U.S. Supreme Court
Sparf & Hansen v. U.S.
156 U.S. 51 (1895)
January 21, 1895.
F. J. Kierce, for plaintiffs in error.
Asst. Atty. Gen. Conrad, for the United States.
Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.
The plaintiffs in error and Thomas St. Clair were indicted jointly for the murder of Maurice Fitzgerald upon the high seas, on board of an American vessel, the bark Hesper, as set forth in the indictment mentioned in St. Clair v. U. S., 154 U.S. 134, 14 Sup. Ct. 1002. On motion of the accused, it was ordered that they be tried separately. St. Clair was tried, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to suffer the punishment of death. Subsequently the order for separate trials was set aside, and the present defendants were tried together, and both were convicted of murder. A motion for a new trial having been overruled, a like sentence was imposed upon them.
The general facts of this case do not differ from those proved in St. Clair's Case, and some of the questions arising upon the present assignments of error were determined in that case. Only such questions will be here examined as were not properly persented or did not arise in the other case, and are of sufficient importance to require notice at our hands.
In the night of January 13, 1893, Fitzgerald, the second mate of the Hesper, was found to be missing, and it was believed that he had been killed, and his body thrown overboard. Suspicion being directed to St. Clair, Sparf, and Hansen, part of the crew of the Hesper, as participants in the killing, they were put in irons, by order of Capt. Sodergren, master of the vessel, and were so kept during the voyage from the locality of the supposed murder to Tahiti, an island in the South Pacific, belonging to the French government. They were taken ashore by the United States consul at that island, and subsequently were sent, with others, to San Francisco, on the vessel Tropic Bird.
At the trial, Capt. Sodergren, a witness for the government, was asked whether or not after the 13th day of January, and before reaching Tahiti, which was more than 1, 000 miles from the locality of the alleged murder, he had any conversation with the defendant Hansen about the killing of Fitzgeraid. This question having been answered by the witness in the affirmative, he was fully examined as to the circumstances under which the conversation was held. He said, among other things, that no one was present but Hansen and himself. Being asked to repeat the conversation referred to, the accused, by the counsel who had been appointed by the court to represent them, objected to the question as 'irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent, and upon the ground that any statement made by Hansen was not and could not be voluntary.' The objection was overruled, and the defendants duly excepted. The witness then stated what Hansen had said to him. That evidence tended strongly to show that Fitzgerald was murdered pursuant to a plan formed between St. Clair, Sparf, and Hansen; that all three actively participated in the murder; and that the crime was committed under the most revolting circumstances.
Thomas Green and Edward Larsen, two of the crew of the Hesper, were also witnesses for the government. They were permitted to state what Hansen said to them during the voyage from Tahiti to San Francisco. This evidence was also objected to as irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent, and upon the further ground that the statement the accused was represented to have made was not voluntary. But the objection was overruled, and an exception taken.
Upon the conclusion of the evidence, the defendants requested certain instructions, which the court refused to give, and they excepted to its action in that particular, as well as to certain parts of the charge to the jury. 1. The declarations of Hansen, as detailed by Sodergren, Green, and Larsen, were clearly admissible in evidence against him. There was no ground on which their exclusion could have been sustained. In reference to this proof, the court charged the jury that if they believed from the evidence that Green and Larsen, or either of them, were accomplices in the commission of the acts charged in the indictment, they should act upon their testimony with great caution, subjecting it to a careful examination, in the light of all the other evidence, and ought not to convict upon their testimony alone, unless satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of its truth; that if Larsen and Green, or either of them, or any other person, were induced to testify by promises of immunity from punishment, or by hope held out from any one that it would go easier with them in case they disclosed their confederates, or in case they implicated some one else in the crime, this must be taken into consideration in determining the weight to be given to their testimony, and should be closely scrutinized; that the confessions of a prisoner out of court and in custody, made to persons having no authority to examine him, should be acted upon and received with great care and caution; that words are often misreported through ignorance, inattention, or malice, are extremely liable to misconstruction, are rarely sufficient to warrant conviction, as well on account of the great danger of mistake upon the part of the witness as of the fact that the mind of the prisoner himself may be oppressed by his situation or influenced by motives of hope or fear to make an untrue confession; that, in considering the weight to be given to the alleged confessions of the defendants, the jury were to consider their condition at the time they were made, the fact that they had been charged with crime, and were in custody; and that the jury were to determine whether those confessions were voluntary, or whether any inducements were held out to them by any one. The defendants did not offer themselves as witnesses, and the court took care to say that a person charged with crime is under no obligation to testify in his own behalf, and that his neglect to testify did not create any presumption whatever against him. So far as the record discloses, these confessions were entirely free and voluntary, uninfluenced by any hope of reward or fear of punishment. In Hopt v. People, 110 U.S. 574, 584, 4 S. Sup. Ct. 202, it was said: 'While some of the adjudged cases indicate distrust of confessions which are not judicial, it is certain, as observed by Baron Parke, in Reg. v. Baldry, 2 Denison, Cr. Cas. 430, 445, that the rule against their admissibility has been sometimes carried too far, and in its application justice and common sense have too frequently been sacrificed at the shrine of mercy. A confession, if freely and voluntarily made, is evidence of the most satisfactory character. Such a confession, said Eyre, C. B. (King v. Warickshall, 1 Leach, 263),'is deserving of the highest credit, because it is presumed to flow from the strongest sense of guilt, and therefore it is admitted as proof of the crime to which it refers.' Elementary writers of authority concur in saying that while, from the nature of such evidence, it must be subjected to careful scrutiny, and received with great caution, a deliberate voluntary confession of guilt is among the most effectual proofs in the law, and constitutes the strongest evidence against the party making it that can be given of the facts stated in such confession.'
Counsel for the accused insist that there cannot be a voluntary statement, a free, open confession, while a defendant is confined and in irons, under an accusation of having committed a capital offense. We have not been referred to any authority in support of that position. It is true that the fact of a prisoner being in custody at the time he makes a confession is a circumstance not to be overlooked, because it bears upon the inquiry whether the confession was voluntarily made, or was extorted by threats or violence, or made under the influence of fear. But confinement or imprisonment is not in itself sufficient to justify the exclusion of a confession, if it appears to have been voluntary and was not obtained by putting the prisoner in fear or by promises. Whart. Cr. Ev. (9th Ed.) 661, 663, and authorities cited. The import of Sodergren's evidence was that, when Hansen manifested a desire to speak to him on the subject of the killing, the latter said he did not wish to hear it, but 'to keep it until the right time came, and then tell the truth.' But this was not offering to the prisoner an inducement to make a confession. Littledale, J., well observed in Rex v. Court, 7 Car. & P. 487, that telling a man to be sure to tell the truth is not advising him to confess anything of which he is really not guilty. See, also Queen v. Reeves, L. R. 1 Cr. Cas. 362. Nothing said to Hansen prior to the confession was at all calculated to put him in fear, or to excite any hope of his escaping punishment by telling what he knew or witnessed or did in reference to the killing.
The deciarations of Hansen after the killing, as detailed by Green and Larsen, were also admissible in evidence against Sparf, because they appear to have been made in his presence, and under such circumstances as would warrant the inference that he would naturally have contradicted them if he did not assent to their truth.
But the confession and declarations of Hansen to Sodergren after the killing of Fitzgerald were incompetent as evidence against Sparf. St. Clair, Hansen, and Sparf were charged jointly with the murder of Fitzgerald. What Hansen said after the deed had been fully consummated, and not on the occasion of the killing, and in the presence only of the witness, was clearly incompetent against his codefendant, Sparf, however strongly it tended to connect the latter with the commission of the crime. If the evidence made a case of conspiracy to kill and murder, the rule is settled that 'after the conspiracy has come to an end, and whether by success or by failure, the admissions of one conspirator by way of narrative of past facts are not admissible in evidence against the others.' Logan v. U. S., 144 U.S. 263, 309, 12 S. Sup. Ct. 617; Brown v. U. S., 150 U. S., 93, 98, 14 Sup. Ct. 37; Wright, Cr. Consp. (Carson's Ed.) 212, 213, 217; 1 Greenl. Ev. 233. The same rule is applicable where the evidence does not show that the killing was pursuant to a conspiracy, but yet was by the joint act of the defendants.
The objection to the question in answer to which the declarations of Hansen to Sodergren were given was sufficiently specific. The general rule undoubtedly is that an objection should be so framed as to indicate the precise point upon which the court is asked to rule. It has therefore been often held that an objection to evidence as irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent, nothing more being stated, is too general to be considered on error, if in any possible circumstances it could be deemed or could be made relevant, material, or competent. But this principle will not sustain the ruling by which the declarations of Hansen, made long after the commission of the alleged murder, and not in the presence of Sparf, were admitted as evidence against the latter. In no state of case were those declarations competent against Sparf. Their inadmissibility as to him was apparent. It appeared upon the very face of the question itself.
In People v. Beach, 87 N. Y. 508, 513, which was an indictment for petit larceny, the prosecution offered in evidence the statements of a third party, not in the presence of the accused, which related to the vital point upon which the conviction turned. There was a general objection to the evidence. The court said: 'We think, however, the general objection made in this case was sufficient. It appeared, when the objection was made, that the conversation proposed to be shown was between the prosecutor and Hardacre, when the defendant was not present. There was no possible view of the case, as it then or afterwards stood, in which such a conversation was admissible. When the witness was asked to state the conversation, and counsel objected, both the court and the prosecuting officer must have understood that it was an objection to the competency of the proposed evidence. If the objection had been made in terms, on the ground that the evidence was incompetent, the sufficiency of the objection could not have been questioned, and the objection, as made, necessarily implied this. Neither the court nor prosecuting attorney could have been misled as to the point of the objection. It was patent on considering the objection in connection with the proof offered. If any doubt could be entertained as to the technical sufficiency of the objection, we should be disinclined, in a criminal case, to deprive a defendant of the benefit of an exception by the strict application of a rule more especially applicable to civil cases, when we can see that its application would produce injustice.' And in Turner v. City of Newburgh, 109 N. Y. 301, 308, 16 N. E. 344, it was said: 'This court has held that when the objection to evidence is general, and it is overruled, and the evidence is received, the ruling will not be held erroneous, unless there be some grounds which could not have been obviated had they been specified, or unless the evidence in its essential nature be incompetent.' Tozer v. Railroad Co., 105 N. Y. 659, 11 N. E. 846; Alcorn v. Railroad Co., 108 Mo. 81, 18 S. W. 188; Curr v. Hundley (Colo. App.) 31 Pac. 939, 940; Lowenstein v. McCadden, 92 Tenn. 614, 22 S. W. 426; Ward v. Wilms, 16 Colo. 86, 27 Pac. 247.
We are of opinion that as the declarations of Hansen to Sodergren were not, in any view of the case, competent evidence against Sparf, the court, upon objection being made by counsel representing both defendants, should have excluded them as evidence against him, and admitted them against Hansen. The fact that the objection was made in the name of both defendants did not justify the court in overruling it as to both, when the evidence was obviously incompetent, and could not have been made competent against Sparf, and was obviously competent against Hansen. It was not necessary that counsel should have made the objection on behalf of one defendant, and then formally repeated it, in the same words, for the other defendant. If Sparf had been tried alone, a general objection in his behalf, on the ground of incompetency, would have been sufficiently definite. Surely, such an objection coming from Sparf when tried with another ought not to be deemed ineffectual because of the circumstance that his counsel, who, by order of the court, represented also his codefendant, incautiously spoke in the name of both defendants. Each was entitled to make his own defense, and the jury could have found one of them guilty, and acquitted the other. Insurance Co. v. Hillmon, 145 U.S. 285, 293, 12 S. Sup. Ct. 909. See, also, Com. v. Robinson, 1 Gray, 555, 560.
For the error of the court in not sustaining the objection referred to so far as it related to Sparf, the judgment must be reversed as to him. If he were the only defendant, we might withhold any expression of opinion upon other questions raised by the assignments of error. But as some of those questions are important, and may arise upon another trial of Sparf, and especially as they must be now determined with reference to Hansen, we proceed to their examination.
2. One of the specifications of error relates to the refusal of the court to give certain instructions asked by the defendants, and to parts of the charge to the jury.
