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Devers v. Harris

Supreme Court of Alabama
Jan 11, 1940
193 So. 110 (Ala. 1940)


6 Div. 578.

January 11, 1940.

Appeal from Circuit Court, Jefferson County; J. Edgar Bowron, Judge.

Morel Montgomery, of Birmingham, for appellant.

Money or property which has come into the hands of an officer by virtue of legal process is regarded as in the custody of the law, and cannot be taken from him under other process, either of execution, attachment or garnishment. Holker v. Hennessey, 141 Mo. 527, 42 S.W. 1090, 39 L.R.A. 165, 64 Am.St.Rep. 524. Money or other property taken from a prisoner is not subject to attachment, garnishment or seizure under execution. 16 A.L.R. 378. In this state money taken by an officer from a prisoner may be garnished only if the arrest was made in good faith and there was ground for believing the money was connected with the offense or useful as evidence on trial of the prisoner. Ex parte Hurn, 92 Ala. 102, 9 So. 515, 13 L.R.A. 120, 25 Am.St.Rep. 23. But the arrest was without warrant and illegal; and so of defendant's confinement in jail. Code 1923, § 4902; Rhodes v. McWilson, 192 Ala. 675, 69 So. 69; Id., 16 Ala. App. 315, 77 So. 465; Cunningham v. Baker, 104 Ala. 160, 16 So. 68, 53 Am.St.Rep. 27. When property is lawfully taken by virtue of legal process, it is in the custody of the law and cannot be garnished, in absence of express statutory authority. Gilman v. Williams, 7 Wis. 329, 76 Am.Dec. 219; Young v. Stoutamire, 131 Fla. 535, 179 So. 797; Bankers' Mortgage Co. v. McComb, 10 Cir., 60 F.2d 218; Citizens' Bank v. Moore, 4 Cir., 20 F.2d 791; In re Chakos, D.C., 36 F.2d 776; Golden Gate Candy Products Co. v. Superior Court, 1 Cal.App.2d 426, 36 P.2d 834; Remelin v. Butterworth, 20 Ohio App. 356, 152 N.E. 193; Kuehn v. Faulkner, 136 Wn. 676, 24 P. 290, 45 A.L.R. 571; Williams v. Edelstein, 143 Wn. 198, 253 P. 596. The record shows plaintiff had been compensated by the insurance company and had no legal interest in the suit. The party in real interest is not a party to the suit.

Lange, Simpson, Brantley Robinson and Jas. O. Haley, all of Birmingham, for appellee.

An officer having authority to make an arrest has authority to search the party arrested and seize and remove from him any dangerous weapon found on his person; and may also seize any money and other thing which he has probable cause for believing is connected with the offense or may be used as evidence against him on the prosecution; and property so taken is subject to garnishment by an attaching creditor. Ex parte Hurn, 92 Ala. 102, 9 So. 515, 13 L.R.A. 120, 25 Am.St.Rep. 23. A creditor may levy upon property of a debtor when it can be done without committing a trespass or by fraud or violence. Ex parte Hurn, supra. An officer may make an arrest where felony has been committed and he has reasonable cause to believe the person arrested committed the felony. Code 1923, § 263. The fact that the crime was committed in another State would not change the rule. Code, § 4167. The fact the person injured has been reimbursed for his loss by an insurance company does not give the wrongdoer a defense against the wronged party. As to whom the damages belong when recovered is a matter of no interest to defendant, does not affect the measure of his liability, and is not a proper issue in suit by the wronged party against the wrongdoer. Long v. Kansas City, M. B. R. Co., 170 Ala. 635, 54 So. 62.

Mark L. Harris sued John Devers in trover and trespass, seeking to recover for money alleged to have been taken from his place of business in a robbery in Pennsylvania. A non-resident attachment was issued against the chief of detectives of Birmingham, attaching $1,130 in his hands, and garnishment was also issued. Devers entered an unqualified appearance in the case, and the details of attachment are unnecessary further to relate.

Devers claims the money as his, and that it was taken from him by virtue of an unlawful arrest, and was retained by the chief of detectives without authority of law.

Upon oral proof before the trial court without a jury, the conclusion was that the money was subject to the garnishment and attachment proceedings, and defendant Devers appeals.

The facts briefly summarized are as follows: Harris in October 1938 operated a store in Reading, Pennsylvania, which was robbed, the sum of $2,175 being taken by the robbers. One of the robbers was apprehended in Pennsylvania, and disclosed the identity of the other two. The Pennsylvania authorities contacted by telegram the Birmingham police department, informed them of the robbery, and that John Devers, who was fully described, was involved in the crime, and was supposed to be in Birmingham. The message also stated the robbers had in their possession about $1,500, which was a part of the stolen money, saying in part: "These men are armed and will resist. Contacted accomplice whom we have in custody by wire to meet them there today. Have about fifteen hundred dollars which was taken in hold up here October third." There was also telephone conversation with the Pennsylvania authorities giving further details, identifying Devers, and that he was supposed to have brought the stolen money with him. Devers and his associates were arrested, and the $1,130 claimed by Devers was taken from them, Devers claiming at the time it was money he had won at gambling.

