Saddle Ridge Hoard – couple discovers $10 million in old gold coins buried in backyard
It’s amazing when even a single Gold Rush era gold coin is found, let alone a thousand of them. But that’s the sort of phenomenal find that a Sierra, Nevada couple ran across last month and they didn’t have to go far to find it – it was buried right in their backyard. Dubbed the Saddle Ridge Hoard and valued at $10 million dollars, it is believed to be the biggest hoard of gold coins ever unearthed in the United States. But, the excitement Lady Luck’s touch aside, the find has left some wondering if the newly discovered cache is long-lost stolen loot from an unsolved San Francisco Mint heist in 1901.
The Saddle Ridge Hoard find – gold coins aplenty!
The mysterious gold coin cache was found late in 2013. The man and woman, both in their 40’s, were walking their dog on their property in Gold Country (as they had done a hundred times before) when they noticed a rusted metal can poking out of the ground. Using a stick they found nearby, they dug the can out of the dirt noting that it felt extremely heavy (at first the man thought it was full of lead paint). They lugged the heavy rusted container back to their house to examine more carefully. Inside the container they found what looked like a stack of dirty discs. As they brushed the dirt from the coins they came to realize it was a stack of $20 gold coins, with liberty head designs on the face, dating back to 1890.
Trembling, confused, and excited, they rushed back to the spot and began digging for more. Soon they found another can buried about a foot away from the first one that also contained several gold coins. They returned again with a metal detector and before long, a total of eight cans containing 1,427 coins dated between 1847 and 1894 were uncovered. The Saddle Ridge Hoard is believed to be the largest gold-cache find in history smashing the previous record that was set when a $1 million cache was found by construction workers in Jackson, Tennessee in 1985.
The man (the couple, for obvious reasons, are remaining anonymous) said:
“It was a very surreal moment. It was very hard to believe at first. I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear.”
What to do with over 1,000 old gold coins?
Terrified of losing their newly discovered find, the couple quickly reburied the coins in a water cooler under a woodpile until they could figure out what to do with the stash. After a bit of research, they found coin dealers Don Kagin and David McCarthy of Kagin’s (Tiburon, California), who evaluated the coins and began representing the two owners as they prepared to offer the gold coin cache for sale.
Kagin explained the moment the couple first brought the coins to him for evaluation.
“The family had cut little squares into some foam and put 18 of the coins in the squares in a cigar box. I pulled out the first coin, and it was from 1890. It had dirt on it, but when I looked close, it dawned on me just exactly what it was. I almost fell out of my chair. It was mind-blowing. I was literally sitting with the most amazing buried treasure I’ve ever heard of.”
Kagin and senior numismatist David McCarthy laid out the coins for examination and found the collection to be not only huge, but unusual in several ways. For one, many of the coins appeared to have been uncirculated (i.e. never distributed to the public), which makes them even more valuable.
“You hear all those Wild West stories of buried treasure, and you think they’re fantasies – well here, this one really did happen. And what is almost unbelievable about this collection is what pristine condition so many of them are in.”
A pristine and unusual collection of coins
About 90 percent of the coins will be sold on Amazon.com’s Collectibles site, probably in May. The rest, including several of the highly unique pieces, Kagin will sell privately, “to well-heeled collectors who desire the finest and the rarest.”
The oddest of the bunch is a 1866 $20 coin minted in San Francisco without the words “In God We Trust” on the back. This is extremely rare as the words were added to those coins, called “Double Eagles“, later that year. Professional Coin Grading Service of Irvine, one of the world’s foremost coin-assessment firms, evaluated the hoard and certified that thirteen of the coins are either the finest-preserved known specimens of their kind or tied for that rating.
The collection includes: 1866-S $20 Double Eagle/no motto, 1866-S $20 Double Eagle/with motto PCGS MS62+ (finest known), 1873 $20 Double Eagle (Closed 3) graded MS62 (tied finest known), 1877-S $20 Double Eagle PCGS MS65 (tied finest known), 1888-S $20 Double Eagle (four) PCGS MS64 (tied for finest known), 1889-S $20 Double Eagle (two) graded PCGS MS65 (tied for finest known), 1894-S $20 Double Eagle PCGS MS65 (tied for finest known).
Officials say that some of the coin pieces are so rare, they could be worth around $1 million each.
Where did the gold coins come from?
After things settled down, the couple began wondering how the coins came to be planted in their backyard. They noted several distinguishing features about the area the coins were buried in. They recalled that near the site where the gold coins were found, there was an old empty can hanging from an old tree. The can had been there so long the tree had practically grown around it. They also noticed an odd-shaped rock that was so unique, they had nicknamed it “Saddle Ridge”. They then realized that the old can had been marking the area of the buried treasure and were stunned to find that the center of the treasure trove was exactly 10 steps from the odd-shaped rock and the direction of the North Star. As for how the coins came to be buried in the couple’s backyard, nobody knows for sure. Kagin told reporters:
“The family and the attorneys researched who might have put them there, and they came up with nothing. The nearest we can guess is that whoever left the coins might have been involved in the mining industry.”
