FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday - January 23, 2004
RALEIGH, N. C. - At a hearing in federal court in Raleigh today, Chief U. S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle entered an oral order finding that the State of North Carolina is the true owner of its original copy of the Bill of Rights.
Judge Boyle found that the facts supporting the application for the seizure warrant were "compelling." He stated that the document had been legally and appropriately seized through a sting operation and brought to North Carolina. The judge found that he had jurisdiction over the document and that it was his responsibility to determine "lawful possession," which he believed in this case meant ownership. He indicated that there was no dispute as to the authenticity of the document; that it was in fact the original copy of the Bill of Rights, which was transmitted to the State of North Carolina by President George Washington, at the direction of the first Congress. Likewise, there was no question that the document disappeared from North Carolina at the end of the Civil War. The only question was whether the State had conveyed or otherwise transferred or waived its claim. On the strength of North Carolina law, State v. West, a case decided in 1977 by the North Carolina Supreme Court (written by Justice I. Beverly Lake, Sr.), Judge Boyle found that the document belonged to the State.
He found the law to be "strong and controlling" that public documents of North Carolina remain property of the State.
United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney stated, "We are delighted with Judge Boyle's decision and believe that justice has been served. The people of this state have been deprived of this historic treasure for too long. It was wrong for it to have been stolen and secreted for so many years. We are glad that our office was able to help recover this precious document for the citizens of our State."
Unfortunately, the people will have to continue waiting to see this treasure. The adverse claimant, Robert Matthews, a self-described "passive investor," has indicated that he will file an appeal. The document will remain in the custody of the United States Marshal pending the appeal.
Litigation was handled by United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney and Assistant U. S. Attorney Paul M. Newby. Investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the assistance of Assistant U. S. Attorneys Robert J. Higdon, Jr. and Banumathi Rangarajan.
News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney's web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce within 48 hours of release.