Mayes v. People

US Criminal Law

Mayes
‘Still Life Beer’ by Neil Carroll

Death resulting from a reckless act is on most occasions deemed manslaughter, however with overwhelming evidence of wilful intent, the court cannot simply accept anything less than a charge of murder, as was explained in this case between the convicting State and the subjective argument of a clearly mentally distressed man.

The nature of this 1883 matter rests upon the testimony of both a grandmother and the defendant in error’s young daughter, who at the time of the offence witnessed their father return home from a nearby saloon in a drunken state, while obviously angry for reasons left unknown to the court.

Having entered the family home around 9pm, the defendant in error proceeded to request arsenic while explaining that either himself or the deceased needed to die, upon which the deceased made a number of strategic attempts to placate his temper and settle his mind.

After his refusing to eat food or engage with those around him, the defendant in error later sat alone and continued to make demands upon his wife and daughter, until for no sound reason he threw a tin of food at his daughter, who ran for safety as the deceased quickly followed with a gas lamp in hand, at which point the defendant in error forcefully threw a heavy beer glass at his wife, and upon which the glass struck the lamp and caused the ignited oil to spill all over her clothing.

Seemingly unwilling to assist the deceased, the defendant in error watched as she was engulfed in flames and suffered five major burns to her head, neck, legs and body, all of which led to her death some five days later, and so indicted in the Circuit Court of Jersey County the jury convicted the defendant in error of murder, whereupon he appealed the decision under writ of error in the Illinois Supreme Court.

Here the court first referred to § 140 of the Illinois Revised Statutes, which read that:

“Malice shall be implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.” 

And then to Francis Wharton’s ‘A Treatise on the Law of Homicide in the United States’, in which p. 45 read that:  

“When an action, unlawful in itself, is done with deliberation, and with intention of mischief or great bodily harm to particulars, or of mischief indiscriminately, fall where it may, and death ensue, against or beside the original intention of the party, it will be murder.”

While the defendant in error continued to explain that he was simply attempting to dispose of the glass through an open rear door, a statement which was reasoned away by the two witnesses, who confirmed that the door was in fact closed at all times that evening. 

Thus with no reason to accept the alcohol-hazed recollection of a man claiming to have felt no ill-will toward the deceased, the court instead noted that had there been no aggression behind the act then the verdict would have likely been in doubt, however it was patently clear that harm was intended when assessing the impact of the glass upon the lamp, and so with little hesitation the court upheld the previous judgment while reminding those present that:

“Malice is an indispensable element to the crime of murder.” 

Martin v. State

US Criminal Law

Martin v State
‘The Drunk’ by Alessandro Pomi

Liability for public drunk and disorderly behaviour under Alabama State law requires the defendant to display a willingness to appear so, while in this case the accused was found within the privacy of his own property at the time of arrest, thus the court was left explaining the process to those bringing charges.

After receiving reports of a drunken man walking along the local highway, the respondent police force located and apprehended the appellant in his home address, before charging him with public intoxication under § 120 of the Alabama Criminal Code of 1940, which read in relevant part that:

“Any person who, while intoxicated or drunk, appears in any public place where one or more persons are present….and manifests a drunken condition by boisterous or indecent conduct, or loud and profane discourse, shall, on conviction, be fined” 

Whereupon the Circuit Court of Houston County convicted the appellant accordingly, and after which he challenged the judgment in the Alabama Court of Appeals, who simply referred to Thomas v. State, in which the Georgia Court of Appeals had held that:

“[T]he place where the drunken condition exists is no less essential to the offense than the condition itself….”

While further noting that on this occasion the arresting officers had physically escorted the appellant from his house to the location described in order to secure their arrest, hence the court instantly reversed circuit court judgment in full while reminding the attending parties that: 

“[A]n accusation of drunkenness in a designated public place cannot be established by proof that the accused, while in an intoxicated condition, was involuntarily and forcibly carried to that place by the arresting officer. 

