Cook v. United States, 288 U.S. 102 (1933)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Cook v. United States, 288 U.S. 102 (1933)

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Cook v. United States

No. 82

Argued December 7, 1932
Decided January 23, 1933
288 U.S. 102



1. The Treaty of May 22, 1924, with Great Britain, as both its language and its history show, was intended to deal completely with the search and seizure beyond our territorial limits of British vessels suspected of smuggling intoxicating liquors into this country. P. 112.

2. Article II of the treaty declares that His Britannic Majesty "will raise no objection" to the boarding of private vessels under the British flag outside of the three-mile limit of territorial waters in order that inquiries may be made of those on board and an examination be made of the ship’s papers, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the vessel or those on board are endeavoring to import, or have imported, alcoholic beverages into the United States, in violation of the laws there in force. When this shows reasonable ground for suspicion, a search is permitted, and if there is reasonable cause for belief that the vessel has committed, or is committing or attempting to commit, an offense against the laws of the United States prohibiting importation of alcoholic beverages, she may be seized and taken into a port for adjudication. But it expressly provides that the rights conferred by this Article shall not be exercised at a greater distance from the coast of the United States than can be traversed in one hour by the vessel suspected, etc.

Held that the treaty not only permits boarding, etc., beyond the three-mile limit if the vessel is within one-hour’s sailing distance, but also forbids it beyond the three-mile limit as to vessels not within such sailing distance. Pp. 111, 118.

3. The treaty is self-executing in that no legislation was necessary to authorize executive action in pursuance of its provisions, and it had the effect (and was so interpreted in practice) of superseding, so far as inconsistent with it, the authority conferred by § 581 of the Tariff Act of 1922 upon officers of the Coast Guard to board, search and seize within four leagues of the coast. P. 118.

4. The treaty was not abrogated by reenacting § 581 in the Tariff Act of 1930 in the identical terms of the Act of 1922. P. 119.

5. A treaty will not be deemed to have been abrogated or modified by a later statute unless such purpose on the part of Congress has been clearly expressed, and here the contrary appears, in that the committee reports and the debates upon the Act of 1930, like the reenacted section itself, make no reference to the treaty. P. 120.

6. Any doubt as to the construction of § 581 in this regard is resolved by the consistent departmental practice existing before the reenactment. P. 120.

7. Section 581 continued in force, except as modified by treaties. P. 120.

8. A British ship with unmanifested intoxicating liquors for illegal importation was seized beyond the three-mile limit, and not within one hour’s sailing distance of the coast, and was brought into port, where ship and cargo were libeled.


(1) That the libels should be dismissed because, by reason of the treaty, this Government lacked the power to seize the ship and the power to subject her to our laws. P. 121.

(2) The doctrine that permits the United States to enforce forfeitures for violation of its laws against property of which it has gained possession through the wrongful act of an individual applies where the act was such as it might have authorized beforehand, but not where the United States itself would have had no jurisdiction to make the seizure. Id.

9. The Ship Richmond, 9 Cranch 102, and The Merino, 9 Wheat. 391, also are distinguished. P. 122.

56 F.2d 921 reversed.

Certiorari to review the reversal of a decree, 51 F.2d 292, dismissing two libels, against a vessel and its cargo.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Cook v. United States, 288 U.S. 102 (1933) in 288 U.S. 102 288 U.S. 103–288 U.S. 107. Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Cook v. United States, 288 U.S. 102 (1933), in 288 U.S. 102, pp. 288 U.S. 103–288 U.S. 107. Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Cook v. United States, 288 U.S. 102 (1933). cited in 1933, 288 U.S. 102, pp.288 U.S. 103–288 U.S. 107. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from