United States v. Riddle, 9 U.S. 311

9 U.S. 311

5 Cranch 311

3 L.Ed. 110


February Term, 1809

ERROR to the circuit court of the district of Columbia, which had affirmed the sentence of the district court restoring certain cases of merchandise which had been seized by the collector of Alexandria, under the 66th section of the collection law of 1799, vol. 4. p. 388. because the goods were not 'invoiced according to the actual cost thereof, at the place of exportation,' with design to evade part of the duties.

The goods were consigned by a merchant of Liverpool, in England, to Mr. Riddle, at Alexandria, for sale, accompanied by two invoices; one charging them at 67l. 5s. 6d. the other at 132l. 14s. 9d. with directions to enter them by the small invoice, and sell them by the larger. Mr. Riddle delivered both invoices and all the letters and papers to the collector, and offered to enter the goods in such manner as he should direct. The collector informed him that he must enter them by the larger invoice, which he did. But the collector seized them as forfeited under the 66th section of the collection law of 1799, which enacts, 'that if any goods, wares or merchandise, of which entry shall have been made in the office of a collector, shall not be invoiced according to the actual cost thereof at the place of exportation, with design to evade the duties thereupon, or any part thereof, all such goods,' &c. 'shall be forfeited.' The same section contains a provision for the appraisement of the goods by two merchants in case the collector shall suspect that the goods are not invoiced at a sum equal to that at which they have been usually sold in the place from whence they were imported, with a proviso that such appraisement should not, upon the trial, be conclusive evidence of the actual and real cost of the said goods at the place of exportation.

Rodney, Attorney-General for the United States, contended, that as the goods were invoiced lower than their actual cost, with intent to defraud the revenue, they were not invoiced according to their actual cost with the like intent; and the goods having been actually entered, although not by the fraudulent invoice, they were within the letter of the law, and ought to be condemned. Besides, it does not appear that the higher invoice was according to the actual cost.

Swann, contra.

The lower invoice was probably what the goods cost the consignor, who manufactured them. The higher invoice was what such goods were then selling for at that place.

But even if a fraud was contemplated, it was not carried into effect. No entry was made, nor attempted to be made by the consignee, upon the false invoice. It was made upon the true invoice, and in conformity with the directions of the collector.

In this case we hope there will be no certificate of probable cause. The conduct of the consignee has been fair and honourable in every respect. A doubt concerning the construction of a law is not 'a reasonable cause of seizure.'

MARSHALL, Ch. J. delivered the opinion of the court to the following effect:

The court thinks this case too plain to admit of argument, or to require deliberation. It is not within even the letter of the law, and it is certainly not within its spirit. The law did not intend to punish the intention, but the attempt to defraud the revenue.

But as the construction of the law was liable to some question, the court will suffer the certificate of probable cause to remain as it is. A doubt as to the true construction of the law is as reasonable a cause for seizure as a doubt respecting the fact.

Sentence affirmed.

Last modified: October 1, 2009