U.S. v. Peoni

US Criminal Law

U.S. v. Peoni
‘Twenty Six Dollars’ by Victor Dubreuil

The limitations and inclusions of conspiracy have something of a chequered past, and so on this occasion a defendant known and proven to have sold forged dollar bills was charged with exerting influence over transactions that were not only beyond his actual control, but were also separated by time, space and possible knowledge, thus the job of the court was to establish where the proximate lines of culpability lay.

Sometime prior to 1938 the appellant was charged and convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for possession of, and conspiracy to possess, counterfeit U.S. currency, whereupon he challenged the judgment in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Here the court noted that in the chain of events prior to his conviction, the appellant had indeed possessed counterfeit money, but had since sold it on to a second party, who then in turn sold it to a third party within the same borough albeit unknown to the appellant.

First referring to 18 U.S.C.A. § 550, the court noted how it read that:

“Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.”

Which translated that had it been shown that the appellant was instrumental to the second transaction, he was rightfully convicted, after which the court turned to Anstess v. U.S., in which the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had held that:

“One who, with full knowledge of the purpose with which contraband goods are to be used, furnishes those goods to another to so use them, actively participates in the scheme or plan to so use them.”

However the court also noted how in Graves v. Johnson the Massachusetts Supreme Court had held that:

“[A] sale otherwise lawful is not connected with subsequent unlawful conduct by the mere fact that the seller correctly divines the buyer’s unlawful intent, closely enough to make the sale unlawful.”

And so the court reasoned that regardless of the illegality of the appellants initial possession, it was contrary to sound law that he should be held to account as the principle conspirator in a sequence of events that occurred after the fact of his selling the notes on, thus the conviction was quashed in its entirety, while the court reminded the attending parties that:

“Nobody is liable in conspiracy except for the fair import of the concerted purpose or agreement as he understands it; if later comers change that, he is not liable for the change; his liability is limited to the common purposes while he remains in it.”

Shevlin-Carpenter Co. v. State of Minn.

US Criminal Law

Shevlin
‘Fallen Timber’ by Jospeh Laverti

The constitutionality of statute drafted and designed to preserve the interests of a State, coupled with the presumption that such laws are irrelevant to the needs of commerce, provide the basis of a case where those later prosecuted are left arguing that word of mouth is sufficient grounds upon which to acquire property.

Having operated as a timber merchant under State licence, the plaintiff in error corporation found themselves in need of a second licence extension following the recent expiration of their previous reissue, and so instead of applying through the proper channels, chose to rely upon verbal declarations of State officials as to their ability to continue removing trees from government land.

For clarity at the time of the offence, § 7 of the Laws of Minnesota 1895 stated that:

“If any person, firm or corporation, without a valid and existing permit therefor, cuts or employs, or induces any other person, firm or corporation to cut, or assist in cutting any timber of whatsoever description, on state lands, or removes or carries away or employs, or induces or assists any other person, firm or corporation to remove or carry away any such timber, or other property, he shall be liable to the state in treble damages, if such trespass is adjudged to have been willful; but double damages only in case the trespass is adjudged to have been casual and involuntary….”

And so when the plaintiff in error’s activities were discovered, the defendant in error brought charges in the District Court of St. Louis County on grounds of wilful trespass, thus claiming treble damages as prescribed.

Here the court found for the defendant in error and awarded damages of around $44,000, whereupon the plaintiff in error challenged the judgment in the Minnesota Supreme Court, who upheld the judgment, while holding that:

“The Legislature may declare that a willful trespass upon the lands of another shall constitute a criminal offense and fix the limits of punishment therefor, either by fine or imprisonment, or by compensating the injured party in damages to be recovered in a civil action, or by both, as its judgment may dictate.”

