MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.
The petitioner for habeas corpus in this case was convicted of forgery in the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Virginia, and is in custody by virtue of a commitment under sentence of imprisonment in the penitentiary for said offence. Complaining that his conviction was illegal, by reason that the act for which he was convicted was not a crime against the laws of the United States, he applied to the circuit judge for a habeas corpus, and, after a hearing thereon, was remanded into custody. Not being satisfied with this decision, he now applies to this court for a habeas corpus. His petition is as follows: —
"To the Honorable Morrison R. Waite, Chief Justice, and his Associates, Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States:
"The petition of Richard S. Parks respectfully represents, that your petitioner is illegally confined in jail, at Harrisonburg, in Virginia,
"And your petitioner will ever pray, &c.
The transcript of the record of conviction, which accompanies the petition, shows that the petitioner was indicted for forging the signature of C. Douglass Gray, register in bankruptcy, to the following receipt: —
"Received of J.D. Martin, by R.S. Parks, his attorney, the application, with necessary papers, for adjudication in bankruptcy of said Martin; also, $50, amount of required deposit.
One count of the indictment charges that Parks committed the forgery for the purpose of authenticating the commencement of proceedings in bankruptcy in the case of J.D. Martin. Another count alleges the purpose to have been to authenticate a proceeding in the said case; namely, the filing of the paper with the register. There was a third count, which did not state the purpose.
But the question whether it was or was not a crime within the statute was one which the District Court was competent to decide. It was before the court, and within its jurisdiction. No other court, except the Circuit Court for the same district, having concurrent jurisdiction, was as competent to decide the question as the District Court.
Whether an act charged in an indictment is or is not a crime by the law which the court administers (in this case the statute law of the United States), is a question which has to be met at almost every stage of criminal proceedings; on motions to quash the indictment, on demurrers, on motions to arrest judgment, &c. The court may err, but it has jurisdiction of the question. If it errs, there is no remedy after final judgment, unless a writ of error lies to some Superior Court; and no such writ lies in this case. It would be an assumption of authority for this court, by means of the writ of habeas corpus, to review every case in which the defendant attempts to controvert the criminality of the offence charged in the indictment.
The general principles upon which the writ of habeas corpus is issued in England were well settled by usage and statutes long before the period of our national independence, and must have been in the mind of Congress when the power to issue the writ was given to the courts and judges of the United States. These principles, subject to the limitations imposed by the Federal Constitution and laws, are to be referred to for our guidance on the subject. A brief reference to the principal authorities will suffice on this occasion.
Lord Coke, before the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, excepted from the privilege of the writ persons imprisoned upon conviction for a crime, or in execution. 2 Inst. 52; Com. Dig., Hab. Corp. B.
The Habeas Corpus Act itself excepts those committed or detained for treason or felony plainly expressed in the warrant, and persons convict, or in execution by legal process. Com. Dig., Hab. Corp. B.
Lord Hale says, "If it appear by the return of the writ that the party be wrongfully committed, or by one that hath
Chief Baron Gilbert says, "If the commitment be against law, as being made by one who had no jurisdiction of the cause, or for a matter for which by law no man ought to be punished, the court are to discharge. Bac. Abr., Hab. Corp. B, 10.
These extracts are sufficient to show, that, when a person is convict or in execution by legal process issued by a court of competent jurisdiction, no relief can be had. Of course, a superior court will interfere if the inferior court had exceeded its jurisdiction, or was not competent to act.
The courts of the United States derive their jurisdiction on this subject from the Constitution and laws of the United States. The fourteenth section of the Judiciary Act granted to all the courts power to issue writs of scire facias, habeas corpus, and all other writs necessary for the exercise of their respective jurisdictions, and agreeable to the principles and usages of law; and to the justices and judges, power to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of inquiry into the cause of commitment but it added a proviso, that the writ should not extend to prisoners in jail, unless in custody under or by color of authority of the United States, or committed for trial before some court of the same, or necessary to be brought into court to testify. It was found necessary to relax the limitation contained in this proviso, and this was done in several subsequent laws. See act of 1833 (4 Stat. 634), passed in consequence of nullification proceedings in South Carolina; act of 1842 (5 Stat. 539), passed in consequence of the McLeod Case; and act of 1867 (14 Stat. 44), passed in consequence of the state of things that followed the late rebellion.
The power of the Supreme Court is subject to a further limitation, arising from its constitutional want of original jurisdiction on the subject; from whence it follows that, except in aid of some other acknowledged jurisdiction, it can only issue the writ to review the action of some inferior court or officer. Ex parte Barry, 2 How. 65.
From this review of the law it is apparent, therefore, as
But after the thorough investigation which has been given to this subject in previous cases, particularly those of Ex parte Yerger, 8 Wall. 85, and Ex parte Lange, 18 id. 163, it is unnecessary to pursue the subject further at this time.
The last-mentioned case is confidently relied on as a precedent for allowing the writ in this case. But the two are totally unlike. In Ex parte Lange we proceeded on the ground, that, when the court rendered its second judgment, the case was entirely out of its hands. It was functus officio in regard to it. The judgment first rendered had been executed and satisfied. The subsequent proceedings were, therefore, according to our view, void.
But, in the case before us, the District Court had plenary jurisdiction, both of the person, the place, the cause, and every thing about it. To review the decision of that court by means of the writ of habeas corpus would be to convert that writ into a mere writ of error, and to assume an appellate power which has never been conferred upon this court.
Since the cause was submitted to the court, the learned counsel for the petitioner has called its attention to the case
As the entire record has been brought before us by the petition, and we are clear as to our want of authority to discharge the prisoner, the application for the writ is