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Colonial Cases

United States v. Sprague, 1899


United States v. Sprague

United States Consular Court, Shanghai
20 March 1899
Source: North China Herald, 27 March 1899

Shanghai, 20th March.
Before John Goodnow, Esq., Consul-General and Messrs. C. C. Bennett and A. W. Danforth, U.S. Assessors.
  H. C. Sprague, 29, described as a bill collector and lately residing at the Family Hotel, was put upon his trial charged on remand with feloniously forging the name of one James Nissim to a cheque on the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, on the 9th ultimo, for the sum of Tls. 1,500 with intent then and thereby to cheat and defraud.
  Inspector Matheson who prosecuted informed the Court that the case arose out of a recent prosecution in the Mixed Court when a native now in custody and present was brought up charged with uttering a forged cheque. The Chinese had made a statement to the effect that the signature on the cheque was written by Sprague the prisoner, and a warrant was at once issued for his arrest.
  James Nissim was then called and said he was a general broker and lived in Shanghai. Some short time ago he went to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank on some business when one of the officials spoke to him on the subject of having drawn three cheques on the bank for Tls. 1,500, Tls. 145 and Tls. 40 respectively when he must have known that he had not the funds to meet therm. He denied having issued them and said if they were in existence they must be forgeries. The Bank offered to lend him every assistance in cleaning up the case.  He then went home and examined the cheque book when he found that three cheques had been extracted from the centre of the book. He reported the matter to the Police. He at once suspected the Chinaman to whom reference had been made of having stolen them because he alone so far as he knew was aware where he kept the book. He had had several transactions with him in relation to land and mortgage business but had never given him a blank cheque or authorised him to sign his name in any way. The signature on the cheque produced for Tls. 1,500 was not his writing; the cheque was one of the three stolen from his book.
  Tsu Si-yung, a clerk employed at a native bank who attempted to cash the document, next gave evidence and was severely cautioned as to speaking the truth. The cheque produced he identified as one which Mr. Nissim gave him last year, when Mr. Nissim some time ago went to Ningpo and gave him the cheque in regard to some mortgage business for the amount indicated authorising him to fill it in and present it should he not return. He took the cheque to the prisoner who filled it in and signed Mr. Nissim's name.  He handed the cheque to one of his friends and sent it to the Bank but payment was refused. He was positive Nissim gave him the cheque. He would not steal it for he knew very well Nissim was a poor man and had no effects.
  Prisoner in defence denied any intention of defrauding.  The Chinese witness just called came to him and asked him to fill in the cheque stating that he had full authority from Nissim to do so. The money was in respect of two transactions in land one in the Settlement and one at Yangtsepoo, and he added that he and Nissim had made arrangements whereby some friend of his would see that the money was forthcoming. Witness made out the cheque and signed Nissim's name, the Chinaman re-asserting that it was all right.
By Mr. Goodnow - He signed the cheque produced but he had not the slightest intention of defrauding. Nissim did not authorise him to sign it, but he did so when the Chinaman brought it to him and he was assured it was all right.
  Mr. Goodnow, after conferring with the associates, said - There is one essential thing in this case and that is that James Nissim's signature was not in his own writing and by the admission of the defendant himself he signed James Nissim's name to this cheque for Tls. 1,500.  It makes no difference in this case whether or not he got any financial benefit from it; it makes no difference in this case whether he uttered the forged cheque or not.
  "Forgery is making a false usable document with intent to defraud." (Wharton's Crim. Law, 654), and by the common law forgery is a misdemeanour. The possibility of the fraud is enough to complete the offence. It is not even necessary to aver or prove damage or injury to have accrued. It is enough if this instrument were calculated to defraud.
  "A general intent to defraud is sufficient to constitute the crime; for if a person do an act the probable consequence of which is to defraud it will institute a fraudulent intent."  (Russell on Crimes, 361).
  The intent is shown by what is actually done. We cannot take oral evidence as to intent but "criminal endeavours, evidenced by manifest overt acts are and ought justly to be punishable;" "a party who does an act wilfully necessarily intends that which must be the consequences of the act." (Broom's Common Law, pp. 960-962).
  The defendant signed the cheque in another man's name and that shows an intention to get the money in that cheque to the detriment if the Bank or the person whose name is signed. There is no question whatever that this is a case of forgery and by the defendant's own admission he signed James Nissim's name.
  There is no commercial crime that needs severe punishment more than this one does, and there is no crime that is so calculated to overthrow the confidence of the community in commercial transactions than this. The highest praise that can be said of a man is that his word is as good as his bond and the minute a crime is made reflecting on a written signature or bond it is striking at the very root of all commercial transactions. No crime can be worse in commercial matters than signing a man's name wilfully, or without his consent and with intent to defraud. That is shown here by the actual document. The sentence of the Court, the Assessors concurring, is that you be confined in this gaol with hard labour for a period of six months from this date.
  Mr. Goodnow, addressing Inspector Matheson, added: The Chinaman undoubtedly took the cheque to Sprague with intent to obtain money or credit, and the uttering of the note is exactly as criminal in our law as the signing if it. I hope you will press this case against the Chinese subject so that a sentence as heavy in proportion will be imposed as has been here this morning.
  Inspector Matheson undertook to do so.

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