Stolen loot from the San Francisco Mint?
Others however, believe they *do* know where the coins came from. One theory is that the gold cache contains pieces stolen by Walter Dimmick, an employee of the San Francisco Mint in the late 1800′s. Dimmick began working at the mint in 1898 and by 1901 was trusted with the keys to the vaults – until an audit revealed a $30,000 shortage in $20 Double Eagle coins, six bags in all. The Mint recognized that only someone with keys to the vault and free access to the building would have been able to remove that many heavy coins without being discovered. Dimmick immediately became the prime suspect.
Officials noted that Dimmick was the last one to count the bags of coins each night before the vaults were closed and hence, was the last person to see the missing gold coins. Dimmick was arrested and since he had already been caught practicing how to forge the Superintendent’s name, taking money from the pay envelopes of other Mint employees, and stealing other government funds in his care, after nearly a month in the courtroom, he was convicted of stealing the $30,000 in gold double eagle coins (and two other charges). Dimmick was sentenced to nine years at the San Quentin prison in California in the case that came to be known as the Dimmick Defalcation.
The gold that Dimmick stole was never found leaving some to wonder if the Saddle Ridge Hoard is the very same set of lost coins. After all, a publicly reported (possibly estimated) 1,500 coins were stolen by Dimmick in 1901 which is only 73 coins less than the 1,427 discovered at Saddle Ridge. And the amount of gold housed in the San Francisco Mint was enormous, at one point holding fully a third of the United States’ gold reserves, and would have included a diverse collection of both pristine circulated and uncirculated coinage. By our best estimates, the denomination of over 97% of the coins found in the Saddle Ridge Hoard match the coins taken in the Dimmick heist and dates on both sets of coins fit the time frame. Has Dimmick’s stash been discovered at last?
Update 3/6/14: Based on a mention on the US Mint website and research through archived newspaper accounts covering the Dimmick heist, Altered Dimensions was the first to float the Saddle Ridge Hoard/Dimmick heist theory over a week ago (February 26, 2014). Since then the story has gone viral appearing on CNN, NBC News, ABC News and many more. Mint officials have indicated they do not yet have any evidence that the Saddle Ridge Gold cache originated from the stolen Dimmick coins but admitted that there are no records of the coins that were stolen by Dimmick. The wrench in the theory is this: the dates on the Saddle Ridge Horde coins spanned several years and Mint officials are not sure if the coins stolen in the Dimmick heist were struck the year of the theft or if the Mint housed older coins in their vaults. In addition, a small percentage (about 2%) of coins in the Saddle Ridge Hoard find were not “Double Eagle” coins and again, without records, Mint officials are not sure if other denominations were stored at the San Francisco Mint. It seems that we have a mystery on our hands…
Additional information regarding the Walter Dimmick Mint theft
Below are a collection of articles discussing the arrest, trial, conviction, and request for pardon in the Walter Dimmick San Francisco Mint heist case. In the articles you’ll find details about the search for the missing coins, the suspicious disappearance of a Secret Service agent during the case, Dimmick’s bizarre behavior during the investigation, and the other charges that were brought against Walter Dimmick.
San Francisco Chronicle – July 5, 1901
Every nook and cranny of the Mint was searched yesterday to see if by any chance any trace could be found of the $30,000 in gold coins that has been stolen from the cashiers vault. Taking advantage of the holiday and the annual shutdown Superintendent Leach closed the doors to everybody and put his most trusted employees at work in the search. There was no expectation of getting any trace of the six bags of double eagles and there was no disappointment when the search proved fruitless. There was nothing learned yesterday to give a clue to the thief or the whereabouts of the coin. Indeed Director Roberts and his principal expert assistant Cashier More of the New Orleans Mint went to San Rafael for the day. Superintendent Leach was at his desk all day and said there was absolutely nothing new learned in the matter of the theft.
[Altered Dimensions prefatory note: Hazen was one of the arresting officers in the case and was responsible for keeping Dimmick under surveillance during the trial. Genealogical research shows that it is also possible that Hazen and Dimmick were distant relatives.]
George W. Hazen of the United States Secret Service was absent from his usual haunts yesterday and it was given out that he was absent from town. It was even said that he has not been consulted in regard to the matter at the Mint and that he did not expect to be called on to assist in unraveling the mystery. Hazen’s sudden departure from the city however caused comment and aroused curiosity in regard to his whereabouts and his mission. It is looked on as altogether probable that he is making a quiet inquiry into the habits of the men who by any possibility of propinquity might have had a hand in robbing the Mint vault.