The defendants asked the court to instruct the jury as follows:
- 'In all criminal causes the defendant may be found guilty of any offense the commission of which is necessarily included in that with which he is charged in the indictment, or the defendant may be found guilty of an attempt to commit the offense so charged, provided that such attempt be itself a separate offense.' 'Under an indictment charging murder, the defendant may be convicted of murder, of manslaughter, or an attempt to commit either murder or manslaughter.' 'Under the indictment in this case, the defendants may be convicted of murder, or manslaughter, or of an attempt to commit murder or manslaughter; and if, after a full and careful consideration of all the evidence before you, you believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendants are guilty either of manslaughter, or of an assault with intent to commit murder or manslaughter, you should so find your verdict.' These instructions were refused, and the defendants excepted.
In its charge to the jury, the court, among other things, said: 'What, then, is murder? There are only two kinds of felonious homicide known to the laws of the United States. One is murder, and the other is manslaughter. There are no degrees of murder.' 'There is no definition of 'murder' by any United States statute. We resort to the common law for that. By the common law, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being in the peace of the state, with malice aforethought, either express or implied. Malice, then, is an element in the offense, and discriminates it from the other crime of felonious homicide which I have mentioned, to wit, manslaughter; that is, malice, express or implied, discriminates murder from the offense of manslaughter.' 'Express malice exists when one, by deliberate premeditation and design, formed in advance, to kill or to do bodily harm, the premeditation and design being implied from external circumstances capable of proof, such as lying in wait, antecedent threats, and concerted schemes against a victim. Implied malice is an inference of the law from any deliberate and cruel act committed by one person against another. The two kinds of malice, therefore, to repeat, indicate but one state of mind, established in different ways, — the one by circumstances showing premeditation of the homicide, the other by an inference of the law from the act committed; that is, malice is inferred when one kills another without provocation, or when the provocation is not great. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice, either expressed or implied. I do not consider it necessary, gentlemen, to explain it further, for if a felonious homicide has been committed, of which you are to be the judges from the proof, there is nothing in this case to reduce it below the grade of murder. In other words, it may be in the power of the jury, under the indictment by which these defendants are accused and tried, of finding them guilty of a less crime than murder, to wit, manslaughter, or an attempt to commit murder; yet, as I have said in this case, if a felonious homicide has been committed at all, of which I repeat you are the judges, there is nothing to reduce it below the grade of murder.'
The court further said to the jury:
- 'You are the exclusive judges of the credibility of the witnesses, and, in judging of their credibility, you have a right to take into consideration their prejudices, motives, or feelings of revenge, if any such have been proven or shown by the evidence in the case. If you believe from the evidence that any witness or witnesses have knowingly and willfully testified falsely as to any material fact or point, you are at liberty to disregard entirely the testimony of such witness or witnesses.' 'Gentlemen, I have given you these instructions as carefully as I could, avoiding all references to the testimony; but I do not wish to be misunderstood, and out of abundant caution I say further to you, in giving you these instructions, I may be accident have assumed facts to be proven. If so, you must disregard the assumption. It is not my purpose, nor is it my function, to assume any fact to be proven, nor to suggest to you that any fact has been proven. You are the exclusive judges of the fact. No matter what assumption may appear during the course of the trial in any ruling of mine, or what may appear in any one of these instructions, you are to take this case and consider it, and remember you are the tribunal to which the law has referred the case, and whose judgment the law wants on the case.'
After the jury had been in consultation for a time, they returned into court for further instructions. The colloquy between the court and the jurors is set forth at large in the margin. 1 The requests for instruction made by the defendants were based upon section 1035 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, providing that 'in all criminal causes the defendant may be found guilty of any offence the commission of which is necessarily included in that with which he is charged in indictment, or may be found guilty of an attempt to commit the offence so charged: provided, that such attempt be itself a separate offence.'
The refusal to grant the defendants' requests for instructions, taken in connection with so much of the charge as referred to the crime of manslaughter, and the observations of the court when the jury, through their foreman, applied for further instructions, present the question whether the court transcended its authority when saying, as in effect it did, that, in view of the evidence, the only verdict the jury could under the law properly render would be either one of guilty of the offense charged, or one of not guilty of the offense charged; that if a felonious homicide had been committed by either of the defendants, of which the jury were the judges from the proof, there was nothing in this case to reduce it below the grade of murder; and that,'as one of the tribunals of the country, a jury is expected to be governed by law, and the law it should receive from the court.'
The court below assumed, and correctly, that section 1035 of the Revised Statutes did not authorize a jury in a criminal case to find the defendant guilty of a less offense than the one charged, unless the evidence justified them in so doing. Congress did not intend to invest juries in criminal cases with power arbitrarily to disregard the evidence and the principles of law applicable to the case on trial. The only object of that section was to enable the jury, in case the defendant was not shown to be guilty of the particular crime charged, and if they evidence permitted them to do so, to find him guilty of a lesser offense necessarily included in the one charged, or of the offense of attempting to commit the one charged. Upon a careful scrutiny of the evidence, we cannot find any ground whatever upon which the jury could properly have reached the conclusion that the defendant Hanson was only guilty of an offense included in the one charged, or of a mere attempt to commit the offense charged. A verdict of guilty of an offense less than the one charged would have been in flagrant disregard of all the proof, and in violation by the jury of their obligation to render a true verdict. There was an entire absence of evidence upon which to rest a verdict of guilty of manslaughter or of simple assault. A verdict of that kind would have been the exercise by the jury of the power to commute the punishment for an offense actually committed, and thus impose a punishment different from that prescribed by law.
The general question as to the duty of the jury to receive the law from the court is not concluded by any direct decision of this court. But it has been often considered by other courts and by judges of high authority; and, where its determination has not been controlled by specific constitutional or statutory provisions expressly empowering the jury to determine both law and facts, the principle by which courts and juries are to be guided in the exercise of their respective functions has become firmly established. If this be true, this court should not announce a different rule, unless impelled to do so by reasons so cogent and controlling that they cannot properly be overlooked or disregarded. Some of the members of this court, after much consideration, and upon an extended review of the authorities, are of opinion that the conclusion reached by this court is erroneous, both upon principle and authority. For this reason, and because the question is of great importance in the administration of justice, and also involves human life, we deem it appropriate to state with more fullness than under other circumstances would be necessary the grounds upon which our judgment will rest, looking first to cases determined in the courts of the United States.
In State v. Brailsford, 3 Dall. 1, 4, a case in f the court, to decide. But it must be amicable issue, Chief Justice Jay is reported to have said: 'It may not be amiss here, gentlemen, to remind you of the good old rule that on questions of fact it is the province of the jury, on questions of law it is the province of the court, to decide. But it must be observed that, by the same law which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction, you have, nevertheless, a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy. On this, and on every other, occasion, however, we have no doubt you will pay that respect which is due to the opinion of the court; for, as on the one hand, it is presumed that juries are best judges of facts, it is, on the other hand, presumable that the courts are the best judges of the law. But still both objects are lawfully within your power of decision.' Of the correctness of this report, Mr. Justice Curtis in U. S. v. Morris, 1 Curt. 23, 58, Fed. Cas. No. 15, 815, expressed much doubt, for the reason that the chief justice is reported as saying that, in civil cases, — and that was a civil case, — the jury had the right to decide the law, and because, also, the different parts of the charge conflict with each other; the chief justice, according to the report, saying at the outset that it is the province of the jury to decide questions of fact, and of the court to decide questions of law, and in the succeeding sentence informing the jury that they had the right to take upon themselves the determination of both law and fact. If the chief justice said that it was the province of the court to decide questions of law, and the province of the jury to decide questions of fact, he could not have said that the jury had the right, in a civil case, to judge of and determine both law and fact. 'The whole case,' Mr. Justice Curtis said,'was an anomaly. It purports to be a trial by jury in the supreme court of the United States of certain issues out of chancery; and the chief justice begins by telling the jury that the facts are all agreed, and the only question is a matter of law, and upon that the whole court were agreed. If it be correctly reported, I can only say it is not in accordance with the views of any other court, so far as I know, in this country or in England, and is certainly not in accordance with the course of the supreme court for many years.'
Certain observations of Chief Justice Marshall in the course of the trial of Burr have sometimes been referred to in support of the contention that the jury in a criminal case are under no legal obligation to accept the law as laid down by the court. But nothing said by him at that trial was inconsistent with the views expressed by eminent jurists in cases to be presently cited. In the course of an opinion relating merely to the order of evidence, the chief justice said: 'Levying of war is a fact which must be decided by the jury. The court may give general instructions on this as on every other question brought before them, but the jury must decide upon it as compounded of fact and law.' 1 Burr's Trial, 470. This language is supposed to justify the contention that the jury in a criminal case are entitled, of right, to determine questions of pure law adversely to the direction of the court. But that no such thought was in the mind of the chief justice is manifest from his written charge to the jury at a subsequent stage of the trial, — the accuracy of the report of which has never been disputed, — in which he discussed, in the light of the authorities, the question as to what constituted treason.
In the course of that charge he indicated quite distinctly his view of the respective functions of court and jury. 'It has been thought proper,' he said, 'to discuss this question at large, and to review the opinion of the supreme court [Ex parte Bollman, 4 Cranch, 75], although this court would be more disposed to leave the question of fact whether an overt act of levying war were committed on Blennerhassett's island to the jury under this explanation of the law, and to instruct them that, unless the assemblage on Blennerhassett's island was an assemblage in force, — was a military assemblage in a condiction to make war, — it was not levying war, and that they could not construe it into an act of war, than to arrest the further testimony which might be offered to connect the prisoner with that assemblage, or to prove the intention of those who assembled together at that place. This point, however, is not to be understood as decided. It will, perhaps, constitute an essential inquiry in another case.' This language is wholly inconsistent with the theory that the chief justice recognized the right of the jury to disregard the court's view of the law upon any question arising in the case before them. It was consistent only with the theory that the court could speak authoritatively as to the law, while the function of the jury was to respond as to the facts. Again: 'It is the further opinion of the court that there is no testimony whatever which tends to prove that the accused was actually or constructively present when that assemblage did take place; indeed, the contrary is most apparent.' 'The opinion of this court on the order of testimony has frequently been adverted to as deciding this question against the motion. If a contradiction between the two opinions exist, the court cannot perceive it. It was said that levying war is an act compounded of law and fact, of which the jury, aided by the court, must judge. To that declaration the court still adheres.' He concluded his memorable charge in these words: 'The jury have now heard the opinion of the court on the law of the case. They will apply that law to the facts, and will find a verdict of guilty or not guilty as their own consciences may direct.' Again, according to the only recognized report of that trial ever published, the chief justice, in response to certain inquiries of counsel made after the jury returned their verdict, said: 'Without doubt the court intended to deliver merely a legal opinion as to what acts amounted in law to an overt act of levying war, and not whether such an overt act has or has not been proved. It merely stated the law, to which the jury would apply the facts proved. It is their province to say whether according to this statement and the evidence an overt act has been proved or not.' 2 Burr's Trial, 401, 422, 439, 444, 448. The language of the chief justice plainly imports that, while the jury must of necessity often pass upon a question 'compounded of fact and law,' their duty, when considering the evidence, was to apply the law, as given by the court, to the facts proved; and, thus applying the law, return a verdict of guilty or not guilty as their consciences might direct. If he had believed that the jury were entitled, of right, whatever might be the views of the court, to determine for themselves the law of the case, it is impossible that he could have said that 'they will apply that law [the law as he declared it to be] to the facts.' On the contrary, he observed that the province of the jury was to determine whether the accused was guilty or not guilty, according to his statement of the law as applied to the evidence. Of course, this court has no means of determining what were the views of Chief Justice Marshall, except by referring to such authorized publications as show what he said while discharging judicial functions. In none of his opinions delivered at the circuit court and published can there be found anything at all in conflict with his declarations at the trial of Burr. And it may be observed that the circumstances attending that trial were such as to induce him to weigh every word embodied in his elaborate written charge to the jury. That he understood the gravity of the occasion, so far as it related to the conduct of the trial, is manifest from his referring in the following language to certain considerations that had been advanced in argument: 'That this court dare not usurp power is most true. That this court dare not shrink from its duty is not less true. No man is desirous of placing himself in a disagreeable situation. No man is desirous of becoming the peculiar subject of calumny. No man, might he let the bitter cup pass from him without self-reproach, would drain it to the bottom. But if he have no choice in the case, if there be no alternative presented to him but a dereliction of duty or the opprobrium of those who are denominated the 'world,' he merits the contempt as well as the indignation of his country who can hesitate which to embrace. That gentlemen, in a case the most interesting, in the zeal with which they advocate particular opinions, and under the conviction in some measure produeed by that zeal, should on each side press their arguments too far, should be impatient at any deliberation in the court, and should suspect of fear the operation of motives to which alone they can ascribe that deliberation, is perhaps a frailty incident to human nature; but, if any conduct on the part of the court could warrant a sentiment that it would deviate to the one side or the other from the line prescribed by duty and by law, that conduct would be viewed by the judges themselves with an eye of extreme severity, and would long be recollected with deep and serious regret.'
