Mayes v. People (1883)

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.” 

Shevlin-Carpenter Co. v. State of Minn. (1910)

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.”

State v. Rhodes (1868)

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.”

Ivey v Genting Casinos UK Ltd (2016)

English Criminal Law

Ivey v Genting Casinos
‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cézanne

In a case that was to result in a reduction of the Ghosh two-step dishonesty test, a professional card player is left with no choice but to pursue his winnings in the courts when the gaming establishment liable for the payout, cries foul on the pretence of cheating, which itself proves a concept that continues to elude judicial narrowness due to its mutable interpretation and seemingly countless applications.

Having established himself as reputable ‘advantage’ poker player in his home country of the United States, the appellant had spent a considerable number of hours playing Punto Banco at the respondents gambling house in Mayfair London, when at the point of his retirement, he had amassed winnings in excess of £7.7m, after which the respondents refused to release the funds on the premise that when playing against the house, the appellant had resorted to a number of techniques that were considered violative of the rules of play.

With no option other than to litigate, the appellant appeared before the Court of the Queen’s Bench, claiming recovery of his winnings while the respondents held that in short, the appellant had ‘cheated’ under s.42 of the Gambling Act 2005, which reads in part that:

“(1) A person commits an offence if he (b) cheats at gambling….”

While the Act also notes that:

(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) cheating at gambling may, in particular, consist of actual or attempted deception or interference in connection with (a) the process by which gambling is conducted….”

In the first instance, the court noted that there was uncertainty as to whether the element of dishonesty was applicable to a claim of cheating, or if by definition, the act itself denoted dishonest intent, regardless of objective or subjective jury opinion, all of which left the court unable to determine if s.42 had in fact been breached, and so instead concluded that such claims would be best remedied in a civil court, thus the claim was dismissed, while the court held that:

“What precisely is condemned as cheating by section 42 of the 2005 Act and what must be proved to make out the offence is not, in my view, clear and it would be unwise if it is unnecessary, as it is, for me to attempt to determine what that might be.”

Whereupon the appellant pursued his claim in the Court of Appeal, who conversely held by a majority that the Ghosh test had no place in a cheating scenario, and was thus inapplicable to s.42 of the 2005 Act, although it was held by Lady Justice Arden that:

“[A] person may be liable to a criminal penalty for cheating if he deliberately interferes with the process of a game so that the game is then played to his or another’s advantage in a way which was never intended by the participants.”

And so when presented to the Supreme Court, the appellant continued his line of argument, while the court attempted to establish if dishonesty as defined by Ghosh, was to become an integral part of cheating under the 2005 Act, and if so, whether the appellant was guilty, and thereby liable for sentencing.

For clarity, the Ghosh test for dishonesty was based on the principle that:

“It is no defence for a man to say “I knew that what I was doing is generally regarded as dishonest; but I do not regard it as dishonest myself. Therefore I am not guilty.” What he is however entitled to say is “I did not know that anybody would regard what I was doing as dishonest.””

Thus having provided a thorough examination of the case itself, along with the mottled history behind the Ghosh test, the court took the liberty of simplifying the dishonesty test through the removal of the subjective element, and so while finding the appellant liable for cheating through his manipulation of the croupier, the court dismissed the appeal, while revising their standing on dishonesty by holding that:

“When dishonesty is in question the fact-finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of his belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held. When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest.”

Queensland Mines Ltd v Hudson (1978)

Australian Equity & Trusts

Queensland Mines Ltd v Hudson
‘Three Miners’ by Josef Herman

While the strictness of fiduciary duties within a corporate entity are prime examples of greed overshadowing obligation, this particular case demonstrates the need for contextual adjudication when examining the seemingly selfish actions of those shouldering such burdens.

Having been appointed managing director of a company designed to pursue mining opportunities within the Australasian continents in 1958, the respondent was later sued for breach of duty when obtaining coal and iron ore mining licences from the Tasmanian government by way of his position.

In the first instance, the Equity Division of the Supreme Court of New South Wales found in favour of the appellants, although legal recourse was unavailable due to its commencement beyond the statute of limitations, and so upon appeal to the Privy Council, the council was compelled to review the findings of the supreme court, while dissecting the sizeable case material used.

Here the council found that although the respondent had been serving as a director at the time negotiations had begun, it was also evident that a severe loss of capital over the preceding years had resulted in the respondent placing the company in ‘stasis’ whilst seeking alternative funding to carry out the work should they eventually receive the licences.

In addition to this, it had been made expressly clear by the board of shareholders following the receipt of the licences in 1961, that they no longer had any financial interest in the company, and that the appellant was free to pursue the benefits arising from the mining of the land available. 

However in March 1962, the appellants had also sold their existing interest in the company to a third party for the sum of £2500, and so despite any claim of breach, they had by all accounts financially, contractually and orally divorced themselves from the company and those still remaining, and so when establishing the fiduciary parameters required for such a case, the council turned to Boardman v Phipps, in which Cohen LJ had held that:

“[I]t does not necessarily follow that because an agent acquired information and opportunity while acting in a fiduciary capacity he is accountable to his principals for any profit that comes his way as the result of the use he makes of that information and opportunity.”

And so basing their judgment on the strength of Boardman the council noted that not only had the respondent been transparent in his dealings with the Tasmanian government and the appellants, but that the appellants themselves had unequivocally shown their disinterest both in the value of the company and the actions of the respondent prior to their departure; and so with little hesitation the council dismissed the appeal while holding that:

“[A] limit has to be set to the liability to account of one who is in a special relationship with another whose interests he is bound to protect.”