Thus far the greatest activity has been devoted to the clerical investigations by the experts who are going over the cash accounts of the different departments of the Mint. There does not seem to be any fear that the culprit will attempt to escape as the detectives have not manifested any intention to make arrests. The deliberation with which the authorities are moving is taken to be an indication that no action will be taken until an effective stroke can be made and then swift punishment will surely fall on the guilty person or persons.
Walter N Dimmick chief clerk of the Mint, who is as well informed as any person in the building on the general state of affairs, was asked yesterday to give his opinion of the shortage.
“l am as much confused as anybody”, he said, “It’s a great mystery. I am not prepared to go as far as Director Roberts and Superintendent Leach and claim that it is unquestionably a theft. I am inclined to believe that an error in counting or in the book accounts may be brought to light. I recognize the fact that I as well as others will come in for a rigid inquiry having been one of the few who had access to the vault. So far as I am concerned I have nothing whatever to conceal in fact, I ask for a strict inquiry and will assist in every way in my power to fasten the crime, if there is any, where it belongs.”
There may be a selfish feeling in this as the discovery of the guilty party will remove suspicion from the others. There is a possibility of course that a man in the confidence of the doorkeepers might pass out through the main door with $30,000 in gold coins under his overcoat. But it is very unlikely that this could be done. The doorkeepers are supposed to watch everything and everybody closely and it is the rule that every employee on leaving shall exhibit anything he is taking away to the doorkeeper. A head official might pass without scrutiny but even he could not carry out anything bulky without arousing suspicion.
In view of the discovery of the $30,000 stolen, Superintendent Leach and Director Roberts have determined to open every sack of gold in the Mint, dump out the coin and weigh it weighing is the only way of counting money accurately on a large scale. It is far more accurate than a tally or count of individual pieces of money. The limit of tolerance in weight of double eagles is extremely small. No other metal has been found that can take the place of gold and give the same weight in the same approximate bulk. Therefore the Mint officials argue there is hardly a possibility that there could have been substitution of base metal for gold in any of the bags in the Mint. Nevertheless they will make sure by subjecting the contents of every bag to visual inspection and weighing. This work will take a week or ten days as there are [a base amount of coins] in the storage vault alone. Each bag must be unsealed and after inspection and weighing must be tied up sealed and tagged. But the work will be done not only to satisfy the Government officials and the public that there has been no further stealing but in order to supply the evidence in case the thief is caught that the six missing bags, each actually contained double eagles to the amount of 5,000.
There is one explanation of the mystery of the disappearance of the gold from the Mint vault that has been suggested which would imply collusion by someone having access to the vault and some messenger or other person engaged in transferring large sums of money for the Mint. In the event of an understanding between two such persons, the disbursing officer might have handed the six bags of bullion to the messenger in addition to the amount properly called for by the transaction and as a wagon would certainly be employed to transfer so large an amount, it would be an easy thing to hand out the extra bags of gold trusting to the future for making a proper division of the booty.
For more than a week, the Mint has been watched day and night by detectives who have been employed. In addition to the regular watchmen but so far as is known, nothing suspicious has been noted. In the nature of the circumstances, it would not be expected that any discovery would be made at night. It Is admitted by all who have given the matter consideration, the robbery of the vault could have been accomplished only in the daytime and only by someone who had access to the vault. That the stealing must have been going on for some time is apparent from the fact that no man could have carried $30,000 out of the place in one lump without detection. Men accustomed to handle coin recognize the fact that $30,000 is a pretty good load for a man to walk away with. While it might be possible for a man to conceal $6,000 under his clothing to get away with, six times that much would be next to impossible especially as guards are on duty constantly to watch ail who go In or out and who naturally would note any suspicious circumstances and certainly would halt any person carrying a large amount of coin out of the place. Superintendent Leach said yesterday that at no time had there been less than $3,000,000 in the cashiers vault for several months and that therefore the theft might have been made at any time while the vault was so crowded without arousing suspicion.
The San Francisco Call – July 7, 1901
MINT ROBBERY IS UNSOLVED
Employee Past Records Probed by Secret Service Men.
Efforts Are Made ‘to Trace Disposition of Sacks of Gold.
The robbery of $30,000 in gold coin from the cashier’s vault in the Mint still remains unsolved. Yesterday’s Investigation helped to strengthen the chain of evidence around a suspected employee, but the direct testimony necessary to warrant a conviction in the Federal courts is still lacking.
