constitutional relations of that state to the Union were restored, he was, in one of her courts, indicted for the same murder. To the indictment he

pleaded his conviction before the court-martial. The plea being overruled, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.


1. That the state court had no jurisdiction to try him for the offense, as he, at the time of committing it, was not amenable to the laws of Tennessee.

2. That his plea, although not proper inasmuch as it admitted the jurisdiction of that court to try and punish him for the offense if it were not for such former conviction, would not prevent this Court from giving effect to the objection taken in this irregular way to such jurisdiction. Accordingly, this Court reverses the judgment and directs the discharge of A. from custody under the indictment.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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