In Henfield's Case, Fed. Cas. No. 6, 360, Mr. Justice Wilson, with whom sat Mr. Justice Iredell, stated that the jury, in a general verdict, must decide both law and fact, but that 'this did not authorize them to decide it as they pleased,' and that,'the questions of law coming into joint consideration with the facts, it is the duty of the court to explain the law to the jury, and give it to them in direction.' Whart. St. Tr. 84, 87, 88. This statement of the principle is sometimes referred to in support of the proposition that the jury is not under a legal duty to accept the law as declared by the court in a criminal case. We think it tends to show that it is the province and duty of the jury to apply to the facts of the case the law as given to them by the court 'in direction.'
There is nothing in conflict with this in the Lectures on Law delivered by Mr. Justice Wilson. In one of those lectures, referring to the duties of jurors in criminal cases, he said: 'On questions of law, his [ the juror's] deficiencies will be supplied by the professional directions of the judges, whose duty and whose business it is professionally to direct him; for, as we have seen, verdicts, in criminal cases generally determine the question of law as well as the question of fact. Questions of fact it is his exclusive province to determine. With the consideration of evidence unconnected with the question which he is to try, his attention will not be distracted; for everything of that nature, we presume, will be excluded by the court. The collected powers of his mind, therefore, will be fixed, steadily and without interruption, upon the issue he is sworn to try. This issue is an issue of fact.' 2 Wilson, Works, 386. Other observations found in these lectures, if considered alone, are not so explicit upon the question of the respective functions of court and jury; but, taken in connection with all that he said, it is reasonably clear that when Mr. Justice Wilson spoke of the determination by a jury, in a criminal case, of both law and fact, he meant, only that a general verdict of guilty or not guilty, of necessity, decided every question before them which involved a joint consideration of law and fact, not that the jury could ignore the directions of the court, and take the law into their own hands.
The observations of Mr. Justice Samuel Chase in the Case of Fries, Fed. Cas. No. 5, 126, tried for treason, 1800, are supposed to sustain the broad proposition that the jury may, of right, disregard the law as expounded by the court. He undoubtedly did say that while it was the duty of the court, in all criminal cases, to state the law arising on the facts, the jury were to decide 'both the law and facts, on their consideration of the whole case.' Chase, Trial, Append. 45. But on the trial, in the same year, in the circuit court of the United States for the Virginia district, of James Thompson Callender for seditious libel, he was appalled at the suggestion by learned counsel that the jury were entitled, of right, to determine the constitutional validity of the act of congress under which the accused was indicted. Mr. Wirt, counsel for the defendant, said: 'Since, then, the jury have a right to consider the law, and since the constitution is law, the conclusion is certainly syllogistic that the jury have a right to consider the constitution.' But Mr. Justice Chase declined to accept this view. He said: 'The statute on which the traverser is indicted enacts 'that the jury who shall try the cause shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.' By this provision I understand that a right is given to the jury to determine what the law is in the case before them, and not to decide whether a statute of the United States produced to them is a law or not, or whether it is void, under an opinion that it is unconstitutional; that is, contrary to the constitution of the United States. I admit that the jury are to compare the statute with the facts proved, and then to decide whether the acts done are prohibited by the law, and whether they amount to the offense described in the indictment. This power the jury necessarily possesses, in order to enable them to decide on the guilt or innocence of the person accused. It is one thing to decide what the law is on the facts proved, and another and a very different thing to determine that the statute produced is no law. To decide what the law is on the facts is an admission that the law exists. If there be no law in the case, there can be no comparison between it and the facts; and it is unnecessary to establish facts before it is ascertained that there is a law to punish the commission of them.' 'It was never pretended,' he bontinued,'as I ever heard, before this time, that a petit jury in England (from whence our common law is derived), or in any part of the United States, ever exercised such power. If a petit jury can rightfully exercise this power over one statute of congress, they must have an equal right and power over any other statute, and indeed over all the statutes; for no line can be drawn, no restriction imposed, on the exercise of such power; it must rest in discretion only. If this power be once admitted, petit jurors will be superior to the national legislature, and its laws will be subject to their control. The power to abrogate or to make laws nugatory is equal to the authority of making them. The evident consequences of this right in juries will be that a law of congress will be in operation in one state, and not in another. A law to impose taxes will be obeyed in one state, and not in another, unless force be employed to compel submission. The doing of certain acts will be held crim inal, and punished in one state, and similar acts may be held innocent, and even approved and applauded, in another. The effects of the exercise of this power by petit jurors may be readily conceived. It appears to me that the right now claimed has a direct tendency to dissolve the union of the United States, on which, under divine Providence, our political safety, happiness, and prosperity depend.' He concluded his opinion in these words: 'I consider it of the greatest consequence to the administration of justice that the powers of the court and the powers of the petit jury should be kept distinct and separate. I have uniformly delivered the opinion 'that the petit jury have a right to decide the law as well as the fact in criminal cases'; but it never entered into my mind that they, therefore, had a right to determine the constitutionality of any statute of the United States.' Whart. St. Tr. 713, 714, 718.
What Mr. Justice Chase said is quite sufficient to show the mischievous consequences that would flow from the doctrine that the jury may, of right, disregard the directions of the court, and determine the law for themselves; for if, as is contended, the jury in criminal cases are not bound to take the law from the court, it is impossible to deny their absolute right in a case depending entirely upon an act of congress, or a statute of a state, to determine, upon their own responsibility, whether that act or statute is or is not law; that is, whether it is or is not in violation of the constitution.
Mr. Justice Thompson, who became a member of this court in 1823, concurred in the opinion delivered by Kent, J., in People v. Croswell(1804) 3 Johns. Cas. 337, 362, where the court was equally divided, Chief Justice Lewis and Judge Brockholst Livingston, afterwards a justice of this court, holding that to questions of law the court, to questions of fact the jury, must respond. But in his opinion in Pierce v. State, 13 N. H. 356, 564, Chief Justice Parker, referring to Judge Kent's opinion in People v. Croswell, said: 'Mr. Justice Thompson, who concurred in that opinion, must have understood that concurrence to be merely in the opints necessary to the decision of that cause, or have subsequently changed his views; for I have his authority for saying that he has repeatedly ruled that the jury are not judges or the law in criminal cases.' And in the dissenting opinion of Judge Bennett in State v. Croteau, 23 Vt. 14, 63 (where it was held that the jury, in criminal cases, could rightfully decide questions of both law and fact, but which case has been overruled, 65 Vt. 1, 34, 25 Atl. 964), it was said: 'Judge Thompson, whose judicial learning and experience, while on the bench of the supreme court of New York, and on the bench of the United States, were very extensive, thus wrote to a friend some short time before his death: 'I have repeatedly ruled on the trial of criminal cases that it was the right as well as the duty of the court to decide questions of law; and any other rule, it appears to me, would be at war with our whole judicial system, and introduce the utmost confusion in criminal trials. It is true, the jury may disregard the instructions of the court, and in some cases there may be no remedy. But it is still the right of the court to instruct the jury on the law, and the duty of the jury to obey the instructions." See, also, Whart, Cr. Pl. 810, note 3.
The remarks of Mr. Justice Baldwin in U. S. v. Wilson and Porter, Baldw. 78, 100, 108, Fed. Cas. No. 16, 730, have sometimes been referred to as in conflict with the rule that it is the duty of the jury to accept the law as expounded by the court. It is quite true that, in the charge in Wilson's Case, Mr. Justice Baldwin said that, if the jury were prepared to say that the law was different from what the court had announced, they were in the exercise of their constitutional right to do so. But in his charge in Porter's Case he explained what was said in Wilson's Case. After remarking that, if a jury find a prisoner guilty against the court's opinion of the law of the case, a new trial would be granted, as no court would pronounce a judgment on a prisoner against what it believes to be the law, he said: 'This, then, you will understand to be what is meant by your power to determine upon the law; but you will still bear in mind that it is a very old, sound, and valuable maxim that the court answers to questions of law, and the jury to facts. Every day's experience evinces the wisdom of this fule.' Subsequently, in U. S. v. Shive, Baldw. 510, 513, Fed. Cas. No. 16, 278, which was an indictment for passing a counterfeit note of the Bank of the United States, and when the question arose as to the right of the jury to pass upon the constitutionality of the act of congress on which the prosecution was founded, Mr. Justice Baldwin said in his charge: 'If juries once exercise this power, we are without a constitution or laws; one jury has the same power as another; you cannot bind those who may take your places; what you declare constitutional to-day another jury may declare unconstitutional to-morrow.'
The question before us received full consideration by Mr. Justice Story in U. S. v. Battiste, 2, Sumn. 240, 243, 244, Fed. Cas. No. 14, 545. That was an indictment for a capital offence, and the question was directly presented whether in criminal cases, especially in capital cases, the jury were the judges of the law as well as of the facts. He said: 'My opinion is that the jury are no more judges of the law in a capital or other criminal case, upon the plea of not guilty, than they are in every civil case tried upon the general issue. In each of these cases, their verdict, when general, is necessarilty compounded of law and of fact, and includes both. In each they must necessarily determine the law as well as the fact. In each they have the physical power to disregard rthe law, as laid down to them by the court. But I deny that, in any case, civil or criminal, they have the moral right to decide the law according to their own notions or pleasure. On the contrary, I hold it the most sacred constitutional right of every party accused of a crime that the jury should respond as to the facts, and the court as to the law. It is the duty of the court to instruct the jury as to the law, and it is the duty of the jury to follow the law as it is laid down by the court. This is the right of every citizen, and it is his only protection. If the jury were at liberty to settle the law for themselves, the effect would be, not only that the law itself would be most uncertain, from the different views which different juries might take of it, but in case of error there would be no remedy or redress by the injured party; for the court would not have any right to review the law as it had been settled by the jury.' 'Every person accused as a criminal has a right to be tried according to the law of the land, — the fixed law of the land, and not by the law as a jury may understand it, or choose, from wantonness or ignorance of accidental mistake, to interpret it. If I thoutht that the jury were the proper judges of the law in criminal cases, I should hold it may duty to abstain from the responsibility of stating the law to them upon any such trial. But believing, as I do, that every citizen has a right to be tried by the law, and according to the law; that it is his privilege and truest shield against oppression and wrong, — I feel it my duty to state my views fully and openly on the present occasion.'
In U. S. v. Morris, 1 Curt. 23, 51, 52, 58, Fed. Cas. No. 15, 815, the question, in all of its aspects, was examined by Mr. Justice Curtis with his accustomed care. In that case the contention was that every jury, impaneled in a court of the United States, was the rightful judge of the existence, construction, and effect of every law that was material in a criminal case, and could, of right, and if it did its duty must, decide finally on the constitutional validity of any act of congress which the trial brought in question. Touching the rightful powers and duties of the court and the jury under the constitution in criminal cases, Mr. Justice Curtis, among other things, said: 'The sixth article, after declaring that the constitution, laws, treaties of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land, proceeds, 'And the judges, in every state, shall be bound thereby.' But was it not intended that the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States should be the supreme law in criminal as well as in civil case? If a state law should make it penal for an officer of the United States to do what an act of congress commands him to do, was not the latter to be supreme over the former? And if so, and in such cases juries finally and rightfully determine the law, and the constitution so means when it speaks of a trial by jury, why was this command laid on the judges alone, who are thus mere advisers of the jury, and may be bound to give sound advice, but have no real power in the matter? It was evidently the intention of the constitution that all persons engaged in making, expounding, and executing the laws, not only under the authority of the United States, but of the several states, should be bound by oath or affirmation to support the constitution of the United States. But no such oath or affirmation is required of jurors, to whom it is alleged the constitution confides the power of expounding that instrument, and not only construing, but holding invalid, any law which may come in question on a criminal trial.' 'In my opinion,' the learned justice proceeded,'it is the duty of the court to decide every question of law which arises in a criminal trial. If the question touches any matter affecting the course of the trial, such as the competency of a witness, the admissibility of evidence, and the like, the jury receive no direction concerning it. It affects the materials out of which they are to form their verdict, but they have no more concern with it than they would have had if the question had arisen in some other trial. If the question of law enters into the issue, and forms part of it, the jury are to be told that the law is, and they are bound to consider that they are told truly; that law they apply to the facts, as they find them, and thus, passing both on the law and the fact, they, from both, frame their general verdict of guilty or not guilty. Such is my view of the respective duties of the different parts of this tribunal in the trial of criminal case, and I have not found a single decision of any court in England, prior to the formation of the constitution, which conflicts with it.'