Secret Service Agent Hazen is satisfied that the stolen gold was removed; from the Mint building, and he is now engaged in trying to locate the coin. Hazen and his assistants are tracing the movements of certain Mint employees during the- past six months, and it is hoped that the work will furnish the missing link to the chain of evidence essential for the arrest of the suspected employee.
Mint Director Roberts Superintendent Leach and Secret Service Agent Hazen examined a number of the Mint employees yesterday. Men and women engaged in various departments of the Mint were closely questioned, and all the employees were warned to maintain silence and answer no questions on the outside. Summary dismissal will be the fate of any employee who violates the warning.
Superintendent Leach refuses to affirm or deny the truth of the story that three months ago he informed Chief Clerk Dimmick that his services would be no longer required and that he had better look for another position. “I do not know how that story got out,” said Leach, “and at this time I cannot say whether it is true or not. We are proceeding with our Investigation as to the robbery of $30,000, but I cannot give out anything we have discovered.” Cashier W. K. Cole and Chief Clerk Walter Dimmick were at their desks yesterday, but the responsibility of their offices rested on Frank A. Pedlar and Benjamin W. Day, respectively.
Pedlar yesterday changed the combination on the cashier’s vault and placed a copy of the combination in a sealed envelope, depositing it with Superintendent Leach.
Dimmick paid little attention yesterday to the warning of Superintendent Leach that he must not talk. Where other employees, including Cashier Cole, positively declined to answer questions, Dimmick entered into certain explanations. He denied again that he knew the combination of the cashier’s vault as arranged by Cole, but admitted that he showed Cole how to work the levers and tumblers when Cole came into office two years ago. Dimmick declined to say whether he fixed the tumblers on the back of the vault door while Cole worked the combination knob on the front of the door. He also refused to affirm or deny the statement that Superintendent Cole had informed him three months ago to look for another position. Dimmick knows that he is being watched by Secret Service men, and has the air of a worried man. Cole, the cashier, who alone was supposed to know the combination of the vault, is attending to his duties, but keeps silent when questioned.
Dimmick’s character has never been questioned, and his favorite amusement was a game of chess at the Union League Club. He was formerly engaged as an agent and broker in Portland, Oregon. He then went to Santa Barbara, where he married a daughter of Judge Wright and worked as a clerk in the Santa Barbara County National Bank. Twelve years ago he removed to Almeda County and engaged in the commission business in this city. He was appointed as cashier in the Mint by Superintendent Leach, and held that office until succeeded by W. K. Cole.
W. K. Cole was formerly in the drug business in Martinez. He was appointed cashier in the Mint two years ago, and his character is beyond reproach. Cole lives with his wife and three young children at 1827 Sacramento street. Mrs. Cole belonged to the wealthy Fernandez family of Contra Costa County, her father being rated as a millionaire. From the time Cole became cashier in the Mint he usually spent his evenings at home, an occasional visit being made to the Union League Club after leaving the Mint at 3 p. m.
Yesterday’s investigation by Federal officials was made in the hope of discovering whether it was possible for certain employees of the Mint to have discovered the combination used by Cashier Cole on the door of his working vault.
Cole has stated to the investigators that when he arranged his combination on the vault, Dimmick assisted him by working the levers and tumblers, and that it was possible for Dimmick to have become acquainted with the combination. Dimmick has admitted that he explained the workings of the levers and tumblers to Cole, but says it was not possible for him to have learned the combination of Cole at the time the system was arranged.
The San Francisco Call – August 11, 1901
Secret Service Agents Hazen and Burns Do Good Work.
Confident That They Will Secure a Conviction in the Case.
The United States Secret Service agents and United States Attorney Woodworth announced yesterday that they had a strong case against Walter N. Dimmick, the chief clerk of the Mint, who must stand trial in the United States District Court for the embezzlement of $32,700.
Dimmick was arrested late last Friday night in the Union League Club by Secret Service Agents W. J. Burns and George W. Hazen and was kept by them under surveillance in a hotel. United States Attorney Woodworth and the agents had a consultation with Commissioner Hencock yesterday morning and decided that the bonds of the prisoner should be fixed at $30,000 on one complaint, $5,000 on another and $1,000 on each of the two remaining complaints, making a total of $37,000. It was intended that the prisoner should be brought before Commissioner Heacock at noon for the purpose of being properly identified and of having a date set for the preliminary examination, but after the Commissioner had waited half an hour after noon and the prisoner and his captors had not appeared, Judge Heacock adjourned court and went home.
Burns Gives Statement.
