Martin v. State (1944)

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. 

Jones v. U.S. (1962)

US Criminal Law

Jones v. U.S.
‘Hungry Child’ by Vinayak Deshmukh

Duty of care for the purposes of a criminal conviction must always be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and so when two women are tried for the neglect and subsequent death of the younger of two siblings, the court is left wanting in the face of an appeal that exploits the absence of legal obligation and contractual structure, along with fresh evidence of a judicial error.

In 1957, a young single girl fell pregnant with a boy whose birth resulted in her asking that the appellant take the child and care for it in exchange for monthly payments, to which the appellant agreed, only for the same mother to fall pregnant again some months later with another boy, who on this occasion fell sick and was forced to remain hospitalised for a determinate period.

Upon his discharge, the mother and second child then lived with the appellant for a a number of weeks, before she left to return home with her parents, thereby leaving the appellant to raise and care for the two children unaided and now unpaid.

Following a number of doctor visits concerning bronchial infections and treatment for diarrhoea, it was mentioned by the physician that the younger child was to be taken to hospital to receive much needed medical care, however the appellant ignored the request and continued to care for the boys alone.

This arrangement continued uninterrupted until two utility debt collectors noticed the boys in a downstairs basement and reported their findings to the local police, who investigated the matter, only to find one of the children living in what could best be described a wire mesh chicken coup, while the youngest child was living in a bassinet, however both boys were found to covered in cockroaches and showing visible signs of malnutrition, at which point they were both removed and placed into urgent hospital care.

Unfortunately some thirty-four hours after his admission, the youngest of the children died from the effects of prolonged malnutrition, and so both women were indicted before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on charges of abuse, maltreatment and involuntary manslaughter, the latter of which only the appellant was found guilty and convicted accordingly.

Having challenged the judgment before the Columbia District Court of Appeals, the appellant argued that the jury had found insufficient evidence to support a finding of legal or even contractual duty of care when providing food and water to the deceased, whereupon the court referred to People v. Beardsley, in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that:

“[U]nder some circumstances the omission of a duty owed by one individual to another, where such omission results in the death of the one to whom the duty is owing, will make the other chargeable with manslaughter.”

However the caveat to this precedent was that it must be equally proven that a legal, contractual but not moral obligation underpinned the duties, and further that a failure to execute them would result in the immediate and direct cause of death and nothing less.

In addition to this, it was also argued that the trial court had failed to adequately instruct the jury to look for any evidence of a legal duty, and that while the jury had retired to deliberate a decision, the judge had communicated with the jury by way of a hand-written note, yet failed to notify the appellant’s counsel, thus the verdict was now automatically unsound, at which point the appeal court reversed the previous judgment and remanded the case back to the district court while holding that:

“Proper procedure requires that a jury be instructed in the courtroom in the presence of counsel and the defendant, and that counsel be given opportunity to except to the additional instruction.”

R v Jordan (1956)

English Criminal Law

R v Jordan
‘Jury’ by Norman Rockwell

Jury conviction beyond any reasonable doubt can often prove protracted and not without its tenuous merits, however on this occasion the determination that murder was the unequivocal cause of death is brought into stark controversy, when the introduction of alternate medical evidence casts serious doubts upon exactly what happened in the time prior to the victim’s death.

In May 1956, the appellant American Serviceman and three other men were embroiled in a fracas when during the disagreement, the appellant stabbed one of those involved, after which the victim later died of broncho-pneumonia whilst recovering in hospital, and upon which the appellant was indicted for murder and found guilty in Leeds Assizes before being sentenced to death.

Under appeal, an investigation by the American authorities revealed new evidence put forward by two highly reputable medical doctors, and which cited that the cause of death was actually related to the administration of terramycin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic that on this occasion, had triggered and allergic reaction that in turn led to diarrhoea, and which was further exacerbated through its continued administration, despite immediate instructions to cease its use.

In addition to this, hospital staff had also intravenously introduced disproportionate doses of saline, which likewise resulted in a pulmonary oedema through waterlogged lungs, a condition that left untreated, causes broncho-pneumonia, and upon which it had been established as the direct cause of death, while the stab wound itself had since been shown to have healed with no known complications.