After which the plaintiff in error appealed on grounds that it had acted in good faith and reliance upon the statements made by those with apparent authority, while in response the court referred to State v. Shevlin-Carpenter Co., in which it had earlier held that:

“Where the defendant is a willful trespasser, the measure of damages is the full value of the property at the time and place of demand; but, if he is only an unintentional or mistaken trespasser,-that is, where he honestly and reasonably believed that he had a legal right to take the property,-then the measure of damages is the value of the property at the time and place and in the condition it was taken.”

Before partially reversing their previous judgment and remanding the matter back in keeping with a significant reduction in damages, thus the plaintiff in error challenged the decision under writ of error in the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that the statue was violative of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when denying due process, and that as such, no damages were due.

Having reexamined the facts and constitutional argument, along with the right to protect State property through appropriate statute, the Court reasoned that at no point was the questioned legislation hidden from view, nor remotely difficult to understand, while also noting that contrastingly, at no point in history had trespass ever been considered a harmless act.

In closing the Court also noted that despite the harshness of its construction, the State had proscribed the offence within constitutional bounds, and were therefore sound in their enforcement, after which it upheld the previous judgment in full, while holding that:

“[I]nnocence cannot be asserted of an action which violates existing law, and ignorance of the law will not excuse.”

United States v. Falcone

US Criminal Law

United States v. Falcone
‘Oranges and Antique Moonshine Jugs’ by J.R. Secor

Criminal conspiracy, while simple enough in its description, is an offence often hard to quantify, and so on this occasion the actions of a lawful vendor proved hard to distinguish from those charged, which resulted in an outcome some may find contradictory to the rule of law.

Indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, the respondent was later convicted as a party to facilitating prohibited still operations, whereupon he challenged the judgment in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that when selling sugar to his co-defendants, the respondent did so without conscious knowledge of its intended use.

Here the court noted that despite numerous States ruling on the principle, there remained a division as to when a defendant became a co-conspirator, and so in this instance the court elected to follow U.S. v. Peoni, in which it had held that:

“Nobody is liable in conspiracy except for the fair import of the concerted purpose or agreement as he understands it….”

Thereby reversing the trial court judgment, while holding that:

“Civilly, a man’s liability extends to any injuries which he should have apprehended to be likely to follow from his acts. If they do, he must excuse his conduct by showing that the interest which he was promoting outweighed the dangers which its protection imposed upon others….”

Whereupon the Government pressed their argument before the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of certiorari, who proceeded to examine the facts as presented.

For clarity, 18 U.S.C.A. § 550 (now §2) stated that:

“Whoever directly commits any act constituting an offense defined in any law of the United States, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures its commission, is a principal….”

And so the Court held that in mind when referring to Pettibone v. U.S., in which it had held that:

“A conspiracy is sufficiently described as a combination of two or more persons, by concerted action, to accomplish a criminal or unlawful purpose, or some purpose not in itself criminal or unlawful, by criminal or unlawful means….”

Before noting that in U.S. v. Hirsch it had also held that:

“Although by the statute something more than the common-law definition of a conspiracy is necessary to complete the offence, to wit, some act done to effect the object of the conspiracy, it remains true that the combination of minds in an unlawful purpose is the foundation of the offence, and that a party who did not join in the previous conspiracy cannot, under this section, be convicted on the overt act.”

Thus the Court was left with no other option than to uphold the court of appeal judgment, while conclusively holding that:

“Those having no knowledge of the conspiracy are not conspirators…”

Lear v. State

US Criminal Law

Lear v. State
‘Buchanan General Store’ by David Boyd

Theft without violence or fear of violence upon the victim cannot constitute robbery, as was demonstrated in this simple case of taking without a vendor’s consent in 1931.

Having entered the store of a Buckeye resident at the point of their opening it, the appellant took the opportunity to make off with a bag containing $33 while the shopkeeper was attending another task nearby, after which he was later arrested and confessed to stealing the money.

Indicted in the Superior Court of Maricopa County, the appellant was then charged and convicted of robbery under § 4602 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, which read that:

“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear. The fear may be either of an unlawful injury to the person or property of the person robbed, or of a relative or member of his family; or of an immediate and unlawful injury to the person or property of any one in the company of the person robbed at the time of the robbery.”