The Secret Service men and Mr. Woodworth had another protracted consultation from 2 until after 3 p.m. at the end of which Secret Service Agent Burns made a statement to the representatives of the press to the effect that the matter was now in the hands of the Department of Justice, and that they had nothing to give out except that they had secured sufficient evidence to warrant the conviction of Dimmick on all the charges. Mr. Burns was sent from Washington, D.C. about three weeks ago to assist Chief Hazen in unearthing the criminal. He said there was great surprise in the Secret Service Department when it was learned that the local Mint authorities had been investigating the shortage for at least four days before the Secret Service people had been notified. He was at a loss to account rationally for such shiftiness on the part of the Mint people. Mr. Burns was frank in admitting that no part of the stolen $30,000 had been recovered, and he was equally frank in stating that the guilt of Dimmick would be proven beyond a doubt. He denied the reports that Dimmick had made a confession and declared that Dimmick continued to protest that he was innocent. The evidence against Dimmick was conclusive, he said:
“Dimmick covered up his tracks very well,” continued Agent Burns, “for the money was removed from the vault in installments, but he overreached himself in his cunning. I never saw a thief yet that didn’t leave a track behind him.”
Thinks Money Has Not Been Spent.
The speaker added that there were two very substantial reasons why the prisoner had not been arrested before. One of those reasons was that all the evidence had not been secured until a day or two before the arrest, and the other reason Mr. Burns preferred to keep locked in his own bosom.
United States Attorney Woodworth expressed confidence that the case against Dimmick was as strong as could be desired. If it had not been so strong, he said, he would not have drawn up the complaints.
Chief Hazen will keep Dimmick in custody until Monday, when he will be turned over to the United States Marshal and taken before Court Commissioner Heacock for arraignment. The Chief publicly complimented Mr. Burns for the valuable assistance he had rendered in the case.
“All that now remains to be done,” said Chief Hazen, “is to recover the $30,000. We do not believe that it has been spent. Dimmick was too clever and wary to gamble to any noticeable extent and while there are rumors he was mixed up with two or three women, there is no evidence that he expended much money on them.”
The San Francisco Call – August 24, 1901
The preliminary examination of Walter N. Dimmick, the former chief clerk of the branch Mint in this city, on the charge of embezzling $498.37 on April 7, 1900, was begun before United States Commissioner Hancock yesterday. This is but one of a series of similar charges brought against Dimmick by the Federal authorities, all of which have a tendency to connect him with the robbery of $30,000 from the Mint vaults several months ago. Dimmick, pale from his short confinement and nervous from the strain to which he has lately been subjected, came into the stuffy little courtroom in charge of United States Marshal Shine and Deputy United States Marshal Gamble. He sat near his counsel, George D. Collins, and frequently conferred with him. United States District Attorney Woodworth conducted the case for the Government. Superintendent Leach and W. J. Burns, a secret service agent of the government, were present, but took no active part in the proceedings.
W. K. Cole, cashier of the Mint, was the only witness examined during the day. According to his testimony Dimmick brought to him on the date of the alleged embezzlement bills of the Selby Lead and Smelting Company and other firms aggregating $1,348.50, and received the money for the same from the cashier. Although somewhat irregular, Cole, at Dimmick’s request, accepted various receipted, bills for the amount, carrying the vouchers as “cash” until April 30, when Dimmick again called on Cole, and told him to “write off all except the bill for $498.37”.
Dimmick put his hand in his pocket and drew out of a sack he carriedm the amount of this bill. “He handed the money over to me.” testified Cole, “saying, ‘there is something I cannot explain about this bill, and if I tried tom you would not understand It.’. Then my bookkeeper entered up the amount of the other bills.”
Cole’s examination at the morning session was very slow, as he had not provided himself with the books of the Mint, but this was remedied at the afternoon session, the most important point brought out for the Government being that at no time during the month of April, 1900, was there any shortage in the funds against which these amounts should have been charged “to have necessitated their being carried from day to day as “cash.” Cole read off the daily balances in each fund and these were entered in the record. On cross-examination, Attorney Collins directed his efforts to ascertaining the substance of the conversation between Cole and Dimmick at the time of the monetary transactions. Cole testified that Dimmick was nervous, and that his hand shook. About half an hour after he left, Cole claims that he remarked to his bookkeeper, Frank B. Washington, that he did not quite understand what was the reason that Dimmick acted as he did.
“As Dimmick was my superior officer, I did not do anything more.” said Cole, “but sometime later sent Washington to look into Dimmick’s books and see if he could find these entries. He reported that he could not.”
After a long series of questions, in which Cole endeavored to introduce his opinions’ as testimony, Collins succeeded in eliciting from Cole the statement that it was not until seven or eight months later that Cole informed Superintendent Leach of any irregularity.
Cole found Dimmick making copies of Leach’s signature from a letter press copy book, and reported this matter and the previous transaction, to Leach. Cole, started out to tell what Leach said at that time, but was cut off on statutory grounds. After, a brief re-direct examination, Cole was excused.