Brokaw v. Fairchild (1929)

US Property Law

Brokaw v Fairchild
Image: ‘Lower Fifth Avenue’ by Frederick Childe Hassam

Life tenancy and title to a freehold estate are two distinct modes of occupation, however the latter is absolute in its effects, while the former includes limitations and covenants where directed by the transferor. On this occasion, a sizeable dwelling in an enviable part of New York was subject to possible demolition plans when the relatives of the new owner challenged it within the courts.

In 1886, the deceased had purchased land in Manhattan for the purposes of building his own private residence. Having designed the home to his own specifications, the property was bequeathed to one of his sons in a will drafted in 1907, which read:

“By the Fourth clause of my Last Will and Testament, dated and executed on the 20th day of April, 1907, upon the death or remarriage of my wife I gave and devised my residence, situated at the northeasterly corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, in the City of New York, to my son, George Tuttle Brokaw…”

However the deceased then further explained that:

“I now hereby modify that provision of my Will and after the death or remarriage of my wife I give and devise my said residence to my son George Tuttle Brokaw for and during the term of his natural life…”

Which in effect reduced the powers granted to the now claimant, to those answerable to the principles of life tenancy as prescribed by state law. Here, it was held that any alteration of a property resided in under inheritance as a life tenant, must be proven as non-injurious to the value and aesthetic appearance of the property when passed to those due under the terms of the original testator.

The issue in hand was one where the claimant had proposed the demolition and rebuilding of the home so as to enjoy increased revenue from the leasing of multiple apartments over that of a single, albeit ornately furnished home. In fierce objection, a number of siblings sought reference to the terms contained within their own terms of inheritance, which while providing clear stipulations as to individual use, were not applicable to the terms in which the claimant had acquired use of this particular home.

Therefore by use of existing precedent, the New York Supreme Court drew attention to Winship v. Pitts, in which Chancellor Walworth remarked:

“I have no hesitation in saying, that by the law of this state, as now understood, it is not waste for the tenant to erect a new edifice upon the demised premises; provided it can be done without destroying or materially injuring the buildings or other improvements already existing thereon. I admit he has no right to pull down valuable buildings, or to make improvements or alterations which will materially and permanently change the nature of the property, so as to render it impossible for him to restore the same premises, substantially, at the expiration of the term.”

And Kidd v. Dennison, in which the court held that:

“[I]f the tenant materially changes the nature and character of the buildings, it is waste, although the value of the property should be enhanced by the alteration. The tenant has no authority to assume the right of judging what may be an improvement to the inheritance. He must confine himself to the conditions of his lease.”

So with an appreciation of not only the financial opportunities but the limitations of the tenancy and wishes of the testator, the Court held that under no circumstances did the claimant have any express rights to enjoy the benefits of his inheritance beyond those powers conferred, and that to do otherwise was abjectly unlawful and subject to obvious penalty.

Anderson v. Minneapolis, St.Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway Co. (1920)

US Tort Law

Anderson v Minneapolis
Image: ‘Train Painting’ by William Wray

The amendment of pleadings is an American civil right when free from the misdirection of a jury, and so on this occasion the intermingling of two events resulting in the destruction of property, allowed the claimant to establish reasonable causation before enjoying the benefits of restorative justice.

In August of 1918, it was alleged that sparks emitted from a locomotive engine owned by the defendants caused a bog fire that while unextinguished, continued to burn for an extended period, largely due to the usual drought conditions at the time. During early October, there were winds in excess of 75 miles per hour, which exacerbated the existing fire, while driving it towards the home of the claimant.

It was the subsequent effects of this natural occurrence that left the claimant’s home damaged and thus both the railway company and the Director General of Railroads ended up in the courts as co-defendants, as was permissible under § 10 of the Federal Control Act.

During the trial, there were two options open to the jury for a safe conviction, namely:

“If plaintiff was burned out by fire set by one of defendant’s engines in combination with some other fire not set by one of its engines, then it is liable.”

or:

“If the bog fire was set by one of defendant’s engines, and if one of defendant’s engines also set a fire or fires west of Kettle River, and those fires combined and burned over plaintiff’s property, then the defendant is liable.”

With confusion as to how best to approach the claim, the jury asked for confirmation as to whether liability could be found if it was agreed that the fire caused by the locomotive engine was significant enough to have been the primary contributor to the eventual fire that caused the damage, at which point the court agreed that it would. It was then that the claimant amended his pleading to one where both fires had been the sole cause of destruction to his home, as opposed to that of the bog fire alone.

While returning a verdict in favour of the claimant, the defendants argued that such pleading allowances were unlawful, before appealing to the St. Louis District Court, who denied a motion for a retrial, while allowing for the consideration of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Here consideration was given to both the discretion of the courts to allow for claim amendments, and the extent to which the Director General of Railroads is lawfully implicated. In the first instance, the Court explained how § 7784 of Ch. 77 of the Minnesota Statutes 1913 noted that:

“No variance between the allegations in the pleading and the proof is material unless it has actually misled the adverse party to his prejudice in maintaining his action or defence on the merits.”

Which on this occasion the court had already established which fires were attributable to the defendants, and at no point had any objection or evidence been shown to prove otherwise, while under § 4426 of Ch. 28 of the Minnesota Statutes 1913 also made it clear that:

“Each railroad corporation owning or operating a railroad in this state shall be responsible in damages to every person and corporation whose property may be injured or destroyed by fire communicated directly or indirectly by the locomotive engines in use upon the railroad owned or operated by such railroad corporation…”

It was further held that within the terms of the Transportation Act of 1920, Congress conferred no express limitations as to the powers of the Federal Control Act, and that evidence of this was available under §§ 202 and 206 of the amended statute, and so it was that for these reasons the Court refused to reverse the original decision and dismissed the appeal.