It was also contended that the clause in the act of congress, known as the Sedition Law of 1798 (1 Stat. c. 74, 3), declaring that 'the jury who shall try the cause shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases,' in the trial of criminal cases, and I have decide the law contraery to the direction of the court. But in response to this view Mr. Justice Curtis said: 'I draw from this the opposite inference; for where was the necessity of this provision, if, by force of the constitution, juries, as such, have both the power and the right to determine all questions in criminal cases; and why are they to be directed by the court?' See, also, Montgomery v. State, 11 Ohio, 427.
But Mr. Justice Curtis considered the question from another point of view, and gave reasons which appear to us entirely conclusive against the proposition that it is for the jury, in every criminal case, to say authoritatively what is the law by which they are to be governed in finding their verdict. He said: 'There is, however, another act of congress which bears directly on this question. The act of the 29th of April, 1802, in section 6, after enacting that, in case of a division of opinion between the judges of the circuit court on any question, such question may be certified to the supreme court, proceeds: 'And shall by the said court be finally decided; and the decision of the supreme court and their order in the premises shall be remitted to the circuit court, and be there entered of record and have effect according to the nature of such judgment and order.' The residue of this section proves that criminal as well as civil cases are embraced in it, and under it many questions arising in criminal cases have been certified to and decided by the supreme court, and persons have been executed by reason of such decisions. Now, can it be, after a question arising in a criminal trial has been certified to the supreme court, and there, in the language of this act, finally decided, and their order remitted here and entered of record, that when the trial comes on the jury may rightfully revise and reverse this final decision? Suppose, in the course of this trial, the judges had divided in opinion upon the question of the constitutionality of the act of 1850, and that, after a final decision thereon by the supreme court and the receipt of its mandate here, the trial should come on before a jury, does the constitution of the United Ststes, which established that supreme court, intend that a jury may, as matter of right, revise and reverse that decision? And, if not, what becomes of this supposed right? Are the decisions of the supreme court binding on juries, and not the decisions of inferior courts? This will hardly be pretended; and if it were, how is it to be determined whether the supreme court has or has not, in some former case, in effect settled a particular question of law? In my judgment, this act of congress is in accordance with the constitution, and designed to effect one of its important and even necessary objects, — a uniform exposition and interpretation of the law of the United States, — by providing means for a final decision of any question of law, — final as respects every tribunal and every part of any tribunal in the country; and, if so, it is not only wholly inconsistent with the alleged power of juries, to the extent of all questions so decided, but it tends strongly to prove that no such right as is claimed does or can exist.'
Again: 'Considering the intense interest excited, the talent and learning employed, and consequently the careful researches made, in England, near the close of the last century, when the law of libel was under discussion in the courts and in parliament, it cannot be doubted that, if any decision, having the least weight, could have been produced in support of the general proposition that juries are judges of the law in criminal cases, it would then have been brought forward. I am not aware that any such was produced. And the decision of the king's bench in Rex v. Dean of St. Asaph, 3 Term R. 428, note, and the answers of the twelve judges to the questions propounded by the house of lords, assume, as a necessary postulate, what Lord Mansfield so clearly declares in terms, that, by the law of England, juries cannot rightfully decide a question of law. Passing over what was said by ardent partisans and eloquent counsel, it will be found that the great contest concerning what is known as 'Mr. Fox's Libel Bill' was carried on upon quite a different ground by its leading friends, — a ground which, while it admits that the jury are not to decide the law, denies that the libelous intent is matter of law, and asserts that it is so mixed with the fact that, under the general issue, it is for the jury to find it as a fact. 34 Ann. Reg. 170; 29 Parl. Deb. Such I understand to be the effect of that famous declaratory law. 32 Geo. III. c. 60.... I conclude, then, that, when the constitution of the United States was founded, it was a settled rule of the common law that, in criminal as well as in civil cases, the court decided the law, and the jury the facts; and it cannot be doubted that this must have an important effect in determining what is meant by the constitution when it adopts a trial by jury.'
That eminent jurist, whose retirement from judicial station has never cased to be a matter of deep regret to the bench and bar of this country, closed his great opinion with an expression of a firm conviction that, under the constitution of the United States, juries in criminal cases have not the right to decide any question of law, and that, in rendering a general verdict, their duty and their oath require them to apply to the facts, as the find them, the law given to them by the court. And in so declaring he substantially repeated what Chief Justice Marshall had said in Burr's Case.
In U. S. v. Greathouse, 4 Sawy. 457, 464, Fed. Cas. No. 15, 254, which was an indictment for trason, Mr. Justice Field said: 'There prevails a very general, but an erroneous, opinion that in all criminal cases the jury are the judges as well of the law as of the fact; that is, that they have the right to disregard the law as laid down by the court, and to follow their own notions on the subject. Such is not the right of the jury.' 'It is their duty to take the law from the court, and apply it to the facts of the case. It is the province of the court, and of the court alone, to determine all questions of law arising in the progress of a trial; and it is the province of the jury to pass upon the evidence, and determine all contested questions of fact. The responsibility of deciding correctly as to the law rests solely with the court, and the responsibility of finding correctly the facts rests solely with the jury.'
These principles were applied by Judge Shipman in U. S. v. Riley, 5 Blatchf. 204, Fed. Cas. No. 16.164, and by Judge Cranch, upon an extended review of the authorities, in Stettinius v. U. S., 5 Cranch, C. C. 573, Fed. Cas. No. 13, 387. They were also applied by Judge Jackson, in the district of West Virginia, in U. S. v. Keller, 19 Fed. 633, in which case it was said that although an acquittal in a criminal case was final, even if the jury arbitrarily disregarded the instructions of the court on the law of the case, a jury, in order to discharge its whole duty, must take the law from the court and apply it to the facts of the case.
Turning, now, to cases in the state courts, we find that in Com. v. Porter, 10 Metc. 263, 276, the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, speaking by Chief Justice Shaw, delivering the unanimous judgment of the court composed of himself and Justices Wilde, Dewey, and Hubbard, held that it was a well-settled principle, lying at the foundation of jury trials, admitted and recognized over since jury trial had been adopted as an established and settled mode of proceeding in courts of justice, that it was the proper province and duty of judges to consider and decide all questions of law, and the proper province and duty of the jury to decide all questions of fact. In the same case, the court, observing that the safety, efficiency, and purity of jury trial depend upon the steady maintenanceand practical application of this principle, and adverting to the fact that a jury, in rendering a general verdict, must necessarily pass upon the whole issue, compounded of the law and of the fact, and thus incidentally pass on questions of law, said: 'It is the duty of the court to instruct the jury on all questions of law which appear to arise in the cause, and also upon all questions, pertinent to the issue, upon which either party may request the direction of the court upon matters of law. And it is the duty of the jury to receive the law from the court, and to conform their judgment and decision to such instructions, as far as they understand them, in applying the law to the facts to be found by them; and it is not within the legitimate province of the jury to revise, reconsider, or decide contrary to such opinion or direction of the court in matter of law.' Page 286.
Perhaps the fullest examination of the question upon principle, as well as upon authority, to be found in the decisions of any state court, was made in Com. v. Anthes, 5 Gray, 185, 193, 206, 208, 218, where Chief Justice Shaw, speaking for a majority of the court, said that the true theory and fundamental principle of the common law, both in its civil and criminal departments, was that the judges should adjudicate finally upon the whole question of law, and the jury upon the whole question of fact.
Considering, in the light of the authorities, the grounds upon which a verdict of guilty or not guilty, in a criminal case, was held, at common law, to be conclusive, he observed that though the jury had the power they had not the right to decide, that is, to adjudicate, on both law and evidence. He said: 'The result of these several rules and principles is that, in practice, the verdict of a jury, both upon the law and the fact, is conclusive; because, from the nature of the proceeding, there is no judicial power by which the conclusion of law thus brought upon the record by that verdict can be reversed, set aside, or inquired into. A general verdict, either of conviction or acquittal, does embody had declare the result of both the law and the fact, and there is no mode of separating them on the record so as to ascertain whether the jury passed their judgment on the law, or only on the evidence. The law authorized them to adjudicate definitively on the evidence; the law presumes that they acted upon correct rules of law given then by the judge. The verdict, therefore, stands conclusive and unquestionable, in point both of law and fact. In a certain limited sense, therefore, it may be said that the jury have a power and legal right to pass upon both the law and the fact. And this is sufficient to account for many and most of the dicta in which the proposition is stated. But it would be more accurate to state that it is the right of the jury to return a general verdict; this draws after it, as a necessary consequence, that they incidentally pass upon the law. But here, again, is the question, what is intended by 'passing upon the law'? I think it is by embracing it in their verdict, and thus bringing it upon the record, with their finding of the facts. But does it follow that they may rightfully and by authority of the common law, by which all are conscientiously bound to goven their conduct, proceed upon the same grounds and principles in the one case as the other? What the jury have a right to do, and what are the grounds and principles upon which they are in duty and conscience bound to act and govern themselves in the exercise of that right, are two very distinct questions. The latter is the one we have do deal with. Suppose they have a right to find a general verdict, and by that verdict to conclude the prosecutor in the matter of law, still it is an open and very different question whether, in making up that verdict and thereby embracing the law, they have the same right to exercise their own reason and judgment, against the statement of the law by the judge, to adjudicate on the law, as unquestionably they have on the fact. The affirmative of this proposition is maintained by the defendant in this case, and by others in many of the cases before us. If I am right in the assumption that the judge is to adjudge the law, and the jury the fact, only, it furnishes the answer to this question to what extent the jury adjudicate the law; and it is that they receive authoritative directions from the court, and act in conformity with them, though by their verdict they thus embrace the law with the fact, which they may rightfully adjudicate.'
Alluding to the history of this question in England, and particularly, as did Mr. Justice Curtis, to the controversy in Rex v. Dean of St. Asaph, 3 Term R. 428, note, and which resulted in the passage by parliament, after the separation of this country from Great Britain, of the libel act (St. 32 Geo. III.), and observing that both parties to that controversy assumed the force and existence of the rule as the ancient rule of the common law, the court said: 'The court and high prerogative party say judges answer to the law, and jurors to the fact; the question of guilty or not, in the peculiar form of a criminal prosecution for libel, after the jury have found the fact of publication and truth of the innuendoes, is a question of law, and therefore must be declared exclusively by the court. The popular party, assuming the same major proposition, say the question of guilty or not is question of fact, and can be found only by the jury. It appears to me, therefore, as I stated on the outset, that considering the course of the controversy, the earnestness and ability with which every point was contested, and the thorough examination of the ancient authorities, this concurrence of views on the point in question affords strong proof that, up to the period of our separation from England, the fundamental definition of trials by jury depended on the universal maxim, without an exception,'Ad quaestionem facti respondent juratores, ad quaestionem juris respondent judices."
The Anthes Case, it may be observed, arose under a statute enacted in 1855, after the decision in the Porter Case. But the court held that that statute did not confer upon juries, in criminal trials, the power of determining questions of law against the instruction of the court. And the chief justice said — Justices Metcalf and Merrick concurring — that, if the statute could be so interpreted as to prescribe that the jury, consistently with their duty, may decide the law upon their judgment contrary to the decision and instruction of the court before whom the trial was had, such enactment would be beyond the scope of legitimate legislative power, repugnant to the constitution, and, of course, inoperative and void. See, also, Com. v. Rock, 10 Gray, 4, where the doctrine announced in Com. v. Anthes were reaffirmed, no one of the members of the court expressing a dissent.