Many of the questions propounded by United States District Attorney Woodworth were objected to by Collins, and the basis laid for a technical fight in the event of Dimmick being held to answer. The examination was adjourned until this morning at 10 o’clock, with the understanding that it will proceed if the court engagements of the District Attorney and Attorney Collins do not interfere.
194 U.S. 540 – Walter Dimmick vs. John W. Tompkins – Dimmick requests a pardon
JOHN W. TOMPKINS, Warden of the State Prison of the State of California, at San Quentin.
Submitted May, 16, 1904.
Decided May 31, 1904.
Dimmick, the appellant, presented his petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the circuit court of the United States, northern district of California. The petition was denied, and an appeal taken to this court from the order denying the application. The appellant alleged in his petition for the writ that he was unlawfully imprisoned in the state prison of the state of California; that the imprisonment was illegal and in contravention of the Constitution of the United States, article five of the amendments to the same; that on October 16, 1901, he was sentenced to imprisonment in the state prison on by the district court of the United States in and for the northern district of California for the period of two years, to date from the 16th day of October, 1901; that he had been imprisoned, under the judgment, in the state prison ever since April 13, 1903, and that prior thereto, and from the date of the judgment to April 13, 1903, he was imprisoned, under said judgment, in the county jail of the county of Alameda, by the order of the district court.
The appellant also alleged that, notwithstanding the foregoing facts, the warden refused to discharge or release him from imprisonment, although the term of said imprisonment expired, according to its terms, on October 16, 1903. The appellant then set forth in the petition a copy of the record of the proceedings of the district court of the United States, which showed that he was convicted in the district court on the 16th of October, 1901, of making and presenting a false claim, as charged in the first count of the indictment, and of using a portion of the public moneys of the United States for a purpose not prescribed by law, as charged in the fourth count; and that he was sentenced ‘to be imprisoned at hard labor for the term of two years from October 16, 1901; and it is further ordered that said sentence of imprisonment be executed upon the said Walter N. Dimmick by imprisonment in the state prison of the state of California, at San Quentin, Marin county, California.’
The record was signed by the district judge who held the court.
The petition also set forth a copy of the indictment under which the trial was had. It was founded upon §§ 5438 and 5497 of the United States Revised Statutes (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 3674, 3707), and charged, in substance, the presentation to the cashier of the mint at San Francisco of a certain false, fictitious, and fraudulent claim against the United States, and known to be fraudulent by the defendant at the time he presented it; also, with having unlawfully used a portion of the public moneys for a purpose not prescribed by law. The appellant averred that neither the first nor the fourth count charged any crime or public offense against the United States, nor the violation of any law of the United States, and that both counts were fatally defective. The appellant also averred that the judgment of the court, in as far as it required his imprisonment in the state prison, was void because the United States district court sentenced him for one year, and no more, upon each of the two counts of the indictment referred to in the judgment, and did not sentence him to imprisonment for a period of more than one year upon each of said counts, and that a sentence to the state prison for a period of not more than one year violated the statutes of the United States.
Mr. George D. Collins for appellant.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 542-544 intentionally omitted]
Solicitor General Hoyt for appellee.
[Argument of Counsel from Pages 544-546 intentionally omitted]
Statement by Mr. Justice Peckham:
The appeal directly to this court from the decision of the circuit court denying the writ of habeas corpus was proper under the averments contained in the petition, that the imprisonment of the appellant was in violation of the Federal Constitution. Craemer v. Washington, 168 U. S. 124, 127, 42 L. ed. 407, 408, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1.
The appellant contends that, as his sentence was imprisonment ‘at hard labor for the term of two years from October 16, 1901,’ his term of imprisonment under that sentence necessarily expired by its own limitation on October 16, 1903, even without any deduction for credits earned by good behavior.
If the appellant had been at once transported to the state prison under the sentence imposed upon him after his conviction, it is, of course, plain that two years from the time of his sentence (if he remained there in the meantime) would be the extent of his legal detention. In fact, he was not taken to the state prison until April 13, 1903; but he avers that he had been previously, and from October 16, 1901, the date of the judgment, to April 13, 1903, imprisoned under said judgment in the county jail of the county of Alameda, by the order of said district court. The sentence upon the verdict of guilty is given in the record, which is made a part of the petition, and that record shows that the appellant was ‘sentenced to be imprisoned at hard labor for the term of two years from October 16, 1901; and it is further ordered that said sentence of imprisonment be executed upon the said Walter N. Dimmick by imprisonment in the state prison of the state of California, at San Quentin, Marin county, California.’
