Leovy v. United States, 177 U.S. 621 (1900)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Leovy v. United States, 177 U.S. 621 (1900)

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Leovy v. United States

No. 238

Argued April 12, 16, 1900
Decided May 14, 1900
177 U.S. 621



Subject to the paramount jurisdiction of Congress over the navigable waters of the United States, the State of Louisiana had, under the Act of March 2, 1849, c. 87, and the other statutes referred to in the opinion of the Court, full power to authorize the construction and maintenance of levees, drains and other structures necessary and suitable to reclaim swamp and overflowed lands within its limits.

The dam constructed by the plaintiff in error at Red Pass was constructed under the police power of the state, and within the terms and purpose of the grant by Congress.

The decision of the jury, to whom it had been left to determine whether the plaintiff in error was guilty, that the pass was in fact navigable, is not binding upon this Court.

The term "navigable waters of the United States" has reference to commerce of a substantial and permanent character to be conducted thereon.

The defendant below was entitled to the instruction asked for, but refused, that the jury should be satisfied from the evidence that Red Pass was, at the time it was closed, substantially useful to some purpose of interstate commerce, as alleged in the indictment.

Upon the record now before the Court, it is held that Red Pass, in the condition it was when the dam was built, was not shown by adequate evidence to have been a navigable water of the United States actually used in interstate commerce, and that the court should have charged the jury, as requested; that, upon the whole evidence adduced, the defendants were entitled to a verdict of acquittal.

At the April term of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana, an indictment was found charging Augustus F. Leovy and Robert S. Leovy, both of the Parish of Plaquemines, State of Louisiana, with, on the 16th of November, 1895, unlawfully, willfully, knowingly, and without permission of the Secretary of War, building and causing to be built a dam in and across a certain navigable stream of the United States known as Red Pass, and outside of any established harbor lines, which said Red Pass flows in the Gulf of Mexico from a certain navigable stream of the United States, known as the Jump, which said Jump is an outlet of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico; that said dam has been continued by the defendants since the same was built, and still remains in and across said Red Pass, whereby the navigation of and commerce over and through Red Pass was then and there, and has been ever since, impaired and obstructed; they, the said defendants, well knowing the said Red Pass to be a navigable stream of the United States, in respect of which the United States then and there had jurisdiction, contrary to the form of the statute of the United States in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.

The defendants entered a plea of not guilty, and the cause was tried before the district judge and a jury. The trial resulted, June 6, 1891, in a verdict of not guilty as to Augusts F. Leovy, and of guilty as to Robert S. Leovy, whereupon it was adjudged that said Robert S. Leovy pay a fine of two hundred dollars and costs of prosecution.

Several bills of exception on behalf of Robert S. Leovy were seasonably presented, and signed and allowed by the trial judge, who likewise, on June 16, 1898, allowed a writ of error, and the cause was taken to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, which court, on February 28, 1899, affirmed the judgment of the circuit court.

The case was then brought to this Court on a writ of certiorari to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Leovy v. United States, 177 U.S. 621 (1900) in 177 U.S. 621 177 U.S. 622–177 U.S. 623. Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5AHHLCWQ65MD7SH.

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Leovy v. United States, 177 U.S. 621 (1900), in 177 U.S. 621, pp. 177 U.S. 622–177 U.S. 623. Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5AHHLCWQ65MD7SH.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Leovy v. United States, 177 U.S. 621 (1900). cited in 1900, 177 U.S. 621, pp.177 U.S. 622–177 U.S. 623. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5AHHLCWQ65MD7SH.