Images de page
PDF
ePub

1

tion. Many frauds upon the postal, revenue, and other laws are of such a secret nature that they can effectually be discovered in no other way. Accordingly, there have been numerous convictions upon evidence procured by means of what are called “decoy letters,” that. is, letters written and mailed on purpose to detect the offender, and it is no objection to the conviction when the prohibited act has been done, that it was discovered by means of letters specially prepared and mailed by the officers of the government, and addressed to a person who has no actual existence.

The court then cites some fourteen or fifteen cases in support of the foregoing proposition from both the federal and state courts in this country, and the highest courts in England.

One B. Frank Moore having been indicted for sending circulars concerning a lottery through the mails, it was set up by his counsel that there could be no offense as the circulars were sent addressed to a fictitious name. The United States Circuit Court in that case says:

The offense of sending letters or circulars concerning lotteries through the mail is complete, although the circular in question was sent in reply to letters written by a detective under a fictitious name for no other purpose than to obtain evidence of the commission of the offense. The sending of such matter in answer to a letter from a fictitious person is just as much a violation of the law as if sent to a real person described by the name to which the letter was addressed. The name of the party to whom the letter was addressed is no part of the evidence ; but the question is, Did the defendant send through the mails a letter or circular concerning lotteries? (United States v. Moore, 19 Fed. Rep. 41.)

This subject is discussed in the Supreme Court of New York in a case entitled, “The Board of Commissioners of Excise of Onondagua, respondents, v. Martin Backus, appellant.” The court says, in speaking of detective measures used in that case to secure evidence of guilt :

The use of “decoy letters" to detect plunderers of the public mails stands upon the same foundation, and has ever been employed without bringing upon those who use these means the imputation either of crime or of participation therein. (29 Howard's Prac. Rep. 41, 42.)

Judge Spier practically rules that detective measures cannot

a

[ocr errors]

a

be employed to bring the secret offenders against the law to justice.

The Court of Appeals of New York, in the case of People v. Noelkie, after citing a large number of cases bearing upon the question of detective measures for the purpose of securing evidence against criminals, says :

It has become a necessity for the suppression of crime to resort to this mode of ascertaining whether a prohibited and criminal act has been committed — the victims of a business which it distinguishes failing in moral courage to complain or appear as witnesses. Without its use many crimes would increase in number, and make the authorities helpless from the absence of such proof as may be required for a conviction.

In People v. O'Marley, 18 Ill. 407, it was held :

We should regret to learn that men are to be denounced as informers and spies who voluntarily or involuntarily denounce and prosecute offenders against the law, order, and morality of society. . . . If men voluntarily or otherwise becoming acquainted with the secret brothels, gambling and drinking hells, with which our cities and villages are sometimes overrun, and our neighbors, and our children are corrupted and ruined, are to lose their veracity and be denounced as informers and spies, for seeking out and bringing these evil practices to light, then are our hopes of protection slight indeed.

In the Molly Maguire cases, which have now passed into history as among the most remarkable cases of murder and rapine known in this country, one of the Pinkerton detectives joined the organization. On the trial of these murderers the defense was set up that the detective who had resorted to detective measures and joined the organization with the laudable purpose of exposing these criminals, and bringing them to justice, was not to be believed under oath, and his testimony could not be received in court. The highest court in Pennsylvania, in that case, held as follows:

A detective who joins a criminal organization for the purpose of exposing it, and bringing the criminals to punishment, and as such carries out that design, is not an accessory before the fact, although he may have encouraged and counseled the parties who were about to commit crime, if in so doing he intended they should be discovered and

wares,

1

punished; and his testimony, therefore, is not to be treated as that of an infamous witness. (Com. v. Corr, 3 Norris.)

If the officer of the law who receives the circular of a criminal dealing in obscene books and pictures accepts the dealer's invitation to purchase what he says he has for sale, sends the price which the dealer names, and in reply receives that which the dealer offers for sale to his customers, such an officer does not induce that man to commit a crime. The officer has no other means of testing the truth of the circular that is sent out volun. tarily by the dealer inviting the public to buy his forbidden

The real decoys” are the circulars of these wretches devil decoys to ruin youth and children.

The circular on its face raises the strong presumption that this man is disseminating what he says he has for sale, in his printed circular. This “probable cause " comes to the officer, and the officer uses detective measures to see if the man is really sending out what he says in his circulars he will send out for the price he names. The man is not “induced to commit a crime."