This question was also fully considered in Montee v. Com., 3 J. J. March. 132, 149, 151, in which case Chief Justice Robertson said: 'The circuit judge would be a cipher, and a criminal trial before him a farce, if he had no right to decide all questions of law whihc might arise in the progress of the case. The jury are the exclusive judges of the facts. In this particular they cannot be controlled, and ought not to be instructed, by the court. They are also, ex necessitate, the ultimate judges, in one respect, of the law. If they acquit, the judge cannot grant a new trial, how much soever they have misconceived or disregarded the law.' 'If the court had no right to decide on the law, error, confusion, uncertainty, and licentiousness would characterize the criminal trials; and the safety of the accused might be as much endangered as the stability of public justice would certainly be.' In Pierce v. State, 13 N. H. 536, 554, it was held to be inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution that questions of law, and, still less, questions of constitutional law, should be decided by the verdict of the jury, contrary to the instructions of the court.
In Duffy v. People, 26 N. Y. 588, 591, Judge Selden, speaking for the court of appeals of New York, said: 'The unquestionable power of juries to find general verdicts, involving both law and fact, furnishes the foundation for the opinion that they are judges of the law as well as of the fact, and gives some plausibility to that opinion. They are not, however, compelled to decide legal questions; having the right to find special verdicts, giving the facts, and leaving the legal conclusions which result from such facts to the court. When they find general verdicts, I think it is their duty to be governed by the instructions of the court as to all legal questions involved in such verdicts. They have the power to do otherwise, but the exercise of such power cannot be regarded as rightful, although the law has provided no means, in criminal cases, of reviewing their decisions, whether of law of fact, or of ascertaining the grounds upon which their verdicts are based.' See, also, People v. Finnegan, 1 Parker, Cr. R. 147, 152; Safford v. People, Id. 474, 480.
So, in Hamilton v. People, 29 Mich. 173, 192, Mr. Justice Campbell, as the organ of the court, said: 'We understand the uniform practice and the decided weight of opinion to require that the judge give his views of the law to the jury as authority, and not as a matter to be submitted to their review.' And in People v. Anderson, 44 Cal. 65, 70: 'In this state it is so well settled as no longer to be open to debate that it is the duty of a jury, in a criminal case, to take the law from the court.' The principle was accurately stated by Chief Justice Ames, speaking for the supreme court of Rhode Island, when he said: 'The line between the duties of a court and jury in the trial of causes at law, both civil and criminal, is perfectly well defined; and the rigid observance of it is of the last importance to the administration of systematic justice. Whilst, on the one hand, the jury are the sole, ultimate judges of the facts, they are, on the other, to receive the law applicable to the case before them solely from the publicly given instructions of the court. In this way, court and jury are made responsible, each in its appropriate department, for the part taken by each in the trial and decision of causes; and in this way alone can errors of fact and errors of law be traced, for the purpose of correction, to their proper sources. If the jury can receive the law of a case on trial in any other mode than from the instructions of the court, given in the presence of parties and counsel, how are their errors of law, with any certainty, to be detected, and how, with any certainty, therefore, to be corrected? It is a statute right of parties here — following, too, the ancient course of the common law — to have the law given by the court, in their presence, to the jury, to guide their decision, in order that every error in matter of law may be known and corrected.' State v. Smith, 6 R. I. 33, 34.
In Pennsylvania, in the case of Com. v. Sherry (reported in the appendix to Wharton's treatise on Homicide), Judge Rogers, a jurist of high reputation, thus charged the jury in a capital case: 'You are, it is true, judges in a criminal case, in one sense, of both law and fact; for your verdict, as in civil cases, must pass on law and fact together. If you acquit, you interpose a final bar to a second prosecution, no matter how entirely your verdict may have been in opposition to the views expressed by the court.... It is important for you to keep this distinction in mind, remembering that, while you have the physical power, by an acquittal, to discharge a defendant from further prosecution, you have no moral power to do so, against the law laid down by the court.... For your part, your duty is to receive the law, for the purposes of this trial, from the court. If an error injurious to the prisoner occurs, it will be rectified by the revision of the court in banc. But an error resulting from either a conviction or acquittal, against the law, can never be rectified. In the first case, an unnecessary stigma is affixed to the character of a man who was not guilty of the offense with which he is charged. In the second case, a serious injury is effected by the arbitrary and irremediable discharge of a guilty man. You will see from these considerations the great importance of the preservation, in criminal as well as in civil cases, of the maxim that the law belongs to the court, and the facts to the jury.' About the same time, Judge Sergeant charged a jury: 'The point, if you believe the evidence on both sides, is one of law, on which it is your duty to receive the instructions of the court. If you believe the evidence in the whole case, you must find the defendant guilty.' Com. v. Van Sickle, Brightly (Pa.) 73. To the same effect, substantially, was the language of Chief Justice Gibson, who, when closing a charge in a capital case, said,'If the evidence on these points fail the prisoner, the conclusion of his guilt will be irresistible, and it will be your duty to draw it.' Com. v. Harman, 4 Pa. St. 269. In a more recent case (Kane v. Com., 89 Pa. St. 522), Sharswood, C. J., said that the power of the jury to judge of the law in a criminal case was one of the most valuable securities guarantied by the bill of rights of Pennsylvania. But in a later case, Nicholson v. Com., 96 Pa. St. 505, it was said: 'The court had an undoubted right to instruct the jury as to the law, and to warn them as they did against finding contrary to it. This is very different from telling them that they must find the defendant guilty, which is what is meant by a binding instruction in criminal cases.' In Com. v. McManus, 143 Pa. St. 64, 85, 21 Atl. 1018, and 22 Atl. 761, it was adjudged that the statement by the court was the best evidence of the law within the reach of the jury, and that the jury should be guided by what the court said as to the law. And this view the court, speaking by Chief Justice Paxson, said was in harmony with Kane v. Com.
The question has recently been examined by the supreme court of Vermont, and after an elaborate review of the authorities, English and American, that court, by a unanimous judgment, — overruling State v. Croteau, 23 Vt. 14, and all the previous cases which had followed that case, — said: 'We are thus led to the conclusion that the doctrine that jurors are the judges of the law in criminal cases is untenable; that it is contrary to the fundamental maxims of the common law from which it is claimed to take its origin; contrary to the uniform practice and decisions of the courts of Great Britain, where our jury system had its beginning, and where it matured; contrary to the great weight of authority in this country; contrary to the spirit and meaning of the constitution of the United States; repugnant to the constitution of this state; repugnant to our statute relative to the reservation of questions of law in criminal cases, and passing the same to the supreme court for final decision.' State v. Burpee, 65 Vt. 1, 34, 25 Atl. 964.
These principles are supported by a very large number of adjudications, as will be seen by an examination of the cases cited in margin. 2
To the same purport are the text writers. 'In theory, therefore,' says Judge Cooley,'the rule of law would seem to be that it is the duty of the jury to receive and follow the law as delivered to them by the court; and such is the clear weight of authority.' Const. Lim. 323, 324. Greenleaf, in his treattise on the Law of Evidence, says: 'In trials by jury, it is the province of the presiding judge to determine all questions on the admissibility of evidence to the jury, as well as to instruct them in the rules of law by which it is to be weighed. Whether there be any evidence or not is a question for the judge; whether it is sufficient evidence is a question for the jury.' 'Where the question is mixed, consisting of law and fact, so intimately blended as not to be easily susceptible of separate decision, it is submitted to the jury, who are first instructed by the judge in the principles and rules of law by which they are to be governed in finding a verdict, and these instructions they are bound to follow.' Volume 1, 49. Starkie, in his treatise on Evidence, observes, 'Where the jury find a general verdict they are bound to apply the law as delivered by the court, in criminal as well as civil cases.' Page 816. So, in Phillips on Evidence: 'They [the jury] are not in general, either in civil or criminal cases, judges of the law. They are bound to find the law as it is propounded to them by the court. They may, indeed, find a general verdict, including both law and fact; but if, in such verdict, they find the law contrary to the instructions of the court, they thereby violate their oath.' 4 Cowen & Hill's Notes (3d Ed.) p. 2. See, also, 1 Tayl. Ev. 21-24; 1 Best, Ev. (Morgan's Ed.) 82.
In 1 Cr. Law Mag. 51, will be found a valuable note to the case of Kane v. Com., prepared by Mr. Wharton, in which the authorities are fully examined, and in which he says: 'It would be absurd to say that the determination of the law belongs to the jury, not court, if the court has power to set aside that which the jury determines. We must hold, to enable us to avoid the inconsistency, that, subject to the qualification that all acquittals are final, the law in criminal cases is to be determined by the court. In this way we have our liberties and rights determined, not by an irresponsible, but by a responsible, tribunal; not by a tribunal ignorant of the law, but by a tribunal trained to and disciplined by the law; not by an irreversible tribunal, but by a reversible tribunal; not by a tribunal which makes its own law, but by a tribunal that obeys the law as made. In this way we maintain two fundamental maxims. The first is that, while to facts answer juries, to the law answers the court. The second, which is still more important, is 'Nullum crimen, nulla poena, sine lege.' Unless there be a violation of law preannounced, and this by a constant and responsible tribunal, there is no crime, and can be no punishment.' 1 Cr. Law Mag. 56. The same author, in his treatise on Pleading and Practice, concludes his examination of the question in these words: 'The conclusion we must therefore accept is that the jury are no more judges of law in criminal than in civil cases, with the qualification that, owing to the peculiar doctrine of autrefois acquit, a criminal acquitted cannot be overhauled by the court. In the federal courts such is now the established rule.' Sections 809, 810.
Forsyth, in his History of Trial by Jury, — a work of merit, — discusses the doctrine advanced by some that the jury were entitled in all cases, where no special pleas have been put on the record, to give a general verdict according to their own views of the law, in criminal as well as in civil cases. He says: 'It is impossible to uphold the doctrine. It is founded on a confusion between the ideas of power and right.' 'Indeed, it is difficult to understand how any one acquainted with the principles and settled practice of the English law can assert that it sanctions the doctrine which is here combated.' Again: 'The distinction between the province of the judge and that of the jury is, in the English law, clearly defined, and observed with jealous accuracy. The jury must in all cases determine the value and effect of evidence which is submitted to them. They must decide what degree of credit is to be given to a witness, and hold the balance between conflicting probabilities. The law throws upon them the whole responsibility of ascertaining facts in dispute, and the judge does not attempt to interfere with the exercise of their unfettered discretion in this respect. But, on the other hand, the judge has his peculiar duty in the conduct of a trial. He must determine whether the kind of evidence offered is such as ought or ought not to be submitted to the jury, and what liabilities it imposes. When any questions of law arise, he alone determines them, and their consideration is absolutely withdrawn from the jury, who must in such cases follow the direction of the judge; or if they perversely refuse to do so, their verdict (in civil cases) will be set aside, and a new trial granted.' Pages 235, 236 (Morgan's Ed.).
Worthington, in his Inquiry into Power of Juries, an English work Published in 1825, and often cited in the adjudged cases, says: 'Were they [ the jury] permitted to decide the law, the principles of justice would be subverted; the law would become as variable as the prejudices, the inclinations, and the passions of men. If they could legally decide upon questions of law, their decision must, of necessity, be final and conclusive, which would involve an absurdity in all judicial proceedings, and would be contradictory to the fundamental principles of our jurisprudence.' 'The jury, when called upon to decide facts which are complicated with law, are therefore constitutionally, and must be, from the nature and intention of the institution, bound to seek and to obey the direction of the judge with respect to the law. It becomes their duty to apply to the law thus explained to them the facts (which it is their exclusive province to find), and thus they deliver a verdict compounded of law and fact, but they do not determine or decide upon the law in any case.' Pages 193, 194.
Judge Thompson, in his work on Trials (sections 1016, 1017), thus states the principles: 'The judge decides questions of law; the jury, questions of fact.' So, in Proff. Jury, 375: 'The preponderance of judicial authority in this country is in favor of the doctrine that the jury should take the law from the court, and apply it to the evidence under its direction.'
