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Circuit Court Opinions:

Associate Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Walker v. Lea (1891)

Associate Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (1888–1893)

Walker v. Lea, 47 F. 645 (C.C.N.D. Miss. 1891) [Fifth Circuit]

Clem Lea was a deputy U.S. marshal for the Western District of Tennessee. He frequently traveled to Corinth, Mississippi, a town a few miles beyond the border of his district, where he went to the market and received mail. On one such occasion, he received a letter informing him of the location within his district of a fugitive wanted for robbing the U.S. mail. Not having a weapon and knowing the fugitive to be dangerous, he borrowed a pistol from the deputy county sheriff and concealed it under his coat. While Lea was transacting other business in Corinth, the mayor spotted his gun and ordered his arrest for violating a state law against the carrying of concealed weapons.

The local authorities, not being certain of their authority to detain Lea, allowed him to leave Corinth and pursue the fugitive, whom he found and captured. On Lea’s next visit, however, he was rearrested. The mayor, over Lea’s objection that he had been carrying the weapon in the course of his official duties as a deputy U.S. marshal, fined him $25. Lea appealed to the circuit court of Alcorn County, Mississippi, where a jury found him guilty and fined him $50 plus costs. After refusing to pay the fine, Lea was jailed.

Lea then petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi for a writ of habeas corpus. He based his petition on a federal statute extending the right of habeas corpus to a prisoner “in custody for an act done or omitted in pursuance of a law of the United States.” Finding that Lea possessed the weapon because he was about to set off in pursuit of a fugitive in accordance with his duties under federal law, the district judge granted the writ and ordered Lea released from custody.

The county sheriff appealed the judgment to the U.S. circuit court, where it came before Justice Lamar. Lamar reversed the judgment of the district court, finding that Lea could not have been performing his official duties while possessing a concealed weapon in Corinth. He pointed out “the vital principle running through our laws” that “the authority of the United States marshals and their deputies to act in an official capacity is confined to their respective districts for which they have been appointed.” Lea therefore had no official powers while in Mississippi that would exempt him from that state’s laws.

Lea also relied on another federal statute providing that U.S. marshals and their deputies were “in each state” entitled to the same powers in executing the laws as those of sheriffs and deputies in that state. Because local law enforcement officials could carry concealed weapons in Mississippi, he argued, a U.S. marshal should have the same privilege while in that state. Lamar characterized this argument as a “non sequitur,” explaining that the statute had not been intended to enlarge the territorial jurisdiction of federal marshals and was clearly meant to be read as applying to marshals within their own districts.

“This may be considered a hard case, in some particulars, on [Lea], who evidently had no intention of violating the laws of the state of Mississippi in arming himself with a pistol; but that consideration touches the merits of the defense in the state court, rather than its jurisdiction, and cannot influence this court in habeas corpus proceedings,” Lamar concluded.