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BOYD and others, Claimants, etc., v. UNITED STATES.*fn1

February 1, 1886

BOYD AND OTHERS, CLAIMANTS, ETC.,
v.
UNITED STATES.*FN1



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bradley, J.

E. B. Smith and S. G. Clarke, for plaintiffs in error.

Sol. Gen. Goode, for defendant in error.

This was an information filed by the district attorney of the United States in the district court for the Southern district of New York, in July, 1884, in a cause of seizure and forfeiture of property, against 35 cases of plate glass, seized by the collector as forfeited to the United States, under the twelfth section of the 'Act to amend the customs revenue laws,' etc., passed June 22, 1874, (18 St. 186.) It is declared by that section that any owner, importer, consignee, etc., who shall, with intent to defraud the revenue, make, or attempt to make, any entry of imported merchandise, by means of any fraudulent or false invoice, affidavit, letter, or paper, or by means of any false statement, written or verbal, or who shall be guilty of any willful act or omission, by means whereof the United States shall be deprived of the lawful duties, or any portion thereof, accruing upon the merchandise, or any portion thereof, embraced or referred to in such invoice, affidavit, letter, paper, or statement, or affected by such act or omission, shall for each offense be fined in any sum not exceeding $5,000 nor less than $50, or be imprisoned for any time not exceeding two years, or both; and, in addition to such fine, such merchandise shall be forfeited.

The charge was that the goods in question were imported into the United States to the port of New York, subject to the payment of duties; and that the owners or agents of said merchandise, or other person unknown, committed the alleged fraud, which was described in the words of the statute. The plaintiffs in error entered a claim for the goods, and pleaded that they did not become forfeited in manner and form as alleged. On the trial of the cause it became important to show the quantity and value of the glass contained in 29 cases previously imported. To do this the district attorney offered in evidence an order made by the district judge under the fifth section of the same act of June 22, 1874, directing notice under seal of the court to be given to the claimants, requiring them to produce the invoice of the 29 cases. The claimants, in obedience to the notice, but objecting to its validity and to the constitutionality of the law, produced the invoice; and when it was offered in evidence by the district attorney they objected to its reception on the ground that, in a suit for forfeiture, no evidence can be compelled from the claimants themselves, and also that the statute, so far as it compels production of evidence to be used against the claimants, is unconstitutional and void. The evidence being received, and the trial closed, the jury found a verdict for the United States, condemning the 35 cases of glass which were seized, and judgment of forfeiture was given. This judgment was affirmed by the circuit court, and the decision of that court is now here for review.

As the question raised upon the order for the production by the claimants of the invoice of the 29 cases of glass, and the proceedings had thereon, is not only an important one in the determination of the present case, but is a very grave question of constitutional law, involving the personal security, and privileges and immunities of the citizen, we will set forth the order at large. After the title of the court and term, it reads as follows, to-wit:

'The United States of America against E. A. B., 1-35, Thirty-five Cases of Plate Glass.

'Whereas, the attorney of the United States for the Southern district of New York has filed in this court a written motion in the above-entitled action, showing that said action is a suit or proceeding other than criminal, arising under the customs revenue laws of the United States, and not for penalties, now pending undetermined in this court, and that in his belief a certain invoice or paper belonging to and under the control of the claimants herein will tend to prove certain allegations set forth in said written motion, hereto annexed, made by him on behalf of the United States in said action, to-wit, the invoice from the Union Plate Glass Company, or its agents, covering the twenty-nine cases of plate glass marked G. H. B., imported from Liverpool, England, into the port of New York, in the vessel Baltic, and entered by E. A. Boyd & Sons at the office of the collector of customs of the port and collection district aforesaid, on April 7, 1884, on entry No. 47,108:

'Now, therefore, by virtue of the power in the said court vested by section 5 of the act of June 22, 1874, entitled 'An act to amend the customs revenue laws and to repeal moieties,' it is ordered that a notice under the seal of this court, and signed by the clerk thereof, be issued to the claimants, requiring them to produce the invoice or paper aforesaid before this court in the court-rooms thereof in the United States post-office and court-house building in the city of New York on October 16, 1884, at eleven o'clock A. M., and thereafter at such other times as the court shall appoint, and that said United States attorney and his assistants and such persons as he shall designate shall be allowed before the court, and under its direction and in the presence of the attorneys for the claimants, if they shall attend, to make examination of said invoice or paper and to take copies thereof; but the claimants or their agents or attorneys shall have, subject to the order of the court, the custody of such invoice or paper, except pending such examination.'

