United States v. Mitchell

26 F. Cas. 1277 (1795)

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United States v. Mitchell

United States Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania
26 F. Cas. 1277 (1795)

JC

Facts

Mitchell (defendant) was indicted for high treason by the federal government (plaintiff). Mitchell was part of a group who met at Couche’s Fort and decided to interfere with the laying and collecting of excise taxes. The group agreed that some members would go to General Neville’s house and force the general to surrender his office and official papers. The delegation who went to Neville’s house burned the home down. In Mitchell’s case, Mitchell was observed by four witnesses to have been present at Couche’s Fort and offered to reconnoiter at Neville’s house personally. The government argued that Mitchell’s acts were high treason by virtue of levying war against the United States. British law established that raising a body of men to have a law repealed or interfere with the law’s execution, if done using violence or intimidation, was an act of levying war. Mitchell’s attorney argued that Mitchell did not commit high treason. First, Congress had proscribed willfully opposing any officer in the serving process as a mere misdemeanor. Further, Mitchell’s attorney argued that only one witness established Mitchell as present at Neville’s house, the witness was 30 or 40 yards away, and Mitchell may not have had a gun. At the time, an overt act of treason required proof by two witnesses. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s attorney argued that at the Couche’s Fort meeting, the purpose was to consider how to proceed, not to suppress Neville’s work. In essence, Mitchell argued that once at Neville’s house, a mob escalated the conflict but that Mitchell had not committed treason. The government disagreed, positing that the entire event was one insurrection and that Mitchell had committed treason by being present at Couche’s Fort, on the march to Neville’s home, and at Neville’s home, carrying traitorous intentions.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Paterson, J.)

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