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U.S. Supreme Court

Williamson v. United States, 207 U.S. 425 (1908)

Williamson v. United States

No. 96

Argued December 5, 6, 1907

Decided January 6, 1908

207 U.S. 425


Where the writ of error is prosecuted directly from this Court on constitutional grounds, but there are errors assigned as to other subjects, this Court has jurisdiction to review the whole case if any constitutional question is adequate to the exercise of jurisdiction. Burton v. United States, 196 U. S. 283.

An objection taken by a member of Congress that he cannot be sentenced during his term of office on the ground that it would interfere with his constitutional privilege from arrest is not frivolous, even though taken during recess of Congress, and such a claim involves a constitutional question sufficient to give this Court jurisdiction to review the judgment by writ of error. Burton v. United States, 196 U. S. 283.

The jurisdiction of this Court to review on direct writ of error depends on the existence of a constitutional question at the time when the writ of error is sued out, and even if that question subsequently and before the chanrobles.com-red

Page 207 U. S. 426

case is reached becomes an abstract one, jurisdiction remains, and this Court must review the whole case.

If a sentence on a member of Congress is illegal when pronounced because in conflict with his constitutional privilege, it does not become valid by the expiration of the term for which he was elected.

The words "treason, felony and breach of the peace" were used by the framers of the Constitution in § 6, Art. I, and should be construed in the same sense as those words were commonly used and understood in England as applied to the parliamentary privilege, and as excluding from the privilege all arrests and prosecutions for criminal offenses, and confining the privilege alone to arrests in civil cases.

Under § 540, Rev.Stat., the conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States is itself the offense, without reference to whether the crime which the conspirators have conspired to commit is consummated, or agreed upon by the conspirators in all its details. And an indictment charging the accused with a conspiracy to commit the crime of subornation of perjury in proceedings for the purchase of public lands was held in this case to be sufficient, although the precise persons to be suborned, and the time and place of such suborning were not particularized.

On the trial of one charged with conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States in connection with the purchase of public lands, testimony showing the character of the lands and an attempt by the accused to acquire state lands is competent as tending to establish guilty intent, purpose, design, or knowledge, and is admissible if the trial judge so limits its application as to prevent it from improperly prejudicing the accused by showing the commission of other crimes. Holmes v. Goldsmith, 147 U. S. 164.

The rule that where it plainly appears in a criminal case that there is no evidence justifying conviction, this Court will so hold despite a failure to request an instruction for acquittal does not apply to a case where it is not certified, and this Court is not otherwise satisfied, that the bill of exceptions contains the entire evidence, or where the bill of exceptions recites that the plaintiff offered evidence to go to the jury on every material allegation in the indictment.

While one honestly following advice of counsel, which he believes to be correct, cannot be convicted of crime which involves willful and unlawful intent, even if such advice were an inaccurate construction of the law, no man can willfully and knowingly violate the law and excuse himself from the consequences thereof by pleading that he followed advice of counsel.

In a criminal case, doubt must be resolved in favor of the accused, and in this case, held that an indictment for conspiracy to suborn perjury related to statements under § 2 of the Timber and Stone Act, and not in respect to making of final proofs.

Under the Timber and Stone Act of June 3, 1878, 20 Stat. 89, an applicant is not required, after he has made his preliminary sworn statement concerning the bona fides of his application and the absence of any contract chanrobles.com-red

Page 207 U. S. 427

or agreement in respect to the title, to additionally swear to such facts on final proof, and a regulation of the Land Commissioner exacting such additional statement at the time of final hearing is invalid.

While Congress has given the Land Commissioner power to prescribe regulations to give effect to the Timber and Stone Act, the rules prescribed must be for the enforcement of the statute, and not destructive of the rights which Congress has conferred by the statute.

The facts are stated in the opinion. chanrobles.com-red

Page 207 U. S. 432


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