The imprisonment of the appellant in the county jail could not, therefore, have been under the judgment which prescribes imprisonment in the state prison. But such detention may have been owing to his efforts to obtain a review and reversal of the judgment, and, in the meantime, a supersedeas thereon, so as to prevent his transportation to the state prison, and in that case such detention should not be counted as any part of the time of imprisonment in the state prison. In that event his imprisonment in the state prison, under the judgment, should be counted from the time it actually commenced, notwithstanding the statement of the sentence that it should be for two years from October 16, 1901. The time of commencement was postponed by his own action, and he cannot take advantage of it, and thus shorten the term of his imprisonment at hard labor in the state prison.
Upon this writ the question to be examined is one of jurisdiction; and in this case it is whether the warden of the prison has the legal right to continue the imprisonment under the sentence and warrant of commitment notwithstanding the expiration of two years from the time of sentence. If, as we have said, the detention in the jail was the result of his own action, and his imprisonment at hard labor in the state prison did not, for that reason, commence until April 13, 1903, then the legal term of his imprisonment in the state prison has not expired, and he is properly detained. As it was incumbent upon the appellant to show his continued imprisonment was illegal (there being no presumption that it was), the duty and the burden rested upon him to aver, and, if the averment were traversed, to prove, that his detention in jail had not been by reason of the fact suggested. This he has not done. There is no such averment in the petition for the writ and there is no proof of such fact to be found. Non constat, that he was not detained for the very reason already stated. This is fatal to the appellant, so far as this point is concerned.
As might be surmised, there was ample reason for not making the allegation. It would not have been true.
It appears from our own records that a petition for a certiorari was filed in this court by appellant February 2, 1903, asking for a review of the above-mentioned judgment, and in that petition it is stated that the appellant had taken proceedings to have the judgment reviewed by the circuit court of appeals, and had obtained a supersedeas thereon, and after the judgment had been affirmed by that court, and on January 13, 1903, the district court ordered the execution of the judgment thus affirmed to be stayed for the period of thirty days from that date to enable the appellant to make application to this court for a writ of certiorari, which application was made, and denied by this court March 2, 1903. 189 U. S. 509, 47 L. ed. 923, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 850. In a case like this the court has the right to examine its own records and take judicial notice thereof in regard to proceedings formerly had therein by one of the parties to the proceedings now before it. The principle permitting it is announced in the following cases: Butler v. Eaton, 141 U. S. 240, 242, 35 L. ed. 713, 714, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 985; Craemer v. Washington, 168 U. S. 124, 129, 42 L. ed. 407, 409, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1; Bienville Water Supply Co. v. Mobile, 186 U. S. 212, 217, 46 L. ed. 1132, 1135, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 820.
That the party seeking to review a judgment of imprisonment in a state prison cannot take advantage of his own action in so doing as to thereby shorten the term of imprisonment in the state prison is, as we think, plain. To hold otherwise would be inconsistent with the general principle that a person shall not be permitted to take advantage of any act of another which was committed upon his own request, or was caused by his own conduct. See McElvaine v. Brush, 142 U. S. 155, 159, 35 L. ed. 971, 973, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 156. The question has arisen in some of the state courts, and has been so decided. See Ex parte Duckett, 15 S. C. 210, 40 Am. Rep. 694, decided in 1881; Ex parte Espalla, 109 Ala. 92, 19 So. 984, decided in 1896. In such cases the provision of the sentence that the imprisonment is to commence on or to continue from a certain day is rendered impossible of performance by the act of the defendant, and he will not be permitted to obtain an advantage in such manner. The appellant cites no case which questions this principle. Those cited by him have, generally, reference to the construction to be given the language of the sentence as to the time of its commencement. They do not deny the rule as to the action of defendant in preventing its execution.
Johnson v. People, 83 Ill. 431, is not in point. The case arose on error brought by the defendant after conviction in the court below. He was convicted under several counts of an indictment for selling intoxicating liquors, and the sentence fixed a day and hour when the imprisonment should commence under each count. This was held to be error, as the sentence to imprisonment should have been for a specified number of days under each count upon which conviction is had, and the imprisonment under each succeeding count would begin when it ended under the preceding one, without fixing the day or hour of any. It appeared in that case that a supersedeas had been granted, and that it had become impossible that the judgment of imprisonment could be carried into effect, as the time fixed by the court had elapsed. The sentence was held to be an erroneous one, and the judgment was reversed and the case remanded, with directions that the court should enter a proper judgment on the verdict.
In Dolan’s Case, 101 Mass. 219, the prisoner, after imprisonment, had escaped before the term of the sentence had expired, and, having been retaken, claimed his discharge at the expiration of the time that he would have been entitled to it if he had not escaped. Neither the date of its commencement nor of its expiration was fixed by the terms of the sentence. His application was denied, and it was held that the defendant must be imprisoned for a time which corresponded with his original sentence, and that the expiration of the time without imprisonment was in no sense an execution of the sentence.