Faced with such weighty and compelling testimony, the Criminal Court of Appeal turned to a number of distinguishable cases before relying upon R v Harding, in which it had earlier held that:

“Acquittal must follow if the evidence is such as to cause a reasonable doubt, because that is only another way of saying that the prosecution have failed to establish the case.”

Therefore when giving consideration to the effect that this information would have upon a criminal jury, the court deliberated in saying that when faced with such acute medical facts they saw no reason to suspect that the murder conviction would have been rendered unsustainable, and so with little more to debate the appeal was allowed and the conviction set aside in full, while the court reminded the parties that under normal circumstances:

“[D]eath resulting from any normal treatment employed to deal with a felonious injury may be regarded as caused by the felonious injury.”  

Bush v. Commonwealth (1880)

US Criminal Law

Bush v Commonwealth
Image: ‘Kentucky Derby 2017’ by Jim Cantrell

Murder and involuntary manslaughter, while both implicated as a cause of death, stem from quite different modus operandi, and so on this occasion, the misdirection of a jury almost led to the hanging of an innocent man.

Around 1880, the appellant was indicted for murder, after an accidental gunshot injured a third party during a confrontation between two men. While pleaded that the shot was fired out of self-defence, the trial judge directed the jury to determine his guilt as below:

“If the jury believe from the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant, John Bush, in Fayette county, and before the finding of the indictment, wilfully shot Annie Vanmeter with a pistol, and that she died from the effects of the wound then inflicted upon her, whether said wound was the sole cause or was a contributory agency in producing death, when such shooting was not necessary, and not reasonably believed by the defendant to be necessary for his own protection from immediate death or great bodily harm then threatening him, the jury should find the defendant guilty: guilty of murder, if the killing were also done with malice aforethought, or guilty of manslaughter if the killing were done in sudden heat and passion, and without malice.

Upon this, the jury returned a guilty verdict, despite the fact that the victim died, not from the wound, but from the transmission of scarlet fever from the physician treating her injury, while it was further implied that any deliberate and cruel act must stem from malice, regardless of contributory factors.

Taken to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the court took issue with almost all of the judicial approaches, and reminded that s.262 of the Criminal Code expressly states that:

“Upon an indictment for an offense consisting of different degrees, the defendant may be found guilty of any degree not higher than that charged in the indictment, and may be found guilty of any offense included in that charge in the indictment.”

This translated that reliance upon the direction of the judge without any explanation as to how the victim died, would by default, lead to a wrongful execution, whereas observation of the events preceding her demise showed clearly that a non-fatal injury would have been equally chargeable as wilful and malicious shooting, stabbing or poisoning under s.2 art.6 ch.29 of the General Statutes of Kentucky 1873, or shooting and wounding in sudden affray, or in sudden heat without previous malice as per s.1 art.17 ch.29 of the same Act.

Thus it was for these quite distinct polarities of reasoning, that the Court reversed the judgment with instruction to retrial upon the very principles applied.

Alaska Packers Association v. Domenico (1902)

US Contract Law

Alaska Packers Association v Domenico
Image: ‘Fishing Boats’ by Dusan Djukaric

The legal enforcement of a binding contract requires consideration to both bargaining parties, and so on this occasion, the demands of an established labour force prove their undoing when overlooking the fundamental principles of any written agreement.

In 1900, a commercial fishing enterprise recruited the services of a number of seamen and deck hands for the purposes of catching salmon. Before departing San Francisco, the now appellants accepted and signed individual employment contracts, on grounds that they would be paid between $50-$60 per person, with two additional cents for every salmon caught.

After docking in Alaska a month later, the men ceased working and demanded that the ship’s superintendent pay them $100 each, or risk losing them entirely. With no means with which to replace them, and after failing to placate their objections, the superintendent agreed to pay the increased sums, after which duplicate contracts were printed and signed before the local Shipping Commissioner, despite the superintendent stressing that he was unauthorised to endorse the new contracts.

Upon return to San Francisco, the appellants demanded their increased payments, however the respondent employers refused to acknowledge anything other than the original contract, and so litigation was bought against them on grounds that the fishing nets supplied were defective, and therefore counter to their chances of earning extra money, as per the original agreement.

