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Colonial Cases

United States v. Letford, 1886


United States v. Letford

United States Consular Court for Shanghai
Smithers, 9 March 1886
Source: North China Herald, 10 March, 1886

Shanghai, 9th March, 1886
E. J. Smithers, Esq., U.S. Acting Consul-General, and
Mr. L. L. Bush, Mr. C. C. Bennett, Assessors.
  Thomas Letford, a sailor belonging to the U.S.S. Omaha, was charged with stealing a gold watch from the person of Captain Sheret, of the British barque River Nilh, at the Hongkew Hotel on the 17th inst.
  Sergt. Ramsay, of the Municipal Police, prosecuted on behalf of Captain Sheret, and Lieut. Shufeldt, of the U.S.S. Omaha, appeared on behalf of the accused.
  David Sheret, Captain of the River Nilh, having been sworn, said hat on Sunday afternoon he felt rather tired, as he had been two days outside without a pilot.  He accordingly went into the Hongkew Hotel, sat down on a chair, and fell asleep.  The bar-boy came in and told him he had lost his watch, and the accused had it.  Witness identified a watch which was produced as his own, and recognized the accused as the man on whom the Watch was found in his presence.
  Nicholas Grouleff, P.C. No. 22, said he was called to the Hongkew Hotel by a colie, and there saw Mr. Watson, landlord of the hotel, Captain Sheret, and the bar-boy.  They told him that a watch had been stolen, and asked him to search the accused, whom they suspected of having taken it.  He saw the accused lying on the floor, and on searching him found a watch in his left coat pocket.  The prisoner was not very drunk, but pretended to be.  When out of the Hotel he made several attempts to escape.
  A Chinese bar-boy employed at the Hongkew Hotel stated that at about a quarter past two on Sunday afternoon Captain Sheret came into the hotel and called for a cigar and a glass of wine.  The Captain then sat down and read the paper, and after a little time witness noticed that he had fallen asleep.  About half an hour later the accused came in and called for a cigar and a glass of whiskey, which witness gave him. The accused then went and sat down next to the captain.  A few minutes afterwards witness heard a disturbance, and saw the Captain's watch-chain hanging from his picket without a watch.  Witness sent a coolie for a policemen, and would not allow the prisoner to go out till the policeman came, as witness was afraid that if he allowed the prisoner to go, he should be accused himself.
  In answer to Lieut. Shufeldt, the witness said the prisoner was not drunk at the time.
  W. Watson, landlord of the Hongkew Hotel, said he was out at the time of the occurrence, but he came in immediately afterwards.  Captain Sheret told witness his watch had been stolen, and that the prisoner was suspected of having taken it.  Just afterwards a policeman came in, and witness asked him to search the prisoner. The Constable did so, and found the watch in his pocket, with the ring broken off.  The ring was found on the table near where the Captain had been sitting.  The prisoner appeared drunk when he lay on the floor; but when he got up he seemed to know more than a drunken man would.
  In answer to Lieut. Shufeldt, the witness said there were two bars in his hotel - one frequented by sailors.  The liquor was nearly the same at each.  Witness solicited the trade of men-of-war's men, but did not remember having seen the accused there before this occasion.
  Lieut. Shufeldt said the only defence the accused had to offer was that he was intoxicated at the time and did not know what he was doing.  The prisoner was a native of Boston, Mass., and had recently joined the service, this being his very first voyage to the East.  Nothing was known of his record before he joined the service.  There had, however, been great difficulty on board the Omaha in consequence of men being dragged or going of their own free will to this "hotel," where they got liquor - whether drugged or not, he could not say.
  His Honour, after a consultation on the bench, said, addressing the accused- The Court unanimously finds you guilty of this charge; and in passing sentence upon you I have considered what the Assessors have said in your favour.  They are disposed to think that your state of intoxication, which was not very great, ought to be considered in migration of your sentence.  I must, however, tell you that by the law drunkenness is no excuse for crime.  The law premises that if a man intentionally gets drunk, whatever he does while drunk he intended to do.  That is the common law doctrine, and that is the law of the court.  The sentence of the Court is that you be taken from the place where you are now, and be imprisoned in the U.S. Consulate gaol at Shanghai for two years with hard labour, or in such other prison as the authorities of the United States may designate.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School