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Wildenhus’s Case (Belgian consul (P) v. American authorities (D)

    Brief Fact Summary. After Widenhus, a Belgian national, was arrested in New Jersey for killing another Belgian crew while onboard a Belgian vessel moored in Jersey City, the Belgian consul (P) sought to have him released to the Belgian authorities.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The sovereignty of the home of the ship deals with disorders that disturbs only the peace of the ship or those on board but the proper authorities of the local jurisdiction punishes those that disturb public peace.

    Facts. A Belgian national by the name Widenhus, allegedly killed another Belgian crew member while their ship was in port in New Jersey. The Belgian consul (P) applied for a writ of habeas corpus after Wildenhus was arrested on the ground that a treaty granting exclusive charge to consuls for the internal order of the merchant vessels of their nation. The consul (P) appealed the judgment after the circuit court refusal to release Wildenhus.

    Issue. Does the sovereignty of the home of the ship deal with disorders which disturbs only the peace of the ship or those on board and does the proper authorities of the local jurisdiction punish those who disturb public peace?

    Held. (Waite, C.J.) Yes. The sovereignty of the home of the ship deals with disorders that disturbs only the peace of the ship or those on board but the proper authorities of the local jurisdiction punishes those that disturb public peace. Felonious homicide is a subject for the local jurisdiction.  Hence, the consul has no right to interfere if the authorities are proceeding with the case in a regular way. Affirmed.

    Discussion. Many treaties governing consuls’ authority were discussed by the court and most of these treaties affirm the fact that a ship is subject to local jurisdiction. The local authorities and the local police usual decide whether a particular incident disturbs the peace of the port.


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