Also in State v. Cockerham, 24 N. C. (2 Ired. L.) 204, it was held that the time at which the sentence should be carried into execution forms no part of the judgment. The judgment is the penalty of the law, as declared by the court, while the direction with respect to the time of carrying it into effect is in the nature of an award of execution. So here, in the case before us, the material part of the sentence is imprisonment for two years in the state prison, and that sentence is not satisfied by a detention in the county jail for a portion of the two years by reason of the proceedings of appellant to review the judgment under which the sentence was given.
As to the time of the commencement of the sentence, State v. Gaskins, 65 N. C. 320, is based upon a statute which declared that the term of imprisonment ‘shall begin to run upon, and shall include, the day of conviction.’ The question did not arise by reason of the act of the defendant in taking proceedings to review the judgment.
Woodward v. Murdock, 124 Ind. 439, 24 N. E. 1047, simply holds that the period the prisoner is out of jail under parole is part of the time for which he was sentenced, and when the original time expires he is entitled to his discharge just the same as if he had been in prison the whole time. It was held that he was constructively in prison, although in fact conditionally at large under his parole, and that while thus on parole his sentence ran on.
The sentence given in this case could only have been satisfied by imprisonment in the state prison at San Quentin for the period of time mentioned in the sentence. This is not the case of an arbitrary detention in jail, without excuse or justification, after sentence to imprisonment in a state prison. If in such case the defendant were helpless, the question might arise whether the time of such improper detention in jail should not be counted, as to that extent, a satisfaction of the sentence.
It is also objected that the sentence is void because it directs imprisonment in the state prison for a period that does not exceed one year on each count of the indictment; and Re Mills, 135 U. S. 263-268, 34 L. ed. 107-110, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 762, is cited to sustain the proposition.
In that case the prisoner was sentenced upon two indictments to imprisonment in the penitentiary,—in one case for a year and in the other for six months; and it was held that the imprisonment was in violation of the statutes of the United States. See Rev. Stat. §§ 5541, 5546, 5547 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 3721, 3723, 3724).
In the case at bar the sentence was for two years upon one indictment, and there is no statement in the record that there was a separate sentence each for one year upon the first and fourth counts of the indictment. In this we think there was no violation of the statute, and the sentence was therefore proper and legal. The appellant may have been sentenced upon one count only for two years. Although for some purposes the different counts in an indictment may be regarded as so far separate as to be in effect two different indictments, yet it is not true necessarily and in all cases. But this record shows a sentence for two years to the state prison, and there is nothing to show the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence for the crime of which the defendant was convicted.
It is also objected that the facts charged in either the first or fourth count of the indictment did not constitute any offense under the statute, and that the sentence was therefore without jurisdiction. We are not by any means prepared to adjudge that the indictment did not properly charge an offense in both the first and fourth counts. See Dimmick v. United States, 54 C. C. A. 329, 116 Fed. 825, involving this indictment, where it is set forth. It is not, however, necessary in this case to decide the point, for the indictment charged enough to show the general character of the crime, and that it was within the jurisdiction of the court to try and to punish for the offense sought to be set forth in the indictment. If it erroneously held that the indictment was sufficient to charge the offense, the decision was within the jurisdiction of the court to make, and could not be re-examined on habeas corpus. The writ cannot be made to do the office of a writ of error. Even though there were, therefore, a lack of technical precision in the indictment in failing to charge with sufficient certainty and fullness some particular fact, the holding by the trial court that the indictment was sufficient would be simply an error of law, and not one which could be re-examined on habeas corpus. Ex parte Parks, 93 U. S. 18, 23 L. ed. 787; Re Coy, 127 U. S. 731, 32 L. ed. 274, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1263; Re $Eckart, 166 U. S. 481, 41 L. ed. 1085, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 638. In the last case it was stated that (page 483, L. ed. p. 1086, Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 638):
‘The case is analogous in principle to that of a trial and conviction upon an indictment, the facts averred in which are asserted to be insufficient to constitute an offense against the statute claimed to have been violated. In this class of cases it has been held that a trial court possessing general jurisdiction of the class of offenses within which is embraced the crime sought to be set forth in the indictment is possessed of authority to determine the sufficiency of an indictment, and that, in adjudging it to be valid and sufficient, acts within its jurisdiction, and a conviction and judgment thereunder cannot be questioned on habeas corpus, because of a lack of certainty or other defect in the statement in the indictment of the facts averred to constitute a crime.’
The order refusing the writ was right, and is affirmed.
Sources: Wikipedia, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, United States Mine, New York Times, California Digital Newspaper Collection, San Francisco Chronicle, Genealogy.com, Open Jurist, Cornell University, Mashable, NBC News
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