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5. United States Attorney General Opinion, December 14, 1868

12 U.S. Op. Atty. Gen. 543


[543] The Secretary of the Treasury has power, under the authority of the 10th section of the act of March 3, 1863, to compromise a claim against the surety in a forfeited recognizance for the appearance of a person charged with crime.


Postmaster General.


I am in receipt of your letter of the 11th instant referring to a compromise stated to have been made by the Secretary of the Treasury under the act of March 3, 1863, section 10, of a claim in favor of the United States against the surety in a forfeited recognizance given for the appearance in the United States district court for the northern district of Illinois of a person charged with the offence of robbing the mail. You desire my opinion on the question, whether the statute referred to was intended to meet such a case as the one just mentioned.

The statute was not intended to vest in the Secretary of the Treasury any authority, or impose upon him any duty touching the administration of the criminal laws of the United States. Its purpose simply was to enable the Government to realize the largest amounts from money claims which might be of doubtful recovery or enforcement, and to accomplish this object the Secretary of the Treasury was empowered to compromise such claims upon the recommendation of the counsel having charge of them and of the Solicitor of the Treasury. This power is strictly, therefore, a fiscal one, and is to be exercised in each case upon fiscal considerations alone.

The claim in question was upon a forfeited recognizance, given to enforce the appearance of a person charged with crime to answer, I presume, an indictment therefor in a court of the United States. The question as to the amount of bail proper to be required in the case under its circumstances was decided by the commissioner or court before whom the bail was entered, and that decision was conclusive [544] and final upon the point. But if it was made to appear to the Secretary of the Treasury that the United States could not realize by judgment and execution the full amount of the debt, by reason of the insolvency of the surety or other impediment, the Secretary was authorized, upon the concurring recommendations of the district attorney and the Solicitor of the Treasury to efect a compromise of the claim upon the best terms that could be obtained.

Within the limitations and upon the conditions just stated, a claim of this character is subject to compromise under the authority conferred upon the Secretary of the Treasury by the 10th section of the act of March 3, 1863.

I am, sir, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,


Updated December 18, 2015