The language of some judges and statesmen in the early history of the country, implying that the jury were entitled to disregard the law as expounded by the court, is perhaps to be explained by the fact that 'in many of the states the arbitrary temper of the colonial judges, holding office directly from the crown, had made the independence of the jury, in law as well as in fact, of much popular importance.' Whart. Cr. Pl. (8th Ed.) 806; Williams v. State, 32 Miss. 389, 396.
Notwithstanding the declarations of eminent jurists and of numerous courts, as disclosed in the authorities cited, it is sometimes confindently asserted that they all erred when adjudging that the rule at common law was that the jury, in criminal cases, could not properly disregard the law as given by the court. We are of opinion that the law in England at the date of our separation from that country was as declared in the authorities we have cited. The contrary view rests, as we think, in large part, upon expressions of certain judges and writers, enforcing the principle that when the question is compounded of law and fact a general verdict, ex necessitate, disposes of the case in hand, both as to law and fact. That is what Lord Somers meant when he said in his essay on 'The Security of Englishmen's Lives, or the Trust, Power, and Duty of the Grand Juries of England,' that jurors only 'are the judges from whose sentence the indicted are to expect life or death,' and that,'by finding guilty or not guilty, they do complicately resolve both law and fact.' In the speeches of many statesmen and in the utterances of many jurists will be found the general observation that when law and fact are 'blended' their combined consideration is for the jury, and a verdict of guilty or not guilty will determine both for the particular case in hand. But this falls far short of the contention that jury, in applying the law to the facts, may rightfully refuse to act upon the principles of law announced by the court.
It is to be observed that those who have maintained the broad position that a jury may, of right, disregard the law as declared by the court, cite the judgment of Chief Justice Vaughan in Bushell's Case, Vaughan, 135. In that case the accused were acquitted by a general verdict, in opposition, as it was charged, to the directions of the court. And the question presented upon habeas corpus was whether, for so doing, they were subject to be fined, and committed to prison until the fine was paid. Upon a careful examination of the elaborate opinion in that case, it will become clear that the fundamental proposition decided was that in view of the different functions of court and jury, and because a general verdict, of necessity, resolves 'both law and fact complicately, and not the fact by itself,' it could never be proved, where the case went to the jury upon both law and facts, that the jurors did not proceed upon their view of the evidence. Chief Justice Vaughan said that the words in the warrant,'that the jury did acquit against the direction of the court in matter of law, literally taken, and de plano, are insignificant, and not intelligible, for no issue can be joined of matter in law; no jury can be charged with the trial of matter in law barely; no evidence ever was or can be given to a jury of what is law or not, nor no such oath can be given to or taken by a jury, to try matter in law, nor no attaint can lie for such a false oath.' Id. 143. Touching the distinction between the oath of a witness and that of a juror, he said: 'A witness swears but to what hath fallen under his senses. But a juryman swears to what he can infer and conclude from the testimony of such witnesses, by the act and force of his own understanding, to be the fact inquired after, which differs nothing in the reason, though much in the punishment, from what a judge, out of various cases considered by him infers to be law in the question before him.' Id. 139, 142.
In referring to the opinion in Bushell's Case, Mr. Justice Curtis well observed that it would be found that Chief Justice Vaughan 'confines himself to a narrow, though, for the case, a conclusive, line of argument, — that, the general issue embracing fact as well as law, it can never be proved that the jury believed the testimony on which the fact depended, and in reference to which the direction was given, and so they cannot be shown to be builty of any legal misdemeanor in returning a verdict, though apparently against the direction of the court in matter of law.' And this is the view of the opinion in Bushell's Case, expressed by Hallam in his Constitutional History of England (chapter 13).
A similar criticism was made by the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts in the Case of Anthes. Chief Justice Shaw, after stating the principles involved in Bushell's Case, said: 'It may be remarked that from the improved views of the nature of jury trials, during the two hundred years which have elapsed since the decision of Chief Justice Vaughan, the juror is now in no more danger of punishment for giving an erroneous judgment in matter of fact than a judgeis for giving an erroneous judgment in matter of law. But his statement clearly implies that the judge, within his appropriate sphere, is to act by the force of his reason and understanding, and, by the aid of his knowledge of the law and all appropriate means, to adjudge all questions of law, and direct the jury thereon; and in like manner the jury, by the force of their reason and understanding, acting upon all the competent evidence in the case, to reason, weigh evidence, draw inferences, and adjudge the question of fact embraced in the issue. Again: 'In these cases the jury, and not the judge, resolve and find what the fact is. Therefore, always, in discreet and lawful assistance of the jury, the judge's direction is hypothetical and upon supposition, and not positive, upon coercion, namely: 'If you find the fact thus [leaving it to them what to find], then you are to find for the plaintiff; but, if you find the fact thus, then it is for the defendant.' Vaughan, 144." 'It is strange,' Chief Justice Shaw felt constrained to say,'that the authority of Vaughan, C. J., in this case, should be cited, as it has been, to prove that a juror, in finding a general verdict, embracing law and fact, being sworn to try the issue, must find his verdict upon his own conviction and conscience, relying, in support of the proposition, upon the following words of Vaughan, C. J.: 'A man cannot see by another's eye, nor hear by another's ear. No more can a man decide and infer the thing to be resolved by another's understanding or reasoning.' Id. 148.' Had these words been applied to the whole issue embraced in a general verdict, as would be implied from the manner of referring to them, they would have countenanced the proposition; but they are used expressly to illustrate the position that the jury cannot be required implicitly to give a verdict by the dictates and authority of the judge. 'I refer,' Chief Justice Shaw continued,'only to one other passage, which serves as a key to the whole judgment. He says: 'That decantatum in our books,'Ad quaestionem facti non respondent judices, ad quaestionem legis non respondent juratores,' literally taken, is true, for if it be demanded, what is the fact? the judge cannot answer; if be asked, what is the law in the case? the jury cannot answer it.' Id. 149.' All this tends to show that the leading thought in the opinion of Chief Justice Vaughan was that while the jury cannot answer as to the law, nor the court as to the fact, a general verdict, compounded of law and fact, of necessity determines both as to the case on trial.
In Townsend's Case, an office taken by virtue of a writ of mandamus, and decided in the sixteenth century, the court said: 'For the office of twelve men is no other than to inquire of matters of fact, and not to adjudge what the law is, for that is the office of the court, and not of the jury; and if they find the matter of fact at large, and further say that thereupon the law is so, where in truth the law is not so, the judges shall adjudge according to the matter of fact, and not according to the conclusion of the jury.' 1 Plow. 110, 114. In Willion v. Berkley, Id. 222, 230, also a civil case: 'Matters of fact, being traverse, shall be tried by twelve men; and, if the plaintiff should take a traverse here, it would be to make twelve illiterate men try a matter of law, whereof they have no knowledge. It is not their office to try matters of law, but only to try matters of fact; for at the beginning of our law it was ordained that matters of fact should be tried by twelve men of the country where the matter arises, and matters of law by twelve judges of the law, for which purpose there were six judges here, and six in the king's bench, who, upon matters of law, used to assemble together in a certain place, in order to discuss what the law was therein. So that, if a traverse should be here taken, it would be to make twelve ignorant men of the country try that whereof they are not judges, and which does not belong to them to try.' See, also, Grendon v. Bishop of Lincoln, 2 Plow. 493, 496.
As early as 1727, Raymond, C. J., delivering the unanimous opinion of the twelve judges of the King's bench in a case of murder, said that the jury are judges only of the fact, and the court of the law. 2 Strange, 766, 773. The force of this language as to the functions of judge and jury is not materially weakened by the fact that the case was before the judges upon a special verdict, for it was expressly declared that jurors were judges only of the fact.
Within a few years after Oneby's Case, 2 Strange, 766, was determined, in 1734, the case of King v. Poole, which was a criminal information in the nature of a quo warranto, came before Lord Hardwicke. In passing upon a motion for a new trial, that famous judge — than whom there could be no higher authority as to what was the settled law of England — said: 'The thing that governs greatly in this determination is that the point of law is not to be determined by juries; juries have a power by law to determine matters of fact only; and it is of the greatest consequence to the law of England, and to the subject, that these powers of the judge and the jury are kept distinct; that the judge determines the law, and the jury the fact; and, if ever they come to be confounded, founded, it will prove the confusion and destruction of the law of England.' Cas. t. Hardw. 27.
Upon the question here under examination, Mr. Foster, to whose work Chief Justice Marshall frequently refers in his opinion or charge delivered in Burr's Case, says, in the first edition of his work, which appeared in 1762, and again in the third edition, which appeared in 1792: 'In every case where the point turneth upon the question whether the homicide was committed willfully and maliciously, or under circumstances justifying, excusing, or alleviating the matter of fact, viz. whether the facts alleged by way of justification, excuse, or alleviation are true, is the proper and only province of the jury. But whether, upon a supposition of the truth of facts, such homicide be justified, excused, or alleviated, must be submitted to the judgment of the court; for the construction the law putteth upon facts stated and agreed, or found by a jury, is in this, as in all other cases, undoubtedly the proper province of the court. In cases of doubt and real difficulty, it is commonly recommended to the jury to state facts and circumstances in a special verdict. But where the law is clear the jury, under the direction of the court in point of law, matters of fact being still left to their determination, may, and, if they are well advised, always will, find a general verdict conformably to such direction.' Fost. Cr. Law (3d Ed.) 255, 256. See, also, Rex v. Withers (Lord Kenyon) 3 Term R. 428; Bac. Abr. tit. 'Juries,' M 2; 2 Hawk. P. C. c. 22, 21; 1 Duncomb, Trials per Pais (Dublin, 1793) pp. 229, 231.
In Wynne's Eunomus, or Dialogues Concerning the Law and Constitution of England, a work of considerable reputation, the first edition having been published about the time of the adoption of our constitution, the principle is thus stated: 'All that I have said or have to say upon the subject of juries is agreeable to the established maxim that 'juries must answer to questions of fact, and judges to questions of law.' This is the fundamental maxim acknowledged by the constitution.' 'It is undoubtedly true that the jury are judges — the only judges — of the fact. Is it not equally within the spirit of the maxim that judges only have the competent cognizance of the law? Can it be contended that the jury have in reality an adequate knowledge of law? Or that the constitution ever designed they should?' 'Well — 'but the law and the fact are often complicated' — then it is the province of the judge to distinguish them; to tell the jury that, supposing such and such facts were done, what the law is in such circumstances. This is an unbiased direction; this keeps the province of judge and jury distinct; the facts are left altogether to the jury, and the law does not control the fact, but arises from it.' 'Every verdict is compounded of law and fact, but the law and fact are always distinct in their nature.' Wynne, Eunomus, Dialogue 3 (5th Ed. 1822) 53, pp. 523, 527, 528.
Mr. Stephens, in his great work on the History of the Criminal Law of England, in discussing the powers of juries in France, says: 'The right of the counsel for the defense to address the jury on questions of law, as, for instance, whether killing in a duel is meurtre, is one of the features in which the administration of justice in France differs essentially from the administration of justice in England. In England the judge's duty is to direct the jury in all matters of law, and any arguments of counsel upon the subject must be addressed to him, and not to the jury. This is not only perfectly well established as matter of law, but it is as a fact acquiesced in by all whom it concerns.' Volume 1, p. 551.
To the same effect is Levi v. Milne, 4 Bing. 196, reported as Levy v. Milne, 12 Moore, 418, and decided in 1827. That was an action of libel. Mr. Sergeant Wilde, a counsel in the case, contended that in cases of libel the jury are judges of the law as well as of the fact. But Lord Chief Justice Best said: 'If the jury were to be made judges of the law as well as of fact, parties would be always liable to suffer from an arbitrary decision. In the present case the jury have made themselves judges of the law, and have found against it.' 'My Brother Wilde has stated that in cases of libel the jury are judges of the law as well as of fact, but I beg to deny that. Juries are not judges of the law, or, at any rate, not in civil actions. The authority on which the learned sergeant has probably grounded his supposition is 32 Geo. III. c. 60, which was the famous bill brought in by Mr. Fox, or, more properly, by Lord Erskine. But whoever reads that act will see that it does not apply to civil actions; it applies only to criminal cases. There is nothing in it that in any way touches civil actions, and the jury, with respect to them, stand in the same situation as they ever have done. I mean, however, to protest against juries, even in criminal cases, becoming judges of the law. The act only says that they may find a general verdict. Has a jury then a right to act against the opinion of the judge, and to return a verdict on their own construction of the law? I am clearly of opinion that they have not.' The report by Moore of this opinion is not as full as the report in Bingham, but the two reports do not differ in any material respect.
