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U.S. Supreme Court

Yeaton v. The General Pinckney, 9 U.S. 5 Cranch 281 281 (1809)

Yeaton v. The General Pinckney

9 U.S. (5 Cranch) 281




In admiralty cases, an appeal suspends the sentence altogether, and the cause is to be heard in the appellate court as if no sentence had been pronounced.

If the law under which the sentence of condemnation was pronounced be repealed after sentence in the court below, and before final sentence in the appellate court, no sentence of condemnation can be pronounced unless some special provision be made for that purpose by statute.

This was an appeal from the sentence of the Circuit Court for the District of Maryland, which condemned the schooner General Pinkney and cargo, for breach of the act of Congress prohibiting intercourse with certain ports of the Island of St. Domingo, passed February 28, 1806. Vol. 8, p. 11. This act was limited to one year; but by the Act of February 24, 1807, it was continued until the end of the then next session of Congress, when it expired on 26 April, 1808.

The schooner General Pinkney, on 22 August, 1806, was cleared from Alexandria for St. Jago de Cuba with a cargo, but went to Cape Francois in the Island of St. Domingo, one of the prohibited ports. On her return, she was seized on 17 November, 1806, and libeled on 5 January, 1807, and condemned in the district court on 23 July following, which condemnation was affirmed in the circuit court on 7 November, from which sentence the claimants immediately appealed in open court to the Supreme Court of the United States, then next to be holden on the first Monday of February, 1808, where the cause was continued until the present term.

Page 9 U. S. 282

The only question now argued was whether this Court could now affirm the sentence of condemnation, inasmuch as the law which created the forfeiture, and authorized the condemnation, had expired?

Page 9 U. S. 283

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court to the following effect:

The majority of the Court is clearly of opinion that in admiralty cases, an appeal suspends the sentence altogether, and that it is not res adjudicata until the final sentence of the appellate court be pronounced. The cause in the appellate court is to be heard de novo, as if no sentence had been passed. This has been the uniform practice not only in cases of appeal from the district to the circuit courts of the United States, but in this Court also.

In prize causes, the principle has never been disputed, and in the instance court it is stated in 2 Browne's Civil Law that in cases of appeal it is lawful to allege what has not before been alleged, and to prove what has not before been proved.

The Court is therefore of opinion that this cause is to be considered as if no sentence had been pronounced, and if no sentence had been pronounced, it has been long settled on general principles that after the expiration or repeal of a law, no penalty can be enforced nor punishment inflicted, for violations of the law committed while it was in force, unless some special provision be made for that purpose by statute.

Page 9 U. S. 284

The following sentence was then pronounced by the Court:

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record, and was argued by counsel, on consideration whereof the Court is of opinion that an appeal from the sentence of a court of admiralty brings the whole case before the appellate court unaffected by the sentence of condemnation from which the appeal is made, and that a sentence of condemnation cannot be pronounced on account of a forfeiture which accrued under a law not in force at the time of pronouncing such sentence unless, by some statutory provision, the right to enforce such forfeiture be preserved.

The Court is therefore of opinion that the sentence pronounced in this cause by the Circuit Court of the District of Maryland affirming the sentence of the judge of the district court in this cause be reversed and annulled, and the Court, proceeding to pronounce the proper sentence, doth direct that the libel be dismissed and the property libeled be restored to the claimants, they paying the duties thereon if the same have not been already paid.

And on the motion of the Attorney General, it is ordered to be certified that in the opinion of this Court there was probable cause of seizure.

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