PETTIBONE V. NICHOLS, 203 U. S. 192 (1906)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pettibone v. Nichols, 203 U.S. 192 (1906)

Pettibone v. Nichols

No. 249

Argued October 10, 11, 1906

Decided December 3, 1906

203 U.S. 192


The duty of a federal court to interfere, on habeas corpus, for the protection of one alleged to be restrained of his liberty in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States must often be controlled by the special circumstances of the case, and except in an emergency demanding prompt action, the party held in custody by a state, charged with crime against its laws, will be left to stand his trial in the state court, which, it will be assumed, will enforce, as it has the power to do equally with a federal court, any right asserted under and secured by the supreme law of the land.

Even if the arrest and deportation of one alleged to be a fugitive from justice may have been effected by fraud and connivance arranged between the executive authorities of the demanding and surrendering states so as to deprive him of any opportunity to apply before deportation to a court in the surrendering state for his discharge, and even if, on such application to any court, state or federal, he would have been discharged, he cannot, so far as the Constitution or the laws of the United States are concerned -- when actually in the demanding state, in the custody of its authorities for trial, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof -- be discharged on habeas corpus by the federal court. It would be

Page 203 U. S. 193

improper and inappropriate in the circuit court to inquire as to the motives guiding or controlling the action of the Governors of the demanding and surrendering states.

No obligation is imposed by the Constitution or laws of the United States on the agent of a demanding state to so time the arrest of one alleged to be a fugitive from justice and so conduct his deportation from the surrendering state as to afford him a convenient opportunity, before some judicial tribunal, sitting in the latter state, upon habeas corpus or otherwise, to test the question whether he was a fugitive from justice and as such liable, under the act of Congress, to be conveyed to the demanding state for trial there.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Idaho, refusing, upon habeas corpus, to discharge the appellant, who alleged that he was held in custody by the Sheriff of Canyon County in that state, in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States.

It appears that, on the twelfth day of February, 1906, a criminal complaint verified by the oath of the prosecuting attorney of that county and charging Pettibone with having murdered Frank Steunenberg at Caldwell, Idaho, on the thirtieth day of December, 1905, was filed in the office of the probate judge. Thereupon, a warrant of arrest based upon that complaint having been issued, application was made to the Governor of Idaho for a requisition upon the Governor of Colorado (in which state the accused was alleged then to be) for the arrest of Pettibone, and his delivery to the agent of Idaho, to be conveyed to the latter state and there dealt with in accordance with law. The papers on which the Governor of Idaho based his requisition distinctly charged that Pettibone was in that state at the time Steunenberg was murdered and was a fugitive from its justice.

A requisition by the Governor of Idaho was accordingly issued and was duly honored by the Governor of Colorado, who issued a warrant commanding the arrest of Pettibone and his delivery to the authorized agent of Idaho, to be conveyed to the latter state. Pettibone was arrested under that warrant and carried to Idaho by its agent, and was there delivered by order of the probate judge into the custody of the warden

Page 203 U. S. 194

of the state penitentiary, the jail of the county being deemed at that time an unfit place.

On the twenty-third day of February, 1906, Pettibone sued out a writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court of Idaho. The warden made a return, stating the circumstances under which the accused came into his custody, and also that the charge against Pettibone was then under investigation by the grand jury. To this return, the accused made an answer embodying the same matters as were alleged in the application for the writ of habeas corpus and charging, in substance, that his presence in Idaho had been procured by connivance, conspiracy, and fraud on the part of the executive officers of Idaho, and that his detention was in violation of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and of the act of Congress relating to fugitives from justice.

Subsequently, March seventh, 1906, the grand jury returned an indictment against Pettibone, William D. Haywood, Charles H. Moyer, and John L. Simpkins, charging them with the murder of Steunenberg on the thirtieth of December, 1905, at Caldwell, Idaho. Having been arrested and being in custody under that indictment, the officer holding Pettibone made an amended return stating the fact of the above indictment, and that he was then held under a bench warrant based thereon.

At the hearing before the supreme court of the state, the officers having Pettibone in custody moved to strike from the answer of the accused all allegations relating to the manner and method of obtaining his presence within the state. That motion was sustained March 12, 1906, and the prisoner was remanded to await his trial under the above indictment. The Supreme Court of Idaho held the action of the Governor of Colorado to be at least quasi-judicial and, in effect, a determination that Pettibone was charged with the commission of a crime in the former state and was a fugitive from its justice; that, after the prisoner came within the jurisdiction of the demanding state, he could not raise in its courts the question whether he was or had been, as a matter of fact, a fugitive from

Page 203 U. S. 195

the justice of that state; that the courts of Idaho had no jurisdiction to inquire into the acts or motives of the executive of the state delivering the prisoner; that

"one who commits a crime against the laws of a state, whether committed by him while in person on its soil, or absent in a foreign jurisdiction, and acting through some other agency or medium, has no vested right of asylum in a sister state,"

and the fact

"that a wrong is committed against him in the manner or method pursued in subjecting his person to the jurisdiction of the complaining state, and that such wrong is redressable either in the civil or criminal courts, can constitute no legal or just reason why he himself should not answer the charge against him when brought before the proper tribunal."

Ex Parte Moyer, 85 P. 897; Ex Parte Pettibone, 85 P. 902.

From the judgment of the Supreme Court of Idaho, a writ of error was prosecuted to this Court. That case is No. 265 on the docket of the present term, but the record has not been printed. But the parties agree that the same questions are presented on this appeal as arise in that case, and as this case is one of urgency in the affairs of a state, we have acceded to the request that they may be argued and determined on this appeal.

On the fifteenth of March, 1906, after the final judgment in the Supreme Court of Idaho, Pettibone made application to the Circuit Court of the United States sitting in Idaho for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was restrained of his liberty by the sheriff of Canyon County, in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States. As was done in the Supreme Court of Idaho, the accused set out numerous facts and circumstances which, he contended, showed that his personal presence in Idaho was secured by fraud and connivance on the part of the executive officers and agents of both Idaho and Colorado, in violation of the constitutional and statutory provisions relating to fugitives from justice. Consequently, it was argued, the court in Idaho did not acquire jurisdiction over his person. The officer having Pettibone in

Page 203 U. S. 196

custody made return to the writ that he then held the accused under the bench warrant issued against him. It was stipulated that the application for the writ of habeas corpus might be taken as his answer to the return. Subsequently, on motion, that answer was stricken out by the circuit court as immaterial, the writ of habeas corpus was quashed, and Pettibone was remanded to the custody of the state.

Page 203 U. S. 200

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