But a later decision was that by Lord Abinger, C. B., in 1837, in Reg. v. Parish, 8 Car. & P. 94. That was an indictment for offering, disposing of, and putting off a forged bill of enchange. In the course of his argument to the jury, the counsel for the accused read the observations of Mr. Justice Coleridge in a certain case as sustaining his view of the law. He was interrupted by the judge, who said: 'I cannot allow you to read cases to the jury. It is the duty of the jury to take the law from the judge. It no doubt often happens that, in an address to the jury, counsel cite cases, but then it is considered that that part of the speech of the counsel is addressed to the judge. That cannot be so here, as you very properly in the first instance referred me to the case, and you have my opinion upon it; you can therefore make no further legitimate use of the case, and the only effect of reading it would be it discuss propositions of law with the jury, with which they have nothing to do, and which they ought to take from me.'
The case of Parmiter v. Coupeland, 6 Mees. & W. 104, 106, 108, which was an action for libel, is not without value, as tending to show that Fox's libel bill, so far from changing the rule, as generally applicable in criminal cases, only required the same practice to be pursued in prosecutions for libel as in other criminal cases. In the course of the argument of counsel, Parke, B., said: 'In criminal cases the judge is to define the crime, and the jury are to find whether the party has committed that offense. Mr. Fox's act made it the same in cases of libel, the practice having been otherwise before.' Again: 'But it has been the course for a long time for a judge, in cases of libel, as in other cases of a criminal nature, first to give a legal definition of the offense, and then to leave it to the jury to say whether the facts necessary to constitute that offense are proved to their satisfaction; and that whether the libel is the subject of a criminal prosecution or civil action. A publication, without justification or lawful excuse, which is calculated to injure the reputation of another, by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, is a libel. Whether the particular publication, the subject of inquiry, is of that character, and would be likely to produce that effect, is a question upon which a jury is to exercise their judgment, and pronounce their opinion, as a question of fact. The judge, as a matter of advice to them in deciding that question, might have given his own opinion as to the nature of the publication, but was not bound to do so as a matter of law. Mr. Fox's libel bill was a declaratory act, and put prosecution for libel on the same footing as other criminal cases.' Alderson, B., concurring, said that the judge 'ought, having defined what is a libel, to refer to the jury the consideration of the particular publication, whether falling within that definition or not.'
It is therefore a mistake to suppose that the English libel act changed in any degree the general common-law rule in criminal cases, as to the right of the court to decide the law, and the duty of the jury to apply the law thus given to the facts, subject to the condition, inseparable from the jury system, that the jury, by a general verdict, of necessity determined in the particular case both law and fact, as compounded in the issue submitted to them. That act provides that 'the court or judge, before whom such indictment or information shall be tried, shall, according to their or his discretion, give their or his opinion and directions to the jury on the matter in issue between the king and the defendant, in like manner as in other criminal cases.' 'This seems,' Mr. Justice Curtis well said,'to carry the clearest implication that in this and all other criminal cases the jury may be directed by the judge, and that, while the object of the statute was to declare that there was other matter of fact besides publication and the innuendoes to be decided by the jury, it was not intended to interfere with the proper province of the judge to decide all matters of law.' U. S. v. Morris, 1 Curt. 55, Fed. Cas. No. 15, 815. And this accords with the views expressed by Lord Abinger in Reeves v. Templar, 2 Jur. 137. He said: 'Before that statute a practice had arisen of considering that the question, libel or no libel, was always for the court, independent of the intention and meaning of the party publishing. That statute corrected the error, and now, if the intention does not appear on the body of the libel, a variety of circumstances are to be left to the jury from which to infer it; but it was never intended to take from the court the power of deciding whether certain words are, per se, libelous or not.' The rule that jurors do not respond to questions of law was illustrated in Bishop of Meath v. Marquis of Winchester, 4 Clark & F. 445, 556, 557, where Lord Chief Justice Tindal, delivering the unanimous opinion of the judges, said: 'With respect to the second question lastly above proposed to us, viz. whether, if the fine were received in evidence it ought to be left to the jury to say whether it barred the action of quare impedit, we all think that the legal effect of such fine as a bar to the action of quare impedit is a matter of law merely, and not in any way a matter of fact; and, consequently, the judge who tried the cause should state to the jury whether, in point of law, the fine had that effect, or what other effect, on the rights of the litigant parties, upon the general and acknowledged principle 'ad quaestionem juris non respondent juratores."
Briefly stated, the contention of the accused is that, although there may not have been any evidence whatever to support a verdict of guilty of an offense less than the one charged, — and such was the case here, — yet, to charge the jury, as matter of law, that the evidence in the case did not authorize any verdict except one of guilty or one of not guilty of the particular offense charged, was an interference with their legitimate functions, and therefore with the constitutional right of the accused to be tried by a jury.
The error in the argument on behalf of the accused is in making the general rule as to the respective functions of court and jury applicable equally to a case in which there is some substantial evidence to support the particular right asserted and a case in which there is an entire absence of evidence to establish such right. In the former class of cases the court may not, without impairing the constitutional right of trial by jury, do what, in the latter cases, it may often do without at all intrenching upon the constitutional functions of the jury. The law makes it the duty of the jury to return a verdict according to the evidence in the particular case before them. But, if there are no facts in evidence bearing upon the issue to be determined, it is the duty of the court, especially when so requested, to instruct them as to the law arising out of that state of case. So, if there be some evidence bearing upon a particular issue in a cause, but it is so meager as not, in law, to justify a verdict in favor of the party producing it, the court is in the line of duty when it so declares to the jury. Pleasants v. Fant. 22 Wall. 116, 121; Montclair v. Dana, 107 U.S. 162, 2 Sup. Ct. 403; Randall v. Railroad Co., 109 U.S. 478, 482, 3 S. Sup. Ct. 322; Schofield v. Railway Co., 114 U.S. 615, 619, 5 S. Sup. Ct. 1125; Marshall v. Hubbard, 117 U.S. 415, 419, 6 S. Sup. Ct. 806; Meehan v. Valentine, 145 U.S. 611, 625, 12 S. Sup. Ct. 972.
The cases just cited were, it is true, of a civil nature; but the rules they announce are, with few exceptions, applicable to criminal causes, and indicate the true test for determining the respective functions of court and jury. Who can doubt, for instance, that the court has the right, even in a capital case, to instruct the jury as matter of law to return a verdict of acquittal on the evidence adduced by the prosecution? Could it be said, in view of the established principles of criminal law, that such an instruction intrenched upon the province of the jury to determine from the evidence whether the accused was guilty or not guilty of the offense charaged, or of some lesser offense included in the one charged? Under a given state of facts, outlined in an instruction to the jury, certain legal presumptions may arise. May not the court tell the jury what those presumptions are, and should not the jury assume that they are told truly? If the court excludes evidence given in the hearing of the jury, and instructs them to disregard it altogether, is it not their duty to obey that instruction, whatever may be their view of the admissibilty of such evidence? In Smith v. U. S., 151 U.S. 50, 55, 14 S. Sup. Ct. 234, which was an indictment for the murder, in the Indian Territory, of one Gentry,'a white man, and not an Indian,' we said: 'That Gentry was a white man, and not an Indian, was a fact which the government was bound to establish, and, if it failed to introduce any evidence upon that point, defendant was entitled to an instruction to that effect. Without expressing any opinion as to the correctness of the legal propositions embodied in this charge, we think there was no testimony which authorized the court to submit to the jury the question whether Gentry was a white man and not an Indian. The objection went to the jurisdiction of the court, and, if no other reasonable inference could have been drawn from the evidence that Gentry was an Indian, defendant, was entitled, as matter of law, to an acquittal,' — citing Pleasants v. Fant, 22 Wall. 116; Commissioners v. Clark. 94 U.S. 278; and Marshall v. Hubbard, 117 U.S. 415, 6 Sup. Ct. 806. So, in this case, it was competent for the court to say to the jury that, on account of the absence of all evidence tending to show that the defendants were guilty of manslaughter, they could not, consistently with law, return a verdict of guilty of that crime.
Any other rule than that indicated in the above observations would bring confusion and uncertainty in the administration of the criminal law. Indeed, if a jury may rightfully disregard the direction of the court in matter of law, and determine for themselves what the law is in the particular case before them, it is difficult to perceive any legal ground upon which a verdict of conviction can be set aside by the court as being against law. If it be the function of the jury to decide the law as well the facts, — if the function of the court be only advisory as to the law, — why should the court interfere for the protection of the accused against what it deems an error of the jury in matter of law?
Public and private safety alike would be in peril if the principle be established that juries in criminal cases may, of right, disregard the law as expounded to them by the court, and become a law unto themselves. Under such a system, the principal function of the judge would be to preside and keep order while jurymen, untrained in the law, would determine questions affecting life, liberty, or property according to such legal principles as, in their judgment, were applicable to the particular case being tried. If because, generally speaking, it is the function of the jury to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused according to the evidence, of the truth or weight of which they are to judge, the court should be held bound to instruct them upon a point in respect to which there was no evidence whatever, or to forbear stating what the law is upon a given state of facts, the result would be that the enforcement of the law against criminals, and the protection of citizens against unjust and groundless prosecutions, would depend entirely upon juries uncontrolled by any settled, fixed, legal principles. And if it be true that a jury in a criminal case are under no legal obligation to take the law from the court, and may determine for themselves what the law is, it necessarily results that counsel for the accused may, of right, in the presence of both court and jury, contend that what the court declares to be the law applicable to the case in hand is not the law, and, in support of his contention, read to the jury the reports of adjudged cases, and the views of elementary writers. Undoubtedly, in some jurisdictions, where juries in criminal cases have the right, in virtue of constitutional or statutory provisions, to decide both law and facts upon their own judgment as to what the law is and as to what the facts are, it may be the privilege of counsel to read and discuss adjudged cases before the jury. And in a few jurisdictions, in which it is held that the court alone responds as to the law, that practice is allowed in deference to long usage. But upon principle, where the matter is not controlled by express constitutional or statutory provisions, it cannot be regarded as the right of counsel to dispute before the jury the law as declared by the court. Under the contrary view — if it be held that the court may not authoritatively decide all questions of law arising in criminal cases — the result will be that when a new trial in a criminal case is ordered, even by this court, the jury, upon such trial, may of right return a verdict based upon the assumption that what this court has adjudged to be law is not law. We cannot give our sanction to any rule that will lead to such a result. We must hold firmly to the doctrine that in the courts of the United States it is the duty of juries in criminal cases to take the law from the court, and apply that law to the facts as they find them to be from the evidence. Upon the court rests the responsibility of declaring the law; upon the jury, the responsibility of applying the law so declared to the facts as they, upon their conscience, believe them to be. Under any other system, the courts, although established in order to declare the law, would for every practical purpose be eliminated from our system of government as instrumentalities devised for the protection equally of society and of individuals in their essential rights. When that occurs our government will cease to be a government of laws, and become a government of men. Liberty regulated by law is the underlying principle of our institutions.
To instruct the jury in a criminal case that the defendant cannot properly be convicted of a crime less than that charged, or to refuse to instruct them in respect to the lesser offenses that might, under some circumstances, be included in the one so charged — there being no evidence whatever upon which any verdict could be properly returned except one of guilty or one of not guilty of the particular offense charged — is not error; for the instructing or refusing to instruct, under the circumstances named, rests upon legal principles or presumptions which it is the province of the court to declare for the guidance of the jury. In the case supposed the court is as clearly in the exercise of its legitimate functions as it is when ruling that particular evidence offered is not competent, or that evidence once admitted shall be stricken out and not be considered by the jury, or when it withdraws from the jury all proof of confessions by the accused upon the ground that such confessions, not having been made freely and voluntarily, are inadmissible under the law as evidence against the accused.
