MCDOWELL V. UNITED STATES, 159 U. S. 596 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McDowell v. United States, 159 U.S. 596 (1895)

McDowell v. United States

No. 552

Submitted October 15, 1895

Decided November 18, 1895

159 U.S. 596


There being a vacancy in the office of District Judge for the District of South Carolina from January 1, 1894, to February 12, 1894, and the term of that court for the Western District being fixed by law for the fifth day of February, 1894, one of the circuit judges of the circuit designated and appointed a judge of one of the district courts in North Carolina within the same circuit to hold and preside over that term. Court was so held and adjourned from day to day. February 12, a commissioned Judge appeared. Plaintiff in error was tried upon an indictment returned against him, found guilty, and sentenced. Held:

(1)That it is within the power of Congress to provide that one district judge may temporarily discharge the duties of that office in another district.

(2) That whether existing statutes authorized the appointment of the North Carolina district judge to act as district judge in South Carolina is immaterial, as,

(3) He must be held to have been a judge de facto, if not de jure, and his actions, as such, so far as they affect third persons, are not open to question.

Where there is an office to be filled, and one acting under color of authority fills the office and discharges its duties, his actions are those of an officer de facto, and are binding on the public.

This case comes to this Court on questions certified by the Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit. The facts, as stated, are that a vacancy existed in the office of District Judge of the United States for the District of South Carolina, from January 1, 1894, to February 12, 1894. The regular terms of the District Court for the Western District were fixed by law to be held at Greenville on the first Mondays of February and August, Act of April 26, 1890, 26 Stat. 71, and the first Monday of February, 1894, fell on the fifth day of the month. On January 30, 1894, the following order, made by Hon. Charles H. Simonton, one of the circuit judges of the circuit, was duly filed in the clerk's office:

Page 159 U. S. 597

"It appearing to me by the certificate of the clerk, under the seal of the court, this day filed, that there is such an accumulation of business and urgency for the transaction thereof in the District Court for the Western District of this state, and that the public interests require the designation and appointment of a district judge within this circuit to hold the regular term of this Court beginning on the first Monday of February, 1894 at Greenville, South Carolina:"

"Now therefore in consideration of the premises and on motion of the United States attorney, I do hereby designate and appoint the Honorable Augustus S. Seymour, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the same being in the Fourth Circuit, to hold and preside over the said term of court and to have and to exercise within the Western District of South Carolina the same powers that are vested in the judge of the said district."

In pursuance of this order, Judge Seymour held and presided over the regular term of the district court for that district from February 5 to February 12, on which day Hon. William H. Brawley, appointed and duly commissioned as district judge, qualified and entered upon the discharge of his official duties, and held and presided at the term from that day until the conclusion of the proceedings in this case. On February 16, an indictment was returned into the court against A. F. McDowell, the plaintiff in error. Upon this indictment McDowell was tried February 21 and 22 and a verdict of guilty returned. A motion for a new trial was overruled February 2. Thereupon, and before sentence, McDowell made a motion in arrest of judgment on the ground that the indictment had been found and the subsequent proceedings had thereon at what was an unlawful term of court, and that such indictment and subsequent proceedings were consequently void. This motion was overruled, and sentence pronounced upon the verdict. The making of the motion in arrest and its disposition appear in the record in a bill of exceptions which refers to the indictment as found by "the grand jury impaneled at the special February term of said

Page 159 U. S. 598

court at Greenville at the district aforesaid," and the statement of the matter upon which the motion in arrest was founded commences: "At the opening of the special February term, 1894, of said court, that being the term at which said indictment was found," but the record nowhere discloses the calling of any special term as such. Upon these facts, the court of appeals certified these questions:

"1. Whether plaintiff in error was indicted, convicted, and sentenced at a lawful term of the District Court for the District of South Carolina, and the Western District thereof, sitting at Greenville, as set forth in this certificate."

"2. Whether the question as to the validity of the indictment and proceedings against plaintiff in error was open to consideration on the motion in arrest of judgment."

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