The fifth section of the act of June 22, 1874, under which this order was made, is in the following words, to-wit:

'In all suits and proceedings other than criminal, arising under any of the revenue laws of the United States, the attorney representing the government, whenever in his belief any business book, invoice, or paper belonging to, or under the control of, the defendant or claimant, will tend to prove any allegation made by the United States, may make a written motion, particularly describing such book, invoice, or paper, and setting forth the allegation which he expects to prove; and thereupon the court in which suit or proceeding is pending may, at its discretion issue a notice to the defendant or claimant to produce such book, invoice, or paper in court, at a day and hour to be specified in said notice, which, together with a copy of said motion, shall be served formally on the defendant or claimant by the United States marshal by delivering to him a certified copy thereof, or otherwise serving the same as original notices of suit in the same court are served; and if the defendant or claimants shall fail or refuse to produce such book, invoice, or paper in obedience to such notice, the allegations stated in the said motion shall be taken as confessed, unless his failure or refusal to produce the same shall be explained to the satisfaction of the court. And if produced the said attorney shall be permitted, under the direction of the court, to make examination (at which examination the defendant or claimant, or his agent, may be present) of such entries in said book, invoice, or paper as relate to or tend to prove the allegation aforesaid, and may offer the same in evidence on behalf of the United States. But the owner of said books and papers, his agent or attorney, shall have, subject to the order of the court, the custody of them, except pending their examination in court as aforesaid.' 18 St. 187.

This section was passed in lieu of the second section of the act of March 2, 1867, entitled 'An act to regulate the disposition of the proceeds of fines, penalties, and forfeitures incurred under the laws relating to the customs, and for other purposes,' (14 St. 547,) which section of said last-mentioned statute authorized the district judge, on complaint and affidavit that any fraud on the revenue had been committed by any person interested or engaged in the importation of merchandise, to issue his warrant to the marshal to enter any premises where any invoices, books, or papers were deposited relating to such merchandise, and take possession of such books and papers and produce them before said judge, to be subject to his order, and allowed to be examined by the collector, and to be subject to his order, and allowed deem necessary. This law being in force at the time of the revision, was incorporated into sections 3091, 3092, 3093, of the Revised Statutes.

The section last recited was passed in lieu of the seventh section of the act of March 3, 1863, entitled 'An act to prevent and punish frauds upon the revenue,' etc. 12 St. 737. The seventh section of this act was in substance the same as the second section of the act of 1867, except that the warrant was to be directed to the collector instead of the marshal. It was the first legislation of the kind that ever appeared on the statute book of the United States, and, as seen from its date, was adopted at a period of great national excitement, when the powers of the government were subjected to a severe strain to protect the national existence. The clauses of the constitution, to which it is contended that these laws are repugnant, are the fourth and fifth amendments. The fourth declares: 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.' The fifth article, among other things, declares that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal cace to be a witness against himself.' But, produce them. That is so; but it declares is contended that, whatever might have been alleged against the constitutionality of the acts of 1863 and 1867, that of 1874, under which the order in the present case was made, is free from constitutional objection, because it does not authorize the search and seizure of books and papers, but only requires the defendant or claimant to producethem. That is so; but it declares that if he does not produce them, the allegations which it is affirmed they will prove shall be taken as confessed. This is tantamount to compelling their production, for the prosecuting attorney will always be sure to state the evidence expected to be derived from them as strongly as the case will admit of. It is true that certain aggravating incidents of actual search and seizure, such as forcible entry into a man's house and searching among his papers, are wanting, and to this extent the proceeding under the act of 1874 is a mitigation of that which was authorized by the former acts; but it accomplishes the substantial object of those acts in forcing from a party evidence against himself. It is our opinion, therefore, that a compulsory production of a man's private papers to establish a criminal charge against him, or to forfeit his property, is within the scope of the fourth amendment to the constitution, in all cases in which a search and seizure would be, because it is a material ingredient, and effects the sole object and purpose of search and seizure.

The principal question, however, remains to be considered. Is a search and seizure, or, what is equivalent thereto, a compulsory production of a man's private papers, to be used in evidence against him in a proceeding to forfeit his property for alleged fraud against the revenue laws–is such a proceeding for such a purpose an 'unreasonable search and seizure' within the meaning of the fourth amendment of the constitution? or is it a legitimate proceeding? It is contended by the counsel for the government, that it is a legitimate proceeding, sanctioned by long usage, and the authority of judicial decision. No doubt long usage, acquiesced in by the courts, goes a long way to prove that there is some plausible ground or reason for it in the law, or in the historical facts which have imposed a particular construction of the law favorable to such usage. It is a maxim that, consuetudo est optimus interpres legum; and another maxim that, contemporanea expositio est optima et fortissima in lege. But we do not find any long usage or any contemporary construction of the constitution, which would justify any of the acts of congress now under consideration. As before stated, the act of 1863 was the first act in this country, and we might say, either in this country or in England, so far as we have been able to ascertain, which authorized the search and seizure of a man's private papers, or the compulsory production of them, for the purpose of using them in evidence against him in a criminal case, or in a proceeding to enforce the forfeiture of his property. Even the act under which the obnoxious writs of assistance were issued2 did not go as far as this, but only authorized the examination of ships and vessels, and persons found therein, for the purpose of finding goods prohibited to be imported or exported, or on which the duties were not paid, and to enter into and search any suspected vaults, cellars, or warehouses for such goods. The search for and seizure of stolen or forfeited goods, or goods liable to duties and concealed to avoid the payment thereof, are totally different things from a search for and seizure of a man's private books and papers for the purpose of obtaining information therein contained, or of using them as evidence against him. The two things differ toto coelo. In the one case, the government is entitled to the possession of the property; in the other it is not. The seizure of stolen goods is authorized by the common law; and the seizure of goods forfeited for a breach of the revenue laws, or concealed to avoid the duties payable on them, has been authorized by English statutes for at least two centuries past;*fn2 3 and the like seizures have been authorized by our own revenue acts from the commencement of the government.

The first statute passed by congress to regulate the collection of duties, the act of July 31, 1789, (1 St. 43,) contains provisions to this effect. As this act was passed by the same congress which proposed for adoption the original amendments to the constitution, it is clear that the members of that body did not regard searches and seizures of this kind as 'unreasonable,' and they are not embraced within the prohibition of the amendment. So, also, the supervision authorized to be exercised by officers of the revenue over the manufacture or custody of excisable articles, and the entries thereof in books required by las to be kept for their inspection, are necessarily excepted out of the category of unreasonable searches and seizures. So, also, the laws which provide for the search and seizure of articles and things which it is unlawful for a person to have in his possession for the purpose of issue or disposition, such as counterfeit coin, lottery tickets, implements of gambling, etc., are not within this category. Com. v. Dana, 2 Metc. 329. Many other things of this character might be enumerated. The entry upon premises, made by a sheriff or other officer of the law, for the purpose of seizing goods and chattels by virtue of a judicial writ, such as an attachment, a sequestration, or an execution, is not within the prohibition of the fourth or fifth amendment, or any other clause of the constitution; nor is the examination of a defendant under oath after an ineffectual execution, for the purpose of discovering secreted property or credits, to be applied to the payment of a judgment against him, obnoxious to those amendments. But, when examined with care, it is manifest that there is a total unlikeness of these official acts and proceedings to that which is now under consideration. In the case of stolen goods, the owner from whom they were stolen is entitled to their possession, and in the case of excisable or dutiable articles, the government has an interest in them for the payment of the duties thereon, and until such duties are paid has a right to keep them under observation, or to pursue and drag them from concealment; and in the case ...


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