Published on:

Court Discusses Jurisdiction Issue

This involves a criminal jurisdiction case where it was ruled that the courts of the United States have jurisdiction, under section 5346 of the Revised Statutes, to try a person for an assault with a dangerous weapon, committed on a vessel belonging to a citizen of the United States, when such vessel is in the Detroit river, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, and within the territorial limits of the dominion of Canada.

In February, 1888, the defendant and others, were indicted in the district court of the United States for the eastern district of Michigan for assaulting, in August, 1887, with a dangerous weapon on board of the steamer Alaska, a vessel belonging to citizens of the United States, and then being within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, and not within the jurisdiction of any particular state of the United States, viz. within the territorial limits of the dominion of Canada.

The indictment contained six counts, charging the offense to have been committed in different ways, or with different intent, and was remitted to the circuit court for the sixth circuit of the eastern district of Michigan. There the defendant filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court, alleging that it had no jurisdiction of the matters charged, as appeared on the face of the indictment, and to the plea a demurrer was filed.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said the demurrer focused on the issue on whether the courts of the United States have jurisdiction, under section 5346 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, to try a person for an assault with a dangerous weapon committed on a vessel belonging to a citizen of the United States, when such vessel is in the Detroit river, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, and within the territorial limits of the dominion of Canada.

Section 5346 of the Revised Statutes, upon which the indictment was found, is as follows:

‘Sec. 5346. Every person who, upon the high seas, or in any arm of the sea, or in any river, haven, creek, basin, or bay, within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, on board any vessel belonging in whole or in part to the United States, or any citizen thereof, with a dangerous weapon, or with intent to perpetrate any felony, commits an assault on another shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars and by imprisonment at hard labor not more than three years.’

A Staten Island Criminal Lawyer said the statute relating to the place of trial in this case is contained in section 730 of the Revised Statutes, which is as follows:

‘Sec. 730. The trial of all offenses committed upon the high seas or elsewhere, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state or district, shall be in the district where the offender is found or into which he is first brought.’

It is to be observed that the term ‘high,’ in one of significations of high seas, is used to denote that which is common, open, and public. Thus, every road or way or navigable river which is used freely by the public is a ‘high’ way. So a large body of navigable water other than a river, which is of an extent beyond the measurement of one’s unaided vision, and is open and unconfined, and not under the exclusive control of any one nation or people, but is the free highway of adjoining nations or people, must fall under the definition of ‘high seas,’ within the meaning of the statute.

The language used must be read in conjunction with that term, and as referring to navigable waters out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, but connecting with the high seas mentioned. The Detroit river, upon which was the steamer Alaska at the time the assault was committed, connects the waters of Lake Huron (with which, as stated above, the waters of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan join) with the waters of Lake Erie, and separates the dominion of Canada from the United States, constituting the boundary between them; the dividing line running nearly midway between its banks, as established by commissioners, pursuant to the treaty between the two countries.

According to the court, in traversing the river, they are constantly passing from the territorial jurisdiction of the one nation to that of the other. All of them, however, so far as transactions had on board are concerned, are deemed to be within the country of their owners. Constructively, they constitute a part of the territory of the nation to which the owners belong. While they are on the navigable waters of the river, they are within the admiralty jurisdiction of that country. This jurisdiction is not changed by the fact that each of the neighboring nations may in some cases assert its own authority over persons on such vessels, in relation to acts committed by them within its territorial limits. In what cases jurisdiction by each country will be thus asserted, and to what extent, it is not necessary to inquire, for no question on that point is presented for our consideration. The general rule is that the country to which the vessel belongs will exercise jurisdiction over all matters affecting the vessel, or those belonging to her, without interference of the local government, unless they involve its peace, dignity, or tranquility, in which case it may assert its authority.

Stephen Bilkis and Associates with its New York Criminal Lawyers can assert your right guaranteed by law. If you have been charged with theft, drug possession or sex crimes, call us. We have offices located within New York Metropolitan area for your convenience.