CASE BRIEF EXAMPLE
THE WILDENHUS CASE
I. CITATION Volume 120 of the U.S. Supreme Court Reports, 1887, at page 1
II. THE FACTS
While a Belgian vessel was docked in the port of Jersey City, New Jersey [in 1886], a Belgian crew member [fought and] killed another Belgian crew member on board the vessel. [The Jersey City police boarded the steamer and arrested Wildenhus. They then committed him to jail in New Jersey, pending trial for murder.]
The Belgian consul sought a [writ of] habeas corpus to obtain the release of the Belgian national.
The consul relied upon a March 9, 1880 treaty between the United States and Belgium. Article IX provided that consular officials "shall alone take cognizance of all differences which may arise, either at sea or in port, between the captains, officers, and crews, without exception .... The local authorities shall not interfere, except when the disorder that has arisen is of such a nature as to disturb the tranquility and public order on shore, or in the port, or when a person of the country or not belonging to the crew, shall be concerned therein."
The U.S. Circuit Court refused to deliver the prisoners to the consul and remanded them to jail.
This case is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
III. LEGAL ISSUES
1. In this case, which state has rightful jurisdiction? The United States or Belgium?2. In this case, on what legal basis is jurisdiction to be determined?3. How is the language of the U.S.-Belgian Treaty to be interpreted? What is specifically meant by a "disorder" that "disturb[s] the tranquility and public order on shore, or in port?"
1. In cases involving disturbances of the tranquility of the port, how is jurisdiction to be determined?2. What "disorders" so "disturb the tranquility and public order on shore, or in port" as to give the local state jurisdiction?
IV. THE HOLDING
"The judgment of the [U.S.] Circuit Court [was] affirmed." The Supreme Court ruled that the Belgian crew members would remain in American custody for trial. The consul's petition for habeas corpus was denied.
V. LEGAL RATIONALE [Opinion of Chief Justice Waite]
A. The United States has jurisdiction in this case.B. U.S. jurisdiction is based on the "tranquility of the port" principle.
1. This general principle of international law is based on "comity."2. The principle provides that "all matters of discipline and all things done on board which affected only the vessel or those belonging to her, and did not involve the peace or dignity of the country, or the tranquility of the port, should be left by the local government to be deal with by the authorities of the nation to which the vessel belonged. But if crimes are committed on board of a character to disturb the peace and tranquility of the country to which the vessel has been brought, the offenders have never by comity or usage been entitled to any exception from the operation of the local laws for their punishment, if the local tribunals see fit to assert their authority."
3. Treaties have been entered into which codify the "tranquility of the port" principle in order to "prevent the inconvenience that might arise from attempts to exercise conflicting jurisdictions."
* U.S.-France Treaty, November 14, 1788 * U.S.-Belgium Treaty, March 9, 1880
C. In this case, the U.S.-Belgium Treaty "is the law which now governs the conduct of the United States and Belgium towards each other in this particular."D. The language of the U.S.-Belgium Treaty may be interpreted as providing the basis for rightful American jurisdiction.
1. The treaty provides that local authorities [in this case, the United States] may exercise their jurisdiction "when the disorder that has arisen is of such a nature as to disturb the tranquility and public order on shore, or in the port."2. In this case, the "disorder" was "of such a nature as to disturb the tranquility and public order on shore, or in the port."
Determining when an act disturbs the tranquility and public order on shore "may not be easy at all times. Much will depend on the attending circumstances of the particular case." In this case a determination may be made, however."[A]ll must concede that that felonious assault is a subject for local jurisdiction."In the 1859 Jally case, the highest French judicial tribunal held that French courts had rightful jurisdiction when an American merchantman killed another American on board an American ship while in a French port.
RULE: "It is not alone the publicity of the act, or the clamor which attends it, that affixes the nature of the crime, but the act itself. If it is of a character to awaken public interest when it becomes known, it is a 'disorder' the nature of which is to affect the community at large, and consequently to invoke the power of the local government."
1. How is the "of such a character as to awaken public interest" criterion to be interpreted?2. How "grave" must crime be to justify local jurisdiction?
[See NOTE] In People v. Wong Cheng (1922), the Philippine Supreme Court found "smoking opium" cause for local jurisdiction. In US v. Look Chow 1910, the court held that "possession of opium on a foreign vessel did not constitute a crime triable locally."
Updated: January 19, 1999
Return to International Law Home Page