Frisbie v. Collins, 342 U.S. 519 (1952)

2012-06-26 13:09:28

Frisbie v. Collins involved the forcible capture of Collins in Illinois by Michigan law enforcement agents and his subsequent murder conviction in that state. Collins alleged that ‘‘Michigan officers forcibly seized, handcuffed, blackjacked and took him to Michigan’’ in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Federal Kidnapping Act, thus voiding his conviction. The Supreme Court, with Justice Black writing for the majority, rejected Collins’ argument that the illegal nature of his apprehension denied the Michigan Court jurisdiction, thus reaffirming a position first articulated in the 1886 case Ker v. Illinois. Frisbie reified the concept of male captus bene detentus, otherwise known in Court jurisprudence as the Ker-Frisbie rule, applying it to cases of domestic and extraterritorial abduction. Despite lower court attempts to limit the rule’s scope and application, the precept seems to have survived later constitutional development unscathed.

The Court in Ker affirmed the conviction of a defendant who had been forcibly abducted in Peru by a U.S. agent acting ultra vires and brought back to the United States to stand trial. In Frisbie, Justice Black announced that the Court had ‘‘never departed from the rule announced in Ker v. Illinois,’’ which allowed law enforcement officers personal jurisdiction over an accused, despite the commission of illegal acts in bringing him or her to trial. Had Congress added a sanction to the Kidnapping Act denying states’ jurisdiction to prosecute defendants brought to Court in violation of one of its provisions, a different result the Justices concluded, might obtain. Nor do such abductions enhance the State’s case at trial, as would be the case with illegally seized evidence, for example. But Black’s opinion focused on the fairness of the trial as the critical issue in the due process analysis, finding no Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment violations in the presumably illegal rendition of the defendant across state lines. ‘‘Due process of law’’ wrote the Court, ‘‘is satisfied when one present in court is convicted of crime after having been fairly apprised the charges against him and after a fair trial in accordance with constitutional procedural safeguards.’’

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit leveled the first major attack on Ker-Frisbie in United States v. Toscanino, holding that recent Supreme Court decisions expressed an ‘‘expanded and enlightened’’ interpretation of due process to cover the pretrial treatment of a defendant. Toscanino had allegedly been tortured by American officials, among others, enroute to trial in the United States from Uruguay. The Second Circuit held that the Constitution would require the Court to divest itself of jurisdiction in the face of ‘‘unreasonable invasion of the accused’s constitutional rights’’ where such conduct ‘‘shocked the conscience.’’ However, the demise of Ker-Frisbie in the wake of Toscanino proved illusory. The Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeals have been unreceptive to such an interpretation, whereas the Supreme Court later refused to void a conviction due to ‘‘illegal arrest or detention’’ in Gerstein v. Pugh.

The continuing vitality of the rule does prevent it from being challenged by publicists who argue that it condones detainee abuse by law enforcement officials. But the Ker-Frisbie rule will likely remain relevant, especially in so far as it concerns extraterritorial abduction, because the United States prosecutes its war on terrorism and combats drugs abroad.


References and Further Reading

  • Campbell, Andrew, The Ker-Frisbie Doctrine: A Jurisdictional Weapon in the War on Drugs, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 23 (1990–1991): 385.
  • Semmelman, Jacques, Due Process, International Law, and Jurisdiction over Criminal Defendants Abducted Extraterritorially: The Ker-Frisbie Doctrine Reexamined, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 30 (1992): 513.
  • Torcia, Charles, ed. Wharton’s Criminal Procedure. 13th Ed. Rochester, NY: Lawyers Co-Operative Publishing Co., 1989.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975)
  • Ker v. Illinois, 119 U.S. 436 (1886)
  • United States v. Toscanino, 500 F.2d 267 (2d Cir. 1974)