These views are sustained by a very great weight of authority in this country. In People v. Barry, 90 Cal. 41, 27 Pac. 62 (which was a criminal prosecution for an assault with intent to commit robbery, the accused having been twice before convicted of petit larceny), it was held not to be error to refuse to instruct the jury that under the charge they might find him guilty of simple assault, because 'the evidence tended to show that he was guilty of the crime charged or of no offense at all,' and therefore 'the instruction asked was not applicable to the facts of the case'; in People v. McNutt, 93 Cal. 658, 29 Pac. 243 (the offense charged being an assault with a deadly weapon and with intent to commit murder), that an instruction that the jury might convict of a simple assault could have been properly refused, because,'under the evidence, he was either guilty of an offense more serious than simple assault, or he was not guilty'; in Clark v. Com., 123 Pa. St. 81, 16 Atl. 795 (a case of murder), that the omission of an instruction on the law of voluntary manslaughter, and the power of the jury to find it, was not error, because the murder was deliberate murder, and 'there was no evidence on which it could be reduced to a milder form of homicide'; in State v. Lane, 64 Mo. 319, 324 (which was an indictment for murder in the first degree), that,'if the evidence makes out a case of murder in the first degree, and applies to that kind of killing, and no other, the court would commit no error in confining its instructions to that offense, and refusing to instruct either as to murder in the second degree or manslaughter in any of its various degrees,' and when an instruction 'is given for any less grade of offense, and there is no evidence upon which to base it, ' the judgment should be reversed for error; in McCoy v. State, 27 Tex. App. 415, 11 S. W. 454 (the charge being murder of the first degree), that the refusal to charge the law of murder in the second degree was not error, for the reason that, if the defendant was 'criminally responsible at all for the homicide, the grade of the offense under the facts is not short of murder of the first degree'; in State v. McKinney, 111 N. C. 683, 16 S. E. 235 (a murder case), that, as there was no testimony on either side tending to show manslaughter, a charge that there was no element of manslaughter in the case, and that the defendant was guilty of murder or not guilty of anything at all, as the jury should find the facts, was strictly in accordance with the testimony and the precedents; in State v. Musick, 101 Mo. 261, 270, 14 S. W. 212 (where the charge was an assault with malice aforethought, punishable by confinement in the penitentiary), that an instruction looking to a conviction for a lower grade, included in the offense charged, was proper where there was evidence justifying it; in State v. Casford, 76 Iowa, 332, 41 N. W. 32, that the defendant, so charged in an indictment that he could be convicted of rape, an assault to commit rape, or an assault and battery, was not prejudiced by the omission of the court to instruct the jury that he would be convicted of a simple assault, there being no evidence to authorize a verdict for the latter offense; in Jones v. State, 52 Ark. 346, 12 S. W. 704 (a murder case), that it was not error to refuse to charge as to a lower grade of offense, there being 'no evidence of any crime less than murder in the first degree,' and the defendant being, therefore, guilty of 'murder in the first degree, or innocent'; in McClernand v. Com. (Ky.) 12 S. W. 148, and in O'Brien v. Com., 89 Ky. 354, 12 S. W. 471 (murder cases), that an instruction as to manslaughter need not be given, unless there is evidence to justify it; in State v. Estep, 44 Kan. 575, 24 Pac. 986 (a case of murder of the first degree), that there was no testimony tending to show that the dependant was guilty of manslaughter in either the first, second, or fourth degree, instructions as to those degrees should not have been given; and in Robinson v. State, 84 Ga. 674, 11 S. E. 544 (a case of assault with intent to murder), that the refusal to instruct the jury that the defendant could have been found guilty of an assault, or of assault and battery, was not error,'for there was nothing in the evidence to justify the court in so instructing the jury.'
We have said that, with few exceptions, the rules which obtain in civil cases in relation to the authority of the court to instruct the jury upon all matters of law arising upon the issues to be tried, are applicable in the trial of criminal cases. The most important of those exceptions is that it is not competent for the court, in a criminal case, to instruct the jury peremptorily to find the accused guilty of the offense charged, or of any criminal offense less than that charged. The grounds upon which this exception rests were well stated by Judge McCrary, Mr. Justice Miller concurring, in U. S. v. Taylor, 3 McCrary, 500, 505, 11 Fed. 470. It was there said: 'In a civil case, the court may set aside the verdict, whether it be for the plaintiff or defendant, upon the ground that it is contrary to the law as given by the court; but in a criminal case, if the verdict is one of acquittal, the court has no power to set it aside. It would be a useless form for a court to submit a civil case, involving only questions of law, to the consideration of a jury, where the verdict, when found, if not in accordance with the court's view of the law, would be set aside. The same result is accomplished by an instruction given in advance to find a verdict in accordance with the court's opinion of the law. But not so in criminal cases. A verdict of acquittal cannot be set aside; and therefore, if the court can direct a verdict of guilty, it can do indirectly that which it has on power to do directly.'
We are of opinion that the court below did not err in saying to the jury that they could not, consistently with the law arising from the evidence, find the defendants guilty of manslaughter, or of any offense less than the one charged; that if the defendants were not guilty of the offense charged, the duty of the jury was to return a verdict of not guilty. No instruction was given that questioned the right of the jury to determine whether the witnesses were to be believed or not, nor whether the defendant was guilty or not guilty of the offense charged. On the contrary, the court was careful to say that the jury were the exclusive judges of the facts, and that they were to determine — applying to the facts the principles of law announced by the court — whether the evidence established the guilt or innocence of the defendants of the charge set out in the indictment.
The trial was thus conducted upon the theory that it was the duty of the court to expound the law, and that of the jury to apply the law as thus declared to the facts as ascertained by them. In this separation of the functions of court and jury is found the chief value, as well as safety, of the jury system. Those functions cannot be confounded or disregarded without endangering the stability of public justice, as well as the security of private and personal rights.
The main reason ordinarily assigned for a recognition of the right of the jury, in a criminal case, to take the law into their own hands, and to disregard the directions of the court in matters of law, is that the safety and liberty of the citizen will be thereby more certainly secured. That view was urged upon Mr. Justice Curtis. After stating that, if he conceived the reason assigned to be well founded, he would pause long before denying the existence of the power claimed, he said that a good deal of reflection had convinced him that the argument was the other way. He wisely observed that: 'As long as the judges of the United States are obliged to express their opinions publicly, to give their reasons for them when called upon in the usual mode, and to stand responsible for them, not only to public opinion, but to a court of impeachment, I can apprehend very little danger of the laws being wrested to purposes of injustice. But, on the other hand, I do consider that this power and corresponding duty of the court authoritatively to declare the law is one of the highest safeguards of the citizen. The sole end of courts of justice is to enforce the laws uniformly and impartially, without respect of persons or times or the opinions of men. To enforce popular laws is easy. But when an unpopular cause is a just cause; when a law, unpopular in some locality, is to be enforced, — there then comes the strain upon the administration of justice; and few unprejudiced men would hesitate as to where that strain would be most firmly borne.' U. S. v. Morris, 1 Curt. 62, 63, Fed. Cas. No. 15, 815.
The questions above referred to are the only ones that need be considered on this writ of error.
Mr. Justice JACKSON participated in the decision of this case, and concurs in the views herein expressed.
The judgment of the circuit court is affirmed as to Hansen, but is reversed as to Sparf, with directions for a new trial as to him.
(Jan. 14, 1895.)
Court: The instruction which I gave you, gentlemen, in regard to the law upon which the indictment was based, was section 5339 of the Revised Statutes, which I will read to you again. Juror: Your honor, I would like to know in regard to the interpretation of the laws of the United States in regard to manslaughter, as to whether the defendants can be found guilty of manslaughter, or that the defendants must be found guilty.
Court: I will read the section to you, and see if that touches the proposition. The indictment is based upon section 5339, which provides, among other things,'that every' person who commits murder upon the high seas, or in any arm of the sea, or in any river, haven, creek, basin, or bay within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state, or who, upon any such waters, maliciously strikes, stabs, wounds, poisons,'or shoots any other person, of which striking, stabbing, wounding, poisoning, or shooting such other person dies on land or at sea, within or without the United States, shall suffer death.' Hence that is the penalty for the offense described in the indictment. I have given you the definition of 'murder.' If you remember it, you will connect it with these words: 'Every person who commits murder upon the high seas, or in any arm of the sea, or in any river, haven,' etc. Juror: Are the two words 'aiding' or 'abeting' defined? Court: The words 'aiding' or 'abetting' are not defined, but I have instructed you as to the legal effect of aiding and abetting, and this you should accept as law. If I have made an error, there is a higher tribunal to correct it.
Juror: I am the spokesman for two of us. We desire to clearly understand the matter. It is a barrier in our mind to our determining the matter. The question arising amongst us is to aiding and abetting.
FJ: Furthermore, as I understand, it must be one thing or the other. It must be guilty or not guilty. Court: Yes; under the instructions I have given you. I will read them to you again, so as to be careful, and that you may understand. Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being in the peace of the state, with malice aforethought, either express or implied. I defined to you what malice was, and I assume you can recall my definition to your minds. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice, either express or implied. I do not consider it necessary to explain it further. If a felonious homicide has been committed by either of the defendants, of which you are to be the judges from the proof, there is nothing in this case to reduce it below the grade of murder.
Juror: Then, as I understand your honor clearly, there is nothing about manslaughter in this court? Court: No; I do not wish to be so understood. A verdict must be based on evidence, and in a proper case a verdict for manslaughter may be rendered.
Juror: A crim committed on the high seas must have been murder, or can it be manslaughter? Court: In a proper case, it may be murder, or it may be manslaughter; but in this case it cannot be properly manslaughter. As I have said, if a felonious homicide has been committed, the facts of the case do not reduce it below murder. Do not understand me to say that manslaughter or murder has ben committed. That is for you gentlemen to determine, from the testimony and the instructions I have given you.... Mr. Smith: We take an exception. Juror: We have got to bring a verdict for either manslaughter or murder? Court: Do not misunderstand me. I have not said so. Juror: I know you have not. Court: I cannot direct you what conclusion to come to from the facts. I direct you only as to the law. A judgment on the facts is your province.
Mr. Garter: Any I ask the court to instruct this jury that in cases where persons are being upon a charge of murder, and the facts proven at their trial show that the defendants are guilty of manslaughter, under an indictment, they may find him guilty of manslaughter, as a general rule; but, however, if the facts show that the defendants have been guilty of murder; and that, in this case, there is no evidence tending to establish the crime or offense of manslaughter —
Mr. Smith: It is the province of the jury. Court: I have already so instructed the jury. I have endeavored to make mayself understood. Juror: If we bring in a verdict of guilty, that is capital punishment? Court: Yes. Juror: Then there is no other verdict we can bring in except guilty or not guilty? Court: In a proper case, a verdict for manslaughter may be rendered, as the district attorney has stated, and even in this case you have the physical power to do so; but, as one of the tribunals of the country, a jury is expected to be governed by law, and the law it should receive from the court. Juror: There has been a misunderstanding amongst us. Now it is clearly interpreted to us, and no doubt we can now agree on certain facts.
2. People v. Wright, 93 Cal. 564, 29 Pac. 240; Brown v. Com., 87 Va. 215, 12 S. E. 472; People v. Barry, 90 Cal. 41, 27 Pac. 62; People v. Madden, 76 Cal. 521, 18 Pac. 402; State v. Jeandell, 5 Har. ( Del.) 475; State v. Wright, 53 Me. 328; Com. v. Van Tuyl, 1 Metc. (Ky.) 1; Montgomery v. State, 11 Ohio, 427; Adams v. State, 29 Ohio St. 412; Robbins v. State, 8 Ohio St. 131, 167; Williams v. State, 32 Miss. 389, 396; Pleasant v. State, 13 Ark. 360, 372; Robinson v. State, 66 Ga. 517; Brown v. State, 40 Ga. 689, 695; Hunt v. State (Ga.) 7 S. E. 142; State v. Drawdy, 14 Rich. Law, 87; Nels v. Republic, 2 Tex. 280; Myers v. State, 33 Tex. 525; State v. Jones, 64 Mo. 391; Hardy v. State, 7 Mo. 607; State v. Elwood, 73 N. C. 189; State v. McLain, 104 N. C. 894, 10 S. E. 518; People v. Neumann, 85 Mich. 98, 48 N. W. 290; State v. Johnson, 30 La. Ann. pt. 1, p. 904; State v. Ford, 37 La. Ann. 443, 465; Fisher v. Railway Co., 131 Pa. St. 292, 297, 18 Atl. 1016; Railway Co. v. Hutchinson, 40 Kan. 51, 19 Pac. 312.