United States v. Chouteau , 102 U.S. 603 ( 1881 )


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  • 102 U.S. 603 (____)

    UNITED STATES
    v.
    CHOUTEAU.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    *608 The Solicitor-General for the plaintiff in error.

    No counsel appeared for the defendants in error.

    MR. JUSTICE FIELD, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

    As seen by the statement of the case, each breach of the condition of the bond in suit, of the class designated by odd numbers, consists in the omission of the distiller to make the required entries in the book provided in sect. 3303. The petition alleges that, by "means of the said omission," the distiller was enabled to defraud and did defraud the United States of the tax imposed by law upon the spirits produced at his distillery. The answer denies this allegation, and avers that whatever fraud was committed upon the United States was effected through other means. The demurrer admits that averment to be true, and the question is thus presented whether a party seeking damages for a specified breach of duty is entitled to judgment in his favor, when admitting on the record that whatever damages he may have sustained resulted from other causes.

    The case is not brought for any tax alleged to be due to the United States, which they would be entitled to recover, whatever the cause of its non-payment. In such a case it would be of no consequence whether the cause assigned for the default of the party was the true one or not; the obligation to the government would be the same. Here a specific omission of duty on the part of the distiller is alleged, for which it is sought to charge both him and his sureties on their bond. Their liability is only to the extent of the damages sustained. If none resulted to the United States from the omission stated, none can be recovered either against him or his sureties. The law does not affix any specific penalty for the omission. If, therefore, the allegations of the petition were simply traversed, the government would be compelled to prove, not only the omission complained of, but that by means of *609 it the tax on the spirits produced was lost, which constitutes the damages alleged. It would not be sufficient to show that by other omissions of duty the government was thus defrauded, for that would be to change the entire ground of the action, the specific gravamen of the complaint.

    Now, the demurrer admits that the ground of complaint — the specific breach of duty stated — did not cause the damages charged, but that whatever damages were sustained by the United States were effected by other means. Therefore the action, so far as damages are claimed for the particular omission of duty mentioned, must fail.

    It is true that the breaches of duty, which are stated by the defendants in their answer as the means by which the United States were defrauded, are a series of stupendous frauds, for which the guilty parties deserve severe punishment; still they were none the less available as a defence to an action charging to other causes the damages which they produced. It is certainly one way of defending against the charge of a wrongful act for which damages are sought, to show that, notwithstanding the wrong committed, the damages resulted from other causes, however objectionable a pleading might be with averments to that effect instead of a distinct traverse of the allegations of the complaint. If, for example, a party should charge another with inflicting upon his person a wound by which he lost an arm, it would be a good defence to show that the loss resulted from unskilful medical treatment or neglect and not from the wound inflicted. So here, it is enough for the sureties to show that the loss to the government was produced by other means than the particular breach of duty by their principal, of which the government complains. It is of no consequence to them, so far as the present action is concerned, how many other sins of omission or commission he may have committed, if they can show that the particular damage claimed was not the result of the one charged.

    As to the breaches of duty in the assignments of the class designated by even numbers, we are of opinion that the compromise with the government pleaded is a complete defence against a recovery of the penalty claimed. Each breach alleged consists in the removal by the distiller of spirits produced *610 at his distillery to a place other than the distillery warehouse, without first paying the tax imposed thereon. The penalty prescribed for this offence was intended as part punishment for it, and may be enforced, equally as the additional fine and imprisonment, by criminal prosecution. It was not intended in any sense as a substitute for the tax required, or as any abatement of it when recovered. This is evident from the fact that it may be applied to those who have aided or abetted in the removal, whether the distiller or one having no interest in the spirits. So, too, the payment of the tax may be made after the removal, and yet the penalty not be discharged; it could still be imposed upon the offending party.

    It may be questioned whether the only mode for a recovery of the penalty is not by indictment; but assuming that it may be recovered in a civil action, the compromise pleaded covers the penalties here claimed. Two indictments have been found against the distiller, one of which contains counts for the specific offences, which constitute the whole ground and cause of the present action. Under the authority of an act of Congress, a compromise with the government was effected, by which a specific sum was paid by him, and received by the government, "in full satisfaction, compromise, and settlement of said indictments and prosecutions," which were accordingly dismissed and abandoned. That compromise necessarily covered the causes or grounds of the prosecutions, and consequently released the party from liability for the offences charged and any further punishment for them. The answer avers that the removals of distilled spirits set forth in the assignment of breaches of the condition of the bond are the same removals recited in the indictments, and that all the evidence necessary to establish the breaches assigned would have been necessary and competent under the indictments. The two proceedings, the civil action and the criminal prosecution, so far as they relate to offences under sect. 3296, are based upon the same transactions.

    The question, therefore, is presented whether sureties on a distiller's bond shall be subjected to the penalty attached to the commission of an offence, when the principal has effected *611 a full and complete compromise with the government, under the sanction of an act of Congress, of prosecutions based upon the same offence and designed to secure the same penalty.

    Admitting that the penalty may be recovered in a civil action, as well as by a criminal prosecution, it is still as a punishment for the infraction of the law. The term "penalty" involves the idea of punishment, and its character is not changed by the mode in which it is inflicted, whether by a civil action or a criminal prosecution. The compromise pleaded must operate for the protection of the distiller against subsequent proceedings as fully as a former conviction or acquittal. He has been punished in the amount paid upon the settlement for the offence with which he was charged, and that should end the present action, according to the principle on which a former acquittal or conviction may be invoked to protect against a second punishment for the same offence. To hold otherwise would be to sacrifice a great principle to the mere form of procedure, and to render settlements with the government delusive and useless.

    Whilst there has been no conviction or judgment in the criminal proceedings against the distiller here, the compromise must on principle have the same effect. The government through its appropriate officers has indicated, under the authority of an act of Congress, the punishment with which it will be satisfied. The offending party has responded to the indication and satisfied the government. It would, therefore, be at variance with right and justice to exact in a new form of action the same penalty. For, as it was justly said by this court in Ex parte Lange, speaking through Mr. Justice Miller, "If there is anything settled in the jurisprudence of England and America, it is that no man can be twice lawfully punished for the same offence. And, though there have been nice questions in the application of this rule to cases in which the act charged was such as to come within the definition of more than one statutory offence, or to bring the party within the jurisdiction of more than one court, there has never been any doubt of its entire and complete protection of the party where a second punishment is proposed in the same court, on the *612 same facts, for the same statutory offence. The principle finds expression in more than one form in the maxims of the common law." 18 Wall. 163, 168.

    Judgment affirmed.

    NOTE. — In United States v. Ulrici, error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Missouri, which was submitted at the same time, MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.

    This case involves substantially the same questions considered in United States v. Chouteau. Here the principal on the bond in suit pleaded guilty to the indictments found against him, and was fined $1,000 and imprisoned for one day. The punishment inflicted was for offences which are set forth in the petition in this action as breaches of the condition of the bond. This difference in the two cases does not affect the principle upon which the first was decided. Upon its authority the judgment is

    Affirmed.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 151

Citation Numbers: 102 U.S. 603, 26 L. Ed. 246, 1880 U.S. LEXIS 2067

Judges: Field, After Stating the Facts

Filed Date: 1/17/1881

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 4/15/2017

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