However the appellant challenged the judgment in the Arizona Supreme Court on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he had subjected the vendor to any form of physical struggle, or that he had even uttered a single word to him during the act, whereupon the court sought clarification on the definition of robbery, and so turned to the English case of R. v Thomas Gnosil, in which the Court of Assizes had held that:

“[T]he force used must be either before, or at the time of the taking, and must be of such a nature as to shew that it was intended to overpower the party robbed, and prevent his resisting, and not merely to get possession of the property stolen.”

And to State v. Parsons, where the Washington Supreme Court had also held that:

“[I]t is not robbery to merely snatch from the hand or person of another, or to surreptitiously take from another’s pocket, money or some other thing of value, as such taking lacks the element of force, or putting in fear, one or the other of which being essential to constitute the crime of burglary.”

While the court further noted that § 649a of Grigsby’s Criminal Law stated that:

“No sudden taking unawares from the person, even done with force, as by snatching a thing from one’s hand, or out of his pocket, is sufficient to constitute robbery.”

Therefore the court held with considerable certainty that although the vendor had been cause distress as a result of his pecuniary loss, the appellant had on this occasion, been deft enough to avoid confrontation, and so the court reversed the previous judgment and remanded the case back to the superior court while holding that:

“The mere taking of property in possession of another, from his person or immediate presence and against his will, is not robbery. Such taking must be accomplished by force or fear to constitute robbery.”

State v. Rhodes

US Criminal Law

State v. Rhodes
‘Spanking’ by Norman Rockwell

Drawing the line between judicial governance of the family unit, or in the very least of cases, domestic relationships, was a task discussed in a case dating back to 1868, in which a spouse was prone to seek reparation in the criminal courts when her husband struck her in a manner designed to enforce compliance at a time when women and children’s rights were quite literally unheard of.

Having suffered three blows of the defendant’s switch, which by law could be no wider than a man’s thumb, (hence the phrase ‘rule of thumb’), the defendant was indicted for assault and battery before the North Carolina Supreme Court, on grounds that his actions were unprovoked and therefore unlawful, and upon which the court was tasked with an examination of leading case precedent in order to ‘draw the line’ as to when they were entitled to probe further into such apparently trifle matters.

In the first instance, the court turned to State v. Hussey, in which the court had recently held that:

“[A] wife may be a witness against her husband for felonies perpetrated, or attempted to be perpetrated on her, and we would say for an assault and battery which inflicted or threatened a lasting injury or great bodily harm; but in all cases of a minor grade she is not.”

Before reviewing State v. Black, in which the court had more recently held that:

“A husband is responsible for the acts of his wife, and he is required to govern his household, and for that purpose the law permits him to use towards his wife such a degree of force as is necessary to control an unruly temper and make her behave herself; and unless some permanent injury be inflicted, or there be an excess of violence, or such a degree of cruelty as shows that it is inflicted to gratify his own bad passions, the law will not invade the domestic forum or go behind the curtain.”

While also choosing to venture further into the use of physical discipline not only upon wives, but children, both at home and in the school system, where the court gave weight to State v. Pendergrass, in which the court earlier held that:

“[T]eachers exceed the limits of their authority when they cause lasting mischief; but act within the limits of it, when they inflict temporary pain.”

And so with a brief review of existing legal opinion, much of which was in a state of conflict when it came to both the use of ‘correctional’ force, and the means with which it could be dispensed, the court insisted that without further evidence of argument to the contrary, they were reluctant, if not powerless, to delve beyond the facade of marital or educational affairs unless there was compelling evidence that the injuries complained of were to prove lasting and detrimental to either party’s health, thus the case was dismissed in full while the court rightly or wrongly held that:

“Every household has and must have, a government of its own, modelled to suit the temper, disposition and condition of its inmates.”