WISE V. MILLS, 220 U. S. 549 (1911)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wise v. Mills, 220 U.S. 549 (1911)

Wise v. Mills

No. 963

Argued April 24, 25, 1911

Decided May 15, 1911

220 U.S. 549


The fact that a question under the Constitution is involved in an order requiring production of books and paper, does not establish that a constitutional question is involved in the order committing for contempt for refusing to comply with the order to produce. Nelson v. United States, 201 U. S. 92, distinguished, and Alexander v. United States, 201 U. S. 117, followed.

This Court has no jurisdiction to review a judgment of the Circuit Court committing for contempt for failure to produce simply because the interlocutory order which appellant refused to obey involved a constitutional question, and where it does not appear that the order disobeyed was so far dehors the authority of the court as to be void, the appeal from the order of commitment will be dismissed.

On February 20, 1911, an inspector of customs, before a commissioner of a circuit court of the United States, charged Lawrence H. Mills, Charles G. Mourraille, and Emil S. Duflot with conspiring to defraud the United States of a portion of the customs duties upon certain merchandise imported by said parties, who were engaged in business in the city of New York, under the firm name of Mills & Duflot. It was charged that the object of the conspiracy was to be accomplished by presenting to the collector of the port of New York false and fraudulent invoices, and the commission of a specific overt act was alleged. Upon this charge, a warrant issued for the arrest of the accused. On the same day, a deputy marshal, with an agent of the Department of Justice, proceeded to the place of business of the firm and executed the warrant by arresting

Page 220 U. S. 550

the accused. At the time this was done, the officers took possession of and carried away a large number of commercial books and papers, which were found in the store or office of the accused. On the same day also, the grand jury presented the accused for conspiracy to defraud the United States of its customs revenues, and they were also arrested under a bench warrant issued upon this indictment, and were arraigned and admitted to bail.

On February 23, 1911, Mills, Mourraille, and Duflot, in a petition filed in the circuit court, recited the taking possession and carrying away by the officers of the books and papers, as heretofore stated, and alleged that such books and papers "constituted substantially all the books and papers with which they are and have been for several years doing business." It was averred upon information and belief that the books and papers in question had been turned over to the United States district attorney, to be placed at the disposal of the grand jury. Averring that the seizure was unlawful and without warrant of authority, it was prayed that the marshal and the district attorney be notified, and after hearing, they be commanded to return the books and papers. The district attorney quite elaborately answered the petition, admitting that the books and papers had been seized and carried away as alleged, traversing the averment that they were all the books, admitting that they were in his possession, that he had used and was intending to use them for the purpose of procuring indictments for violation of the customs laws, and averring that reasonable access to the books and papers had been allowed the parties. The answer besides stated other matters which it was deemed sustained the seizure and the retention of the books and papers.

After hearing, the court ordered the return of the books and papers. The reasons for this course were stated in an opinion which substantially, on a review of the decisions of this Court, especially Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S.

Page 220 U. S. 551

616, and Hale v. Henkel, 201 U. S. 43, held that the constitutional rights of the parties had been violated by the taking possession of the books and papers as alleged. 185 F.3d 8. Thereupon the district attorney, who is the plaintiff in error, refused to obey the order of the court, and stated his reasons for the refusal in an elaborate paper filed in the circuit court, and styled "statement of grounds of United States attorney's refusal to obey order." In such paper, after referring to the taking possession of the books and papers, and making certain statements concerning the same, it was declared:

"As to the direction of this Court to turn over the other books and papers now in his possession and taken into custody at the time of the arrest of the defendants, said United States attorney is unwilling and respectfully refuses to comply with said order, and the grounds of his refusal to obey the said order are as follows. . . ."

This was followed by eleven paragraphs, in which were recited the charge against the accused, the taking possession of the books and papers, the return of some of them to the accused, the retention of the balance by the district attorney, their use before the grand jury, and the intention to use them further. Certain papers were annexed as part of the statement.

The district attorney persisting in his refusal, the court entered an order committing him for contempt. Thereupon this writ of error to the judgment of commitment for contempt was allowed by the circuit judge who ordered the commitment, and assigments of error were filed, concluding as follows:

"Wherefore the said Henry A. Wise prays that the order and judgment of said circuit court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, adjudging him to be in contempt, may be reversed, and that the said court may be directed to enter an order and judgment vacating and setting at naught the said order upon which the commitment and complaint was made. "

Page 220 U. S. 553

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