Devers waived extradition papers, and willingly accompanied the Pennsylvania authorities to that state where he was convicted of this offense of robbery and given a sentence of seven and one-half to fifteen years in the penitentiary.

While there are many respectable authorities holding to the view that money taken from a prisoner by police officials is not subject to attachment or garnishment upon the ground that it is in the custody of the law, and would open the door to grave abuses (16 A.L.R. 378, et seq.), yet this question was fully discussed and settled by this Court to the contrary in Ex parte Hurn, 92 Ala. 102, 9 So. 515, 13 L.R.A. 120, 25 Am.St.Rep. 23, approvingly cited in Cunningham v. Baker, 104 Ala. 160, 16 So. 68, 53 Am.St.Rep. 27, and needs no further elaboration here.

As to the objection the money is in custody of the law, that was long ago answered in this State by our statute, now section 8060, Code of 1923, and as pointed out in the Hurn case, supra, 92 Ala., on page 105 of the opinion, 9 So. 515, 13 L.R.A. 120, 25 Am.St.Rep. 23. And upon the question of "grave abuse" our holding is (Hurn case, supra) that, as of course, a levy obtained by trickery, fraud or trespass is invalid, but that as under our statute money in the hands of an officer may be attached, money obtained from the possession of a person arrested on a criminal charge and searched, if it was connected with the offense charged or might be used as evidence, or if the officer had probable grounds for so believing, and did not act in collusion with the creditor procuring the arrest, may be the subject of levy or garnishment. "Upon principle, property subject to the payment of a debt may be levied upon by the proper officer, if the levy can be effected without trickery or fraud, or a trespass calculated to provoke a breach of the peace." Hurn case, supra [ 92 Ala. 102, 9 So. 518, 13 L.R.A. 120, 25 Am.St.Rep. 23].

Here, though the arrest was made without a warrant (Suell v. Derricott et al., 161 Ala. 259, 49 So. 895, 23 L.R.A., N.S., 996, 18 Ann.Cas. 636), yet it was for a felony, and the facts disclose that the officer making the arrest had reasonable ground for believing, not only that the crime of robbery had been committed, but that Devers, who was well described, was the person wanted for the crime, — all of which was conclusively established by his conviction for the offense. Sections 3263 and 4167, Code of 1923; 5 Corpus Juris 416. And Devers was at the time fully informed. Section 3264, Code of 1923.

There is nothing in this record to indicate an arrest for the purpose of obtaining a levy or that the criminal charge against Devers was false or fabricated. Indeed, it affirmatively appears to the contrary, and that the officers acted in perfect good faith and upon probable cause. We think it clear enough the arrest was lawful.

"At common law the arresting officer had the right to remove money from the defendant's person; but this right was limited to cases in which the money was connected with the offense, or to be used as evidence." Hurn's case, supra.

The evidence in this case was ample to support the trial court's conclusion that the money taken from Devers was connected with the crime, and was in fact a part of the very money which was the fruit of the crime. It was directly connected with the offense. The fact it was not used as evidence in the criminal trial is of no consequence here, and, indeed, there may have been no cause to thus produce it. Nor is it of consequence the money was retained by the chief detective until the levy, and not returned to Devers upon his demand while in the penitentiary. The officer had every reason to believe that it was money taken in the robbery, and not that of Devers. The following from the Hurn case, supra, is entirely applicable here: "We know of no law which will prevent a creditor from having the property of his debtor levied upon to satisfy his debt, when it can be done without committing a trespass, or by fraud or violence. At common law, the property in the hands of an officer was regarded in gremio legis, and not subject to process; but by statute it is subject to legal process."

Defendant further insists plaintiff cannot maintain the suit for that the insurance company has paid him the amount of damages suffered by the robbery. But this argument is answered by the case of Long v. Kansas City, M. B. R. Co., 170 Ala. 635, 54 So. 62, 64, wherein the Court observed: "The payment is not made by the insurer for the benefit of the wrongdoer, but is made in accordance with the contract of insurance. The owner, of course, has paid the insurer for the insurance or indemnity; and whether this is more or less than the damages for which the wrongdoer is liable is no concern of the latter."

It results, therefore, that the rulings of the trial court were free from error, and the judgment rendered is due to be affirmed. It is so ordered.


ANDERSON, C. J., and BOULDIN and FOSTER, JJ., concur.

Summaries of

Devers v. Harris

Supreme Court of Alabama
Jan 11, 1940
193 So. 110 (Ala. 1940)
Case details for

Devers v. Harris

Case Details

Full title:DEVERS v. HARRIS

Court:Supreme Court of Alabama

Date published: Jan 11, 1940


193 So. 110 (Ala. 1940)
193 So. 110

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