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The Element of Locality in the Law of Criminal Jurisdiction, 37 American Law Register 22 (1889)


The Federal Courts have no common law criminal jurisdiction. The question was raised in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania, in 1798, in United States v. Worrall, 2 Dallas, 384, and the Court was equally divided in opinion. In 1818, Mr. Justice STORY, in United States v. Coolidge, 1 Gallison, 488, decided that there were common law offences against the United States. But this, as we shall see, was overruled by the Supreme Court. As early as 1807, Chief Justice MARSHALL, in Ex parte Bollman, 4 Cranch, 75, had said, "This Court disclaims all jurisdiction not given by the Constitution, or by the laws of the United States. Courts which originate in the common law possess a jurisdiction which must be regulated by the common law, until some statute shall change their established principles; but courts which are created by written law, and whose jurisdiction is defined by written law, cannot transcend that jurisdiction." This was a statement of general doctrine, and it remained for the Court to make an application of the principle to the matter we are discussing, in 1812, in United States v. Hudson, 7 Cranch, 32, where it was decided that the Courts of the United States have no common law jurisdiction in criminal cases, the Court remarking that, "althoughthis question is brought up now for the first time to be decided by this Court, we consider it as having been long since settled in public opinion." But in 1816 the question was again presented and similarly ruled on, although it appears that a difference of opinion existed at that time among the members of the Court: United States v. Coolidge, 1 Wheaton, 415. Whatever doubt may, at one time, have existed on this subject, it is now settled beyond controversy, that the Federal government has no common law jurisdiction of criminal matters: United States v. Lancaster, 2 McLean, 431, 433 (1841) ; United States v. Taylor, 1 Hughes, 514, 518 (1874); United States v. Shepherd, Id. 520, 522 (1875).

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