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WEST V. CABELL, 153 U. S. 78 (1894)

U.S. Supreme Court

West v. Cabell, 153 U.S. 78 (1894)

West v. Cabell

No. 259

Submitted February 2, 1894

Decided April 16, 1894

153 U.S. 78


A warrant of a commissioner of a circuit court of the United States, commanding the arrest of a person of a certain name, not otherwise designating or describing him, upon a charge of murder will not justify the arrest of a person who has never been known or called by that name, notwithstanding the commissioner testifies that he was the person intended.

This was an action, brought November 5, 1887, by Vandy M. West against William L. Cabell and six other persons, upon a bond dated May 19, 1886, given by Cabell, the marshal of the United States for the Northern District of Texas, as principal, and by the other defendants, as his sureties, with condition that Cabell, "by himself and by his deputies, shall faithfully perform all the duties of the said office of marshal." The breach alleged was that Edward W. Johnson, one of the deputies of Cabell, on August 16, 1887, unlawfully arrested and imprisoned the plaintiff upon a warrant issued by a commissioner of the circuit court of the United States "to arrest the body of James West," upon a charge of murder of John Cameron in the Indian Country in the Western District of Arkansas; to the damage of the plaintiff in the sum of $10,000. The answer denied the allegations of the petition and alleged that the arrest and imprisonment were upon a valid warrant, issued by the commissioner, charging the plaintiff with the crime of murder.

At the trial, there was evidence tending to prove the following facts: the plaintiff's name was Vandy M. West, and he was never known or called by any other name. He resided and did business as a grocer at Mineral Wells, Texas, having come there from Colorado in December, 1886, and had for many years before his arrest borne a good character as a

Page 153 U. S. 79

peaceable man, and was not the murderer of Cameron. On August 16, 1887, having gone with a wagonload of wheat to Weatherford, twenty miles from his home, he was there arrested by Johnson upon the warrant above mentioned, and protested against the arrest on the ground that he was the wrong man, that his name was not James West, but Vandy West, and that he was innocent of the crime charged, and offered to make proof of his identity if permitted to go with Johnson to his home, or to wait for an answer to a telegram; but Johnson refused to permit him to do either, and carried him, against his will, in a hack and in irons, sixty miles, to Graham, and there lodged him in the jail of Young County, and immediately informed the commissioner of the arrest. On the next day, the commissioner issued and placed in the hands of Johnson a subpoena for William Sturdevant, who resided sixty miles off at Henrietta, and on whose information principally Johnson had made the complaint on oath against James West, on which the warrant was issued. Sturdevant was then too ill to travel; but on September 1, 1887, and after seeing the plaintiff in jail, he appeared before the commissioner and stated on oath that the plaintiff was not the West who killed Cameron. Because of the absence of Johnson, who was serving civil process elsewhere, the plaintiff was detained in jail, and was never brought before the commissioner, until September 5, 1887, when Johnson returned, and, by order of the commissioner, discharged him. No order was ever issued by the commissioner for the arrest or commitment of the plaintiff, other than the warrant aforesaid and a verbal order to Johnson, when he reported the arrest, to hold the prisoner until the commissioner was ready to try him.

The defendants offered oral evidence tending to show that the warrant by virtue of which the arrest was made was issued for the arrest of the plaintiff, although by a wrong name; that Johnson, upon whose complaint the warrant was issued, had made inquiries from different sources concerning the identity of the plaintiff with the West who was charged with the murder of Cameron, and that the commissioner, upon the complaint made to him, issued the warrant for the arrest of

Page 153 U. S. 80

James West, but intending it for the arrest of the plaintiff. The plaintiff objected to the introduction of this testimony because, the warrant commanding the arrest of James West, it was not competent to show by parol testimony that the plaintiff, who bore another name, was the person for whose arrest the warrant was intended by the commissioner issuing it; but the court overruled the objection and admitted the testimony, and the plaintiff excepted to its admission.

The commissioner, being called as a witness for the defendants, testified that he had no personal acquaintance with V. M. West, and that the only time he ever saw him was when he discharged him from imprisonment, and did not at that time know him to be V. M. West; that Johnson at the time of making the complaint, informed him that "he had located a man by the name of West near Mineral Wells, who was charged with murder in the Western District of Arkansas," and that he had written to the United States marshal for that district, and received a reply from him; that the commissioner had no other knowledge "of the charge against West," and of his own knowledge "did not know of any other West living at or near Mineral Wells," and, "from the information received from Johnson, the West living at or near Mineral Wells was the one the warrant was issued for." On cross-examination, the commissioner testified that he "put the name James West in the warrant of arrest because James West was the man complained against."

Johnson testified that in the spring of 1887, Sturdevant informed him that

"James West, sometimes called Bud West, who had killed John Cameron in the Indian Territory in 1886, was at or near Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto County, Texas,"

and gave him "a personal description of the West who killed said Cameron," and he then wrote to the United States marshal of the Western District of Arkansas, who replied that he did want West for the murder of Cameron; that Johnson then went to Palo County to investigate the matter, and there examined the tax books, and submitted to the sheriff of the county the description given by Sturdevant of the West who killed Cameron, and ascertained that the plaintiff was

Page 153 U. S. 81

the only West in the county, and in personal appearance corresponded to Sturdevant's description; that, before he made the complaint, he informed the commissioner of these facts, and that

"in that section of the country, it was frequently the case that men were known by other than their correct names, so much so that witness attached but little importance to the name by which a man was called."

The plaintiff requested the court to instruct the jury

"that the warrant for the arrest of James West will not authorize the arrest of Vandy M. West, though Vandy M. West may have been the party intended, he not being named or described in the warrant."

The court refused so to instruct the jury, and instructed them as follows:

"There is no proof in this case tending to show that the plaintiff was ever known by the name of James West, or by any other name than V. M. West and Vandy West. There is proof tending to show that for a number of years, and in various places, he has been always known by the name of Vandy West. The defendants claim, however, that the plaintiff is the man for whose arrest the warrant was issued, and it has been suggested to you in the argument of the defendants' counsel that Ed. Johnson, being the man who made the complaint, knew what man he had in his mind when he made the complaint. It is not material what was in the mind of Johnson when he made the complaint, but what was in the mind of the commissioner when he issued the warrant, and if you believe from all the evidence that the plaintiff is the man for whose arrest the commissioner issued the warrant, you will find that the defendants are not liable for damages on account of the mere fact of the arrest. If, in making the arrest or in holding the prisoner, any harsher means were used than were reasonably necessary for taking and safely keeping him, considering the gravity of the charge, the defendants would be liable for any damages thereby occasioned the plaintiff."

The plaintiff excepted to the refusal to give the instruction requested, and to that part of the instructions given which is above printed in italics; and, after verdict and judgment for

Page 153 U. S. 82

the defendants, tendered a bill of exceptions, and sued out this writ of error.

Page 153 U. S. 84

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