While our critics are loud in their denunciation of “inducing men to commit crime," they do not stop to consider what is actually done, or what is necessary to be done. They jump at conclusions. The word “decoy" conveys to them the idea that these men are trapped, or induced to do that which otherwise they would not do. What is done? The officer simply accepts the invitation of the vender of obscenity, and sends the money or price named in his circular. The man who receives this letter is not obliged to send anything.

In the case of United States v. Moore, it was held :

When the defendant received the letters in question, he was under no obligation to so answer them as to violate the law. (19 Fed. Rep. 41.)

In the trial of a man named Downing in Massachusetts for the unlawful sale of liquor, one King was the witness, and Downing was convicted upon the testimony of King. On the trial the defense requested the court to charge that the person who admitted that he had purchased and procured another per

[ocr errors]

a

a

a

son to commit a crime for the purpose of prosecuting the person was not a creditable witness. The court refused to charge that, but charged as follows:

That if the jury believed the witness King they must convict the defendant. That it sometimes became necessary to match cunning with cunning, and accomplish by artifice what could not otherwise be consummated. (4 Gray, 29.)

On appeal it was held :

King was not an accomplice. The point was well settled in Com. v. Willard, 22 W, 407, 412.

"Pickering In United States v. Cottingham, 2 Blatchf. 470, a “test” letter had been prepared, and mailed for the purpose of detecting the defendant. It was objected that this was not a letter under the act. The court charged the jury, “that the purpose for which the letter from which the money was taken was mailed, was not a question under the act.”

In United States v. Foye, 1 Curtis, 366, a “test” letter was sent upon an understanding between two postmasters, that one was to mail a letter which, in the order of transit, would have to pass through the office of the other, who was to return the same to the writer, if it arrived all right. This letter was taken by the mail-carrier, and its contents appropriated to his own use.

Upon the trial it was objected by the defendant that it was not a letter intended to be conveyed by post, within the meaning of the act. Judge Curtis says :

We do not think the purpose of the writer, not to have the letter go to its apparent destination, affects its character, or prevents it from being a letter intended to be transmitted by post, or takes it out of the protection of the statute.

In England the statute 1 Victoria defines a “post letter” to mean any letter or packet transmitted by the post under the authority of the Postmaster General, and a letter shall be deemed a post letter from the time of its being delivered to the post office to the time of its being delivered to the person to whom it is addressed."

In Regina v. Gardiner, 1 Carr & K. 628, it was held, that a test letter used to detect a dishonest official, if addressed to a

VOL. II. — NO. 7.

a

2

[ocr errors]

a

fictitious address, did not come within the statute. Judge Pollock, C. B., commenting upon the facts in that case, said: –

, This letter, if letter it be, is a fictitious one, and is not addressed to any person that ever existed. I do not think this can be considered a letter at all, and if so, it was certainly not a “post letter."

This dictum was afterwards overruled, by a unanimous opinion by all the judges, Judge Pollock assenting, in Regina v. Young, 1 Dennison Crown Cases, 198. In Young's case the letter had been deposited by the president of the London District Office, in a receiving house at Allgate, where Young was employed. This letter had a fictitious address upon it, and was posted to test the honesty of the prisoner, who stole the letter, and afterwards being convicted by the jury, the case was reserved for the judges, and, in consideration, Ballantyne for the prisoner suggested, “ that this was not a post letter, as it was not intended for transmission, and that the object with which the letter was put into the post must be a material ingredient in the question.”

On Ballantyne citing Regina v. Gardiner, Pollock, C. B., intimated that he had some reason to think his dictum in that case incorrect.

The judges were unanimously of the opinion that this conviction was right.

Later, in Queen v. Shepherd, 25 L. J. (N. S.), 1856, p. 52, in considering this case, Williams, J. said : “ The case of Queen v. Young shows that it makes no difference that the letter was not a genuine letter.” Croswell, J. said: “Though the letter was made up merely for testing the honesty of the prisoner, it is a post, letter as has been decided in Queen v. Young overruling the case of Queen v. Gardiner, with the assent of Pollock, C. B., who decided it.”.

These cases clearly show, that the courts in the United States and England recognize that letters in the mails containing money or other articles of value are letters to be “conveyed by mail” and covered by the protection of law; notwithstanding and independent of the motive of the one who deposits such letters for mailing or delivery.

Judge Spier stands singularly alone. There must be some

[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »