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United States v. Costello

decided: February 17, 1960.


Author: Magruder

Before MAGRUDER, MOORE and FRIENDLY, Circuit Judges.

MAGRUDER, Circuit Judge.

This is another of those troublesome denaturalization cases, instituted by the government in an effort to have the court cancel a certificate of naturalization issued over thirty years ago. The proceeding is brought pursuant to § 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended, 68 Stat. 1232. This statute contains no provision for limitations, nor is there any other federal statute applicable to the case. And, as Hughes, C. J., said in United States v. Summerlin, 1940, 310 U.S. 414, 416, 60 S. Ct. 1019, 1020, 84 L. Ed. 1283: "It is well settled that the United States is not bound by state statutes of limitation or subject to the defense of laches in enforcing its rights."

It is impossible to say that the statutory provisions for the issuance by the court of naturalization certificates, under certain prescribed conditions, do not constitute a proper judicial function. Tutun v. United States, 1926, 270 U.S. 568, 46 S. Ct. 425, 70 L. Ed. 738.And despite what may seem to be the harshness of the result, it seems impossible to say that the Congress cannot constitutionally provide a proceeding for the cancellation of a certificate obtained by fraud or concealment. Knauer v. United States, 1946, 328 U.S. 654, 673, 66 S. Ct. 1304, 90 L. Ed. 1500. It was so provided way back in the Act of 1906 which, in § 15 thereof, vested jurisdiction in the district courts of suits by the United States Attorney on behalf of the United States "for the purpose of setting aside and canceling a certificate of citizenship on the ground of fraud or on the ground that such certificate of citizenship was illegally procured." 34 Stat. 601. See Johannessen v. United States, 1912, 225 U.S. 227, 32 S. Ct. 613, 56 L. Ed. 1066. Such provision for denaturalization was carried forward by Congress into § 338(a) of the Nationality Act of 1940 (54 Stat. 1158, 1159). In the Immigration and Nationality Act passed in 1952, denaturalization proceedings were also provided for, but the Congress struck out the earlier provision for cancellation of a certificate that had been illegally issued, and confined cancellation to cases where the certificate had been procured "by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation." 66 Stat. 260. This provision was reenacted by the Congress in 1954. 68 Stat. 1232.

The Supreme Court has never told us that a denaturalization proceeding partakes of the character of a criminal proceeding. Indeed, in the Johannessen case, supra, the Court upheld the constitutional validity of a provision in § 15 of the Act of 1906 to the effect that the denaturalization provisions should apply not only prospectively but also "to all certificates of citizenship which may have been issued heretofore by any court exercising jurisdiction in naturalization proceedings under prior laws." 34 Stat. 601. In this connection the Court said (225 U.S. at page 242, 32 S. Ct. at page 617): "It is, however, settled that this prohibition is confined to laws respecting criminal punishments, and has no relation to retrospective legislation of any other description. * * * The act imposes no punishment upon an alien who has previously procured a certificate of citizenship by fraud or other illegal conduct. It simply deprives him of his illgotten privileges."

Although the Supreme Court has many times upheld a decree for the cancellation of a certificate of naturalization, it has prescribed an exacting quantum of proof as requisite to establishing a case by the government against a certificate holder. The case for cancellation must be "clear, unequivocal, and convincing," and should not leave "the issue in doubt." See Schneiderman v. United States, 1943, 320 U.S. 118, 158, 63 S. Ct. 1333, 1352, 87 L. Ed. 1796; Baumgartner v. United States, 1944, 322 U.S. 665, 64 S. Ct. 1240, 88 L. Ed. 1525; Knauer v. United States, supra, 1946, 328 U.S. 654, 66 S. Ct. 1304, 90 L. Ed. 1500.

If a denaturalization case is a sort of civil proceeding, we are at a loss to see why our scope of review is not limited by the "clearly erroneous" test of the unqualified Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. If that is so, then once we are convinced that the district court was aware of and applied the proper strict standards of proof - which clearly appears in the case at bar - we ought not to upset its finding that the defendant had obtained his certificate of citizenship by fraud unless we are satisfied that such finding was "clearly erroneous." See Corrado v. United States, 6 Cir., 1955, 227 F.2d 780, 783.Of course, fraud is an internal state of mind, and it is possible that a man may give an incorrect answer to a question in a bona fide but mistaken belief as to what the question calls for. But if an applicant for citizenship has in fact no such misapprehension as to what answer the question calls for, and consciously falsifies an answer on a material point, he is certainly guilty of fraud in the baldest sense of the term. The district court believed that Costello was guilty of this kind of fraud, and we certainly cannot say that the finding to this effect was "clearly erroneous."

On the other hand, perhaps we are wrong about our limited scope of review; and it may be that in this very special type of civil proceeding we have a broader power of review, and are under the obligation ourselves to scrutinize the evidence, to satisfy ourselves that the proof offered by the government was "clear, unequivocal, and convincing." See Baumgartner v. United States, supra, 1944, 322 U.S. 665, 670-672, 64 S. Ct. 1240, 1244, 88 L. Ed. 1525; Brenci v. United States, 1 Cir., 1949, 175 F.2d 90; Cufari v. United States, 1 Cir., 1954, 217 F.2d 404.

Fortunately, we do not in this case have to determine what our scope of review may be in these cases, since we are here more than satisfied that the findings by the district court which will sustain a cancellation of the certificate of naturalization are the only findings possible on the evidence, and that they fulfill the strictest requirements of proof. 171 F.Supp. 10.

We think the district court, though it did not do so, might properly have buttressed its findings by the unfavorable inferences to be drawn from the fact that Costello chose to remain off the witness stand and to introduce no evidence in answer to the government's case indicating fraud. The matters inquired into were within Costello's peculiar knowledge. Since Costello was not a criminal defendant in the present proceedings, he had no privilege to remain silent. United States v. Matles, 2 Cir., 1957, 247 F.2d 378, reversed on other grounds, 1958, 356 U.S. 256, 78 S. Ct. 712, 2 L. Ed. 2d 741. See also United States ex rel. Vajtauer v. Commissioner, 1927, 273 U.S. 103, 47 S. Ct. 302, 71 L. Ed. 560.

The government's complaint in the present case was filed May 1, 1958. In compliance with the procedural requirement of § 340(a), as amended, the complaint was accompanied by affidavits showing "good cause" for the institution of the proceeding. 68 Stat. 1232. The request for cancellation of the certificate of naturalization was based upon various allegations of fraud and concealment. We mean to be guided by the words of the Supreme Court in the Schneiderman case, supra, 320 U.S. at page 160, 63 S. Ct. at page 1353: "A denaturalization suit is not a criminal proceeding. But neither is it an ordinary civil action since it involves an important adjudication of status. Consequently we think the Government should be limited, as in a criminal proceeding, to the matters charged in its complaint."

Some of the allegations of fact contained in the complaint were not accepted by the district court as sufficiently established pursuant to the strict requirements of proof imposed upon the government. Though the government now urges us to examine the state of the evidence in these regards, we do not propose to go beyond the findings of fact by the district court. That court based its decree upon findings with reference to two of the issues raised by the complaint: (1) That in the preliminary form for petition for naturalization, and in testimony under oath before a naturalization examiner, and also in his petition for naturalization, Costello knowingly and willfully stated that his occupation was "real estate," whereas in truth his occupation was the illicit purchase and sale of alcoholic beverages; (2) that the defendant swore in his oath of allegiance, on September 10, 1925, that "I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same." [171 F.Supp. 16.] This was said to be a known falsehood because the defendant was actually engaged at the time in a course of activity which flouted the Constitution and was designed to violate the laws of the United States.

It was established by the United States, from Costello's own mouth, that he was at the crucial dates engaged in bootlegging activities. He gave a statement to Special Agent Sullivan on July 24, 1938, to the effect that he was involved in the liquor business from 1923 or 1924 until a year or two before repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. In answer to questions by the district attorney in a proceeding before a New York County grand jury in 1943, Costello admitted that he got large sums of money from importing whisky during prohibition days. He admitted that he had reported to the state taxing authorities that for the years 1919 to 1932 his income had totaled $305,000, most of it made in the bootlegging business. If corroboration of these statements is required in the present case, such corroboration is amply found in the testimony of the witnesses Kessler, Kelly and Coffey. The evidence is clear beyond any doubt that during prohibition days Costello's major activity, both in terms of time spent and revenue obtained, was bootlegging.

In his preliminary form for petition for naturalization, in answer to a question requiring him to put down his "present occupation," he answered "realestate." He gave a ...

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