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Law School Case Brief

Wong Wing v. United States - 163 U.S. 228, 16 S. Ct. 977 (1896)

Rule:

The Fourteenth Amendment is not confined to the protection of citizens. It says: Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. These provisions are universal in their application to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or nationality; and the equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws. Applying this reasoning to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, it must be concluded that all persons within the territory of the United States are entitled to the protection guaranteed by those amendments, and that even aliens shall not be held to answer for a capital or other infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

Facts:

Lem Moon Sing, Chinese race, who claimed to have had a permanent domicile in the United States, and to have carried on business therein as a merchant before the passage of the act of August 18, 1894, and to have gone on a temporary visit to his native land with the intention of returning and continuing his residence in the United States -- during which temporary absence Act 1892 was passed -- was, on his return, prevented from landing, and was confined and restrained of his liberty by the collector of the port of San Francisco. He was sentenced under the Act of 1892, which provided that "any such Chinese person, or person of Chinese descent, convicted and adjudged to be not lawfully entitled to be or remain in the United States, shall be imprisoned at hard labor for a period not exceeding one year, and thereafter removed from the United States."

Issue:

Was the statute that permitted the imposition on an alien of punishment by imprisonment at hard labor, to have been inflicted by the judgment of any justice, judge, or commissioner of the United States without a trial by jury, constitutional?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment and held that an alien may not have been held to answer for a capital or other infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The Court reasoned that the United States could, by Congressional enactment, forbid aliens or classes of aliens from coming within their borders, and expel aliens or classes of aliens from their territory. The Court stated, however, that Congress could not further promote such a policy by subjecting persons of such aliens to infamous punishment at hard labor, or by confiscating their property, without providing for a judicial trial to establish the guilt of the accused. The Court applied the rule of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, stating that the provisions were universal in their application to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, and that all persons within the territory of the United States were entitled to the protection guaranteed by the amendments.

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