The Northern California District Court took issue with the principles of the appellants claims, as to provide defective nets would by effect, have reduced the employers profits and subsequent means of operation, therefore it was held that refusal to perform the contract was unlawful, however the court also held that:

Under such circumstances, it would be strange, indeed, if the law would not permit the defendant to waive the damages caused by the libelants’ breach, and enter into the contract sued upon, a contract mutually beneficial to all the parties thereto, in that it gave to the libelants reasonable compensation for their labor, and enabled the defendant to employ to advantage the large capital it had invested in its canning and fishing plant.”

At which point judgment was made in favour of the appellants, despite glaring disparities of fact.

Upon further challenge, the court of appeals drew reference to the statements made by the superintendent, and noted that any contract entered into under duress, and without due consideration was, without question, unenforceable, as had been outlined in King v. Railway Co. where the court ruled that:

“No astute reasoning can change the plain fact that the party who refuses to perform, and thereby coerces a promise from the other party to the contract to pay him an increased compensation for doing that which he is legally bound to do, takes an unjustifiable advantage of the necessities of the other party.”

And so therefore:

“There can be no consideration for the promise of the other party, and there is no warrant for inferring that the parties have voluntarily rescinded or modified their contract. The promise cannot be legally enforced, although the other party has completed his contract in reliance upon it.”

Thus it was for this simple and perhaps obvious reason, that the appeal was dismissed and judgment reversed back in favour of the respondents.

Aldinger v. Howard (1976)

US Civil Procedure

Aldinger v Howard
Image: ‘Spokane Skyline’ by Pablo Romero

Litigation for loss of earnings through discriminatory dismissal is a linear process within state jurisdiction, however when the employer is a federal representative, the rules according to civil suits are subject to close examination.

Having enjoyed work as a cleric within the Spokane County Treasury, the claimant was dismissed under s.36.16.070 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which grants that:

“The officer appointing a deputy or other employee shall be responsible for the acts of his or her appointees upon his or her official bond and may revoke each appointment at pleasure.”

Under a claim in the district court, the now appellant argued that dismissal merely for living with her boyfriend was a violation of the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that under the circumstances, the Treasury was equally liable under 42 USC § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which provides that:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…”

It was for these reasons that an injunction was requested against the appointing officer and his wife, while the county was deemed subject to vicarious liability through the misconduct of the two named employees, both of which claims were brought under the powers of 28 USC § 1343(3), which explains that the district courts are required:

“(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States…”

When first heard, the court held that Spokane County could not be held liable as a ‘person’ and therefore no suit could be brought against them, after which the appellant sought relief through the court of appeals, who with reference to 28 USC § 1343(3), upheld the previous decision, however when taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, greater detail was paid to the doctrine of both ‘pendent’ and ‘ancillary’ jurisdiction, upon which the ruling in United Mine Workers v. Gibbs determined how the former provided that:

“[S]tate and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact. But if, considered without regard to their federal or state character, a plaintiff’s claims are such that he would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding, then, assuming substantiality of the federal issues, there is Power in federal courts to hear the whole.”

While the latter was outlined in Fulton Bank v. Hozier, when it was held how:

“The general rule is that when a federal court has properly acquired jurisdiction over a cause, it may entertain, by intervention, dependent or ancillary controversies; but no controversy can be regarded as dependent or ancillary unless it has direct relation to property or assets actually or constructively drawn into the court’s possession or control by the principal suit.”

However, on this occasion both approaches ran counter to the principle held in the appeals court that:

“[F]ederal courts should be wary of extending court-created doctrines of jurisdiction to reach parties who are expressly excluded by Congress from liability, and hence federal jurisdiction…”

This translated that while art. III of the Federal Constitution allowed the Supreme Court to vest adjudicatory powers to the lower courts, the conflicting principles of both 42 USC § 1983 and that of the appeals court prevented the Court from allowing a mergence of the two claims, despite their obvious connectivity, and which resulted in dismissal of the appeal while holding that:

“[A]s against a plaintiff’s claim of additional power over a “pendent party,” the reach of the statute conferring jurisdiction should be construed in light of the scope of the cause of action as to which federal